Those attuned to the author's singular methods will rejoice. Otherwise, this is demanding and ultimately overwhelming.

THE TYRANT BARU CORMORANT

Third part of a doorstopper epic fantasy in which a woman seeks revenge against an evil and insatiable empire.

In the first book, The Traitor Baru Cormorant (2015), we learned the reasons why Baru Cormorant seeks to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest and something of the depth and nuance of her plan. Book 2, The Monster Baru Cormorant (2018), exposed new vistas, churned bravely, and accumulated flab. Book 3 succumbs to bloat while setting up a sequel. Once, Baru was a protégé of the cryptarch Cairdine Farrier, one of the secret powers running the empire. Now a cryptarch herself, she realizes that he's been subtly controlling her from Day 1. Under his orders, she's sought out the Cancrioth, a people ruled by immortal tumors in human form, in order to use them as a weapon. The Cancrioth are concealing the Kettling, a hemorrhagic plague that could kill hundreds of millions. Baru undoubtedly could unleash the plague and destroy Falcrest, but millions of innocents would die too. Another way to achieve her goal would require more devious tactics but run the risk of Falcrest’s becoming the world's supreme power. To implement either strategy, Baru must first survive murderous threats from allies and enemies alike. As before, the storytelling is intense, deftly handled, ingenious, and often absorbing. Dickinson is, however, a writer blessed with an exceptionally fertile imagination who can't resist packing in everything—to the point where needless overcomplication all but sinks a narrative heavy with plot threads, timelines, gore, torture, conspiracies, violence, intrigue, and war. Less would have been far more digestible. The book does work impressively well as an allegory about modern politics, economics, and global power projection (mark the eerie though entirely coincidental thread about the Kettling). Yet the final confrontation, building through three enormously long, dense, involved books, doesn't actually come off—as drama or as catharsis.

Those attuned to the author's singular methods will rejoice. Otherwise, this is demanding and ultimately overwhelming.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8076-0

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

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.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

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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