Sharp worldbuilding, authentic characters, and thoughtful explorations of prejudice and misogyny bode well for future...

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REALM OF ASH

This second installment of an epic fantasy series that draws on the history and culture of the Mughal Empire (Empire of Sand, 2018) takes place a decade later.

Unlike her sister, Mehr, who remembered their Amrithi birth mother and the rituals of their people, Arwa has done her best to embrace the Ambhan heritage of their nobleman father and follow the guidance of her Ambhan stepmother. But when a dark force slaughters her husband and all the soldiers under his command, Arwa owes her survival to her Amrithi blood, literally, as shedding it can ward off the spirits known as daivas. The new widow resolves to put the magic of her blood into the service of the Ambhan Empire, which has suffered a material and spiritual decline since the death of the Maha, the empire’s near-immortal founder. She joins the emperor’s bastard, Zahir, in a dangerous quest in the titular realm of ash, a dream world where one can encounter and absorb the memories of the dead. Arwa’s blood eases the path to the Maha’s memories, which Zahir believes can save the empire. But the other memories they encounter, and the political turmoil surrounding the emperor’s decline, send them on an even more dangerous—but far more redemptive—journey. Arwa’s gradual rebellion against the society that crushed her mother’s people is an intriguing counterpoint to her older sister’s more overt resistance in Book 1; Arwa must battle her own ignorance of her heritage as well as the forces arrayed against her due to prejudice and her placement in a noble court during a fight for the succession. She is a well-drawn and sympathetic character; even in 2019, readers will understand a situation in which a woman is forced to suppress personal qualities to fit an approved model of a smiling, submissive helpmeet. The novel is also a nicely crafted exploration of the implications of the previous volume; after centuries in which the gods were impelled to dream the positive fortunes of the Ambhan Empire, more negative forces are now in play to balance the scales.

Sharp worldbuilding, authentic characters, and thoughtful explorations of prejudice and misogyny bode well for future volumes.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-44975-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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

DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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