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ARCANUM

An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy.

Medieval fantasy from the author of The Curve of the Earth (2013), developed from a single question: What if a civilization that relied on magic was suddenly deprived of it?

A thousand years after the fall of Rome, the German-speaking palatinate of Carinthia depends entirely on the magic provided by its hexmasters for trade and farming, defense, even lighting for the great library. In exchange, the hexmasters claim one-half of Carinthia’s wealth. Peter Büber, Prince Gerhard’s huntmaster, is disturbed by his discovery of not one, but two unicorn’s horns, with no sign of the beasts they were attached to; equally odd, he witnesses a band of wild giants defeat and kill an Italian wizard. Meanwhile, Teuton warriors demand passage across Carinthia; when Gerhard refuses, they move downriver to attack and occupy a town. As the princes have done for 1,000 years, Gerhard dons his magical armor, buckles on his magical sword and, not expecting to fight—an activity for which his forces are quite unsuited—summons the hexmasters, anticipating a blast of magic and an easy victory. Instead, only Nikoleta Agana, a mere adept, answers Gerhard’s call: Apparently, she is the only person still able to wield magic. Soon, wagons shudder to a halt; barges float with instead of against the current; and the lights go out. Only in the Jewish quarter, where magic is shunned, does life proceed normally. The stellar cast also features rebellious, extremely capable and unfortunately unwed Sophia Morgenstern, her despairing father, Aaron, librarian Frederik Thaler, usher-turned-spymaster Max Ullmann, and Felix, Gerhard’s 12-year-old son. The fading-magic scenario has become something of a trope, but Morden, against a gritty, utterly convincing backdrop, anticipates every consequence and wrings out surprise after surprise.

An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-22010-1

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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