Brimming with Pratchett’s trademark wit, a yarn with a serious point made with style and elegance.

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RAISING STEAM

Pratchett’s 40th Discworld novel brings in one—or, as it turns out, two—intriguing new characters and introduces a radical new concept: the railway.

Young genius engineer Dick Simnel invents a steam locomotive he names Iron Girder. Waste management tycoon Sir Harry King immediately grasps the lucrative possibilities and invests part of his fortune in the railway. Ankh-Morpork’s Lord Vetinari intends for the city to keep control of the new enterprise and appoints con man–turned–civil servant Moist von Lipwig to keep an eye on matters. The railway proves wildly popular with the public. Unfortunately, dwarf fundamentalists opposed to fraternization with trolls or humans begin making terrorist attacks, murdering railway workers and setting fire to clacks communications towers. The terrorists eventually overthrow the legitimate dwarf government in Uberwald while the dwarf Low King is more than 1,000 miles away. Only by means of the railway, declares Lord Vetinari, can Low King Rhys return to Uberwald in time to foil the plotters. But Uberwald, haunted by vampires and werewolves, may be approached only across high plains covered with stumbleweed (“like tumbleweed, but less athletic”). And, Moist protests, the railway isn’t finished. Somehow, Vetinari explains kindly, Moist better find a way to finish it if he wants his head to remain attached to his neck. Young Dick, meanwhile, entertains a most peculiar notion: that Iron Girder is female and sentient. And after witnessing the locomotive deal with a misguided dwarf’s attempted sabotage, Moist is inclined to agree with him. In recent years, Discworld humor has become implicit (check out the hilarious names of Uberworld towns, for example) rather than explicit, while continuing to explore serious themes with impeccable Discworld logic, and the trend continues here.

Brimming with Pratchett’s trademark wit, a yarn with a serious point made with style and elegance.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53826-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

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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