Another fine effort from Belcher, ripped from a dark, dark place.

NIGHTWISE

Belcher takes a break from occult Westerns (Shotgun Arcana, 2014, etc.) with this blood-soaked contemporary urban fantasy featuring a gray-hat protagonist cut from the mold of John Constantine and Sandman Slim.

Laytham Ballard’s granny intended him to be a Wisdom, a magic user who draws strength from his unity with nature and employs it to help and heal. But his great abilities led him to darker places, toward painful bargains with some unsavory entities and the use of his power for less noble purposes. Boj, an old friend and partner in crime, asks Ballard to fulfill his dying wish: to go after Dusan Slorzack, a magically gifted Serbian war criminal who murdered Boj's wife years ago. But Slorzack has vanished utterly, and the path to revenge is littered with corpses, old and new enemies, dangerous deities, and a previously unknown source of magic. The tough, ethically dubious magician/detective/grifter is a popular trope, but Belcher takes it to depths that readers may not have encountered before. Ballard is an incredibly ruthless, vicious operator who doesn’t hesitate to use the few people who still care about him. Protagonists of this sort often destroy innocent bystanders by accident, but Ballard will deliberately use innocent bystanders as a shield or scapegoat to escape during a crisis. He feels guilty, even tormented, about such acts (or at least, that’s what he tells us), but that doesn’t stop him from committing them over and over again. As he explains, Ballard has literally bargained away pieces of his soul, with visceral consequences that most authors aren’t brave enough to show. There’s evidence that there may still be some good in him, but it certainly struggles to surface most of the time.

Another fine effort from Belcher, ripped from a dark, dark place.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7460-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and...

DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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