An audacious adventure anchored by a memorable half-alien heroine and a healthy dose of action.

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Jai

An otherworldly woman discovers her unique destiny in this novel.

Deep within the Tibetan Himalayas, a young woman named Jai stands naked, cold, and very afraid. A skilled student in a remote Himalayan monastery, she is a survivor of a brutal attack that left the temple in ruins and everyone else dead, including her beloved teacher Jinhai. Weakened by illness, Jai barely withstands the ordeal. Rescued by a wise and mysterious woman, Jai is taken to a mystical land, where she meets the A Ma, who facilitates her recovery. The A Ma also reveals that her people are part of a species of aliens. Jai’s mother was an alien sent to Earth to mate with a human. Now, Jai’s people face serious threats to their existence, and she has been chosen to find and eliminate those dangers. She is aided in her quest by several key assistants, including Makeen, a handsome karate teacher, and Amira Moreau, a gifted scientist. Together, they cross the globe, encountering sinister enemies and discovering helpful allies. Meanwhile, Jai finds herself drawn to both Makeen and Amira, setting the stage for powerful and erotic relationships. Stitz’s (Capturing the Moments of a Contemplative Life, 2011) tale is a genre-bending pastiche of sci-fi, paranormal action adventure, and erotic romance. The strongest elements are its heroine and the vivid depictions of her homeland and her globe-trotting task. Jai is a singular and memorable character. Half-alien, half-human, part Chinese, part Japanese, she was left to fend for herself on the streets of Macao after her stepfather sent her away to be sold on the open market. Rescued from a brothel and taken to a Tibetan monastery, she quickly becomes a top student thanks to her skills in martial arts and lung-gom. Stitz skillfully introduces Jai’s back story through a series of flashbacks that offer additional details and context to her trajectory without detracting from the primary narrative. The tale moves at a brisk pace, aided by bracing and suspenseful sequences as her mission grows more menacing.

An audacious adventure anchored by a memorable half-alien heroine and a healthy dose of action.

Pub Date: July 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-3259-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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

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THE WATER DANCER

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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