A well-executed adventure that riffs on the darker aspects of European fairy tales.


A young woman must undertake a nightmarish quest for a possibly mythical artifact in this debut fantasy.

Eighteen-year-old Gisela Sauer once loved fairy tales, but she can no longer bring herself to believe in them. Since the death of her brother, Gisela has been forced to provide for her family, including her drunken father, her harried mother, and her special needs sister, Thora. The May Day festival—held in honor of her village’s patron goddess, Bergot—finds Gisela peddling milk and eggs in the town square. But May Day is not all dances and bonfires: Town tradition demands that each year eight young people be sent into the forest to search for the legendary Lost Crown to bring back as an offering to Bergot. Gisela considers it a death sentence, so, of course, this year she is one of the eight to receive a Black Letter summoning her for the mission. She has no choice but to go in order to protect her family from harm. At least the rakish lutist Brahm Wolf, who has made no secret of his affections for Gisela, is chosen as well. As Gisela quickly learns, magic is, in fact, real—and dangerous. She, Brahm, and their companions will have to navigate their way through obstacles from the very darkest of fairy tales in order to come back alive. Briar’s fantasy world, which is based on Germanic folklore, is rich and fearsome, as in this passage that Gisela narrates: “Snarling and snorting, the girl’s face transforms into a snout and her hands into clawed paws. A matted fur spreads over her skin as she cranes her neck to howl. Pawing into the ashes, the wolf darts for me.” There are a few elements that break the spell—the dialogue is completely modern, and some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional—but on the whole, the novel is immersive and fun. Gisela’s arc has some emotional heft, and the author isn’t afraid to tread a few steps into the horror genre. By the end, readers will hope that Briar will be back soon with another tale of the fantastic.

A well-executed adventure that riffs on the darker aspects of European fairy tales.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020


Page Count: 274

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2020

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.


A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.


A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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