A challenging read outside of mainstream contemporary sci-fi, but readers with a fondness for the early classics will find...




Iyyam’s sci-fi novel, the first in a planned trilogy, has hints of Dune and Discworld as a destiny is fulfilled amid an interplanetary war between the peoples of Prul and Bekod.

Siglez Ipt falls to the ground on his home planet of Prul with no knowledge of where he’s been for the last decade. Sped on his way by a seemingly omniscient Playwright, who appears to be writing Siglez’s story like the Fates of Greek mythology, Siglez is greeted as a prophesied leader in Afadral. He’s given three tests to prove that he is fit to lead his people on their quest to obtain a seed from the sacred Johr tree on the neighboring planet of Bekod. After passing the tests with suspicious ease, he survives an assassination attempt by the aBekod military leader Intak Jav and then heads into a ritualistic set of battles overseen by Tirla Kto and Sra Ja, the Minders of the respective iPrulautu and aBekod armies. But it seems that the Johr tree might have a stake in the matter. The space-opera plot doesn’t feel too original, and the prose often recalls the flowery, high diction of early 20th-century sci-fi, à la E.R. Eddings or even C.S. Lewis. Meanwhile, the Mars-like landscape and fauna of Prul recall that of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom, and the 60-plus pages of appendices, maps and local linguistics echo Tolkien. However, the occasional flashes of humor and descents into the vernacular, as well as commentary on writing and storytelling, might leave readers wondering: Is this old-fashioned fantasy or a satirical take on it? Are the tongue-twisting names and phrases in darnathuPrul and SeloBekod (thankfully, translated) to be taken seriously, or are they—as parts of the story imply—parodies of sci-fi/fantasy excesses? Is this a confusing, convoluted book or a cleverly written spoof of one?

A challenging read outside of mainstream contemporary sci-fi, but readers with a fondness for the early classics will find themselves right at home.

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1491713570

Page Count: 414

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2014

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.


Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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