A bloody, messy fantasy epic that will keep readers enthralled.



A ragtag fellowship of unlikely allies assembles to try to save the world in this debut fantasy.

The continent of Halja is suffering. Famine is spreading throughout the various nations, creating a crisis unlike any seen since the first two Calamities. Some fear a Third Calamity—the worst one of all—is coming, and the rival nations of Halja must unite in order to stop it. Queen Janere of the jungle land of Mo-Duo believes the secret to their survival rests in an ancient power hidden deep within the Middle: an inhospitable region at the center of Halja filled with deadly beasts. An ancient enemy dwells there, one who needs to be destroyed. She has sent emissaries to her neighbors seeking the finest warriors they can provide to help her in her quest. From remote La Isla comes Felix, captain of the Electus, the largest ship in the island’s pirate fleet. From the frozen northern land of Fortiso comes Jurgen of the viri forti, a race of giant men known for their toughness. Jurgen has been to the Middle before, the only survivor of a company of seasoned warriors. From the magic land of Nuntias comes Scitus, a wizard with a ferret familiar and the ability to use the Gift, though he is skeptical of any alliance between the nations. “Damned fools,” writes Scitus. “Foul pirates, corrupt bishops, savage tribesmen, and barbarians breaking bread and sharing supper. Whoever heard of such lunacy? There is no need for any of this mad talk of venturing into the Middle. Of seeking out a foe solely for the sake of vanquishing it.” Can these allies work together to save Halja, or will their secret agendas—and those of others—prevent them from acting against the threat until it is too late?

In this series opener, Mulder’s worldbuilding is an impressive feat of the imagination, revealing a complex web of geography, culture, religion, and mythology. His high fantasy ambitions are balanced by a sensorial, sword-and-sorcery prose style: Jurgen’s “blood had felt hot from the moment he was told about the mission until well after they had brought the beast down together, his own superbly forged bastard sword finding its way into the animal’s abdomen while it struggled to get away from his brothers on the ground.” But the permissive bloodthirstiness goes a bit too far sometimes. Several of the main characters are introduced speaking fondly of sexual violence, and the author delights in brutal and upsetting imagery throughout the novel. Furthermore, the depiction of some of the constituent peoples of Halja—how they look and speak—gets uncomfortably close to racial stereotypes from readers’ own world. Despite these elements, Mulder’s deft pacing and confident use of familiar fantasy conventions will keep readers invested in the novel. While the work does not approach the heights of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, fans of the genre will enjoy this quick and dirty offering, which will likely increase in scope with its subsequent volumes.

A bloody, messy fantasy epic that will keep readers enthralled.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-07-955524-0

Page Count: 482

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2020

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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