Buckell successfully draws the reader in with his characters and ideas, only to blow things up a little too thoroughly by...

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ARCTIC RISING

This fast-paced near-future thriller delivers a combination of geopolitical intrigue and technological speculation, only flagging as it reaches its jumbled conclusion.

Buckell (Sly Mongoose, 2008, etc.) comes down to Earth from the outer-space settings of his earlier sci-fi novels, with a story set just a few decades in the future, as global warming has opened a whole new avenue for shipping and trade in the Arctic Circle. Rather than depicting an apocalyptic doomsday scenario along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow, Buckell envisions global warming as a slow process with far-reaching but gradually accumulating consequences. Thanks to the opening of the Northwest Passage, so-called “Arctic Tiger” countries, including Canada and Greenland, have emerged as new world powers. The novel’s protagonist is a Nigerian named Anika Duncan, who works for the United Nations Polar Guard, an international agency that polices the semi-lawless Arctic Circle region. When Anika’s airship is shot down by rogue seamen from the deck of a vessel carrying a nuclear device, she’s plunged into a conspiracy that involves secret agents, underworld figures and a seemingly benevolent green-energy corporation with a sinister agenda. Buckell focuses as much on action-thriller set pieces as he does on teasing out a plausible future, placing the novel somewhere around the intersection of Michael Crichton and William Gibson. That balance holds until the climax, which mixes awkward speechifying with breathless, confusing action sequences that seem to exist solely to increase the body count. The nuances of Buckell’s ideas about environmental policy also end up obliterated by the reveal of a megalomaniacal villain who holds the world hostage with what amounts to a high-tech death ray. Anika remains grounded and sympathetic throughout, though, and the author’s vision of the development of Arctic civilization is consistently fascinating.

Buckell successfully draws the reader in with his characters and ideas, only to blow things up a little too thoroughly by the end.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1921-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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