An entertaining fantasy debut.

Glyphbinder

In Bakutis’ debut epic fantasy, a young mage discovers the return of a great evil while she attempts to save her mother and friends.

Nineteen years ago, Xander woke up paralyzed and heard two people discussing how to deal with his dangerous unborn daughter—perhaps even killing her. Surprisingly, these two people are his father and grandmother, and they have good reason (so they think): unborn Kara has special heritage, and she’ll be the target for the demonic Mavoureen. When readers meet Kara 19 years later, she has no memory of her real father, Xander, or of the role she might play in the battle with the Mavoureen. Now an accomplished mage at the Magic Academy of Solyr and on a quest for magical ingredients to save her mother from a horrible disease, Kara finds an amnesiac man who knows her name and has some strange powers of his own. She also seeks the position of Royal Apprentice and ends up fighting for it with the rich jerk student. These mysteries and schoolyard fights lead into a more epic fight, involving the gods who made the world, a vengeance-seeking mage who has given her allegiance to the demons, and a potential war between provinces that Kara and her friends race to stop. This may sound typical of modern fantasy, but the result is an entertaining debut that avoids many missteps. While there’s a lot of info about the world, Bakutis nicely uses the students and the amnesiac man to serve up these details, helping the information feel less like an undigested lump of worldbuilding notes. Plus, the world largely holds together and doesn’t brim with stuff merely because the author thought it was cool. The characters are largely engaging, each with his or her own story to tell, from the healer who faces a terrible choice to the aforementioned rich jerk who turns out to have a more noble side. Toward the end, the power level and cast size both seem to increase, and Kara seems sometimes to be buffeted by other characters rather than making her own choices. Perhaps the sequel will help refocus.

An entertaining fantasy debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-51-183946-4

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

THE LAST GRADUATE

A teenage witch with a natural affinity for dark magic prepares to run a deadly graduation gauntlet in this sequel to Novik's Deadly Education (2020).

Galadriel "El" Higgins has finally reached her senior year at the Scholomance, putting her one step closer to her ultimate goal: get back home or die trying. After getting a sneak peek at the monster-packed hallway she must survive if she wants to graduate, the witchy teen returns to her classes and cliques with scarcely more insight than before. El knows enough to realize that her mana stores are a fraction of what they should be—come graduation, she will lack the magical juice she needs to kill monsters and make it out alive. Her fake-dating relationship with Orion proves to be a lucky "in," netting her a new string of tenuous alliances as well as access to a wellspring of free mana. But what could be a compelling adventure story falls apart here, as the novel relies on relentless bouts of infodumping to keep readers up to speed on where the Scholomance's monsters come from and what they can do to unsuspecting students. None of these paragraphs-long blasts of information recount the details of El's last excursion, however, and so readers who have forgotten Novik's previous novel, or who have never read it at all, will find no springboard ready to help them dive into the author's newest offering. Those who stumble upon this volume risk being unmoored, as the narrative picks up immediately following the events of its predecessor, without stopping to introduce anything, including the narrator. Ultimately, El's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of every monster in the school, combined with her continued refusal to enter into any genuine alliance with classmates, leaves readers to wonder what she could possibly have left to learn—or fear—in the Scholomance.

A sequel that repeats the mistakes of its predecessor while failing to break new ground.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12886-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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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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