A fantastic example of worldbuilding on a grand scale that combines cinematic action with historical accuracy to great...

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THE PHILOSOPHER'S WAR

An even more propulsive follow-up to emergency physician Miller’s imaginative debut, The Philosopher’s Flight (2018).

Alternative history is endlessly malleable because you don’t have to rewrite the whole thing—just change one element and the way the world plays out is completely different. Here, the difference is Miller’s concept of “empirical philosophers,” nearly all women who practice a kind of magic that employs glyphs and sigils penned with silver chloride, not to mention a few more complicated potions, to enable healing, smoke summoning, and, most importantly, flight. Imagine Quidditch on steroids plunged into the First World War and you’ll get an idea of what to expect here. Once again, our storyteller is 19-year-old Robert Canderelli Weekes, who has broken decades of tradition to become a “sigilwoman” in the U.S. Sigilry Corps on the eve of WW1, working in the Rescue and Evacuation Division in a tough outfit full of misfits and hard cases. His job should be simple: fly in, stabilize wounded warriors, and fly them back to an aid station. But things go a bit sideways when he’s recruited by Gen. Tomasina Blandings to become part of a secret faction that Blandings intends to use for armed offense against the Germans, violating wartime codes of conduct. “I don’t need to tell you how they punish those crimes during wartime,” Blandings warns Weekes. Miller has accomplished something really grand here: Despite its lone fantasy element, this is a visceral war novel that blends into a twisty spy novel with brief interludes of heated romance between Weekes and his beloved Danielle Hardin, not to mention the quiet yearnings of Weekes’ best friend, Essie Stewart, who secretly loves him. The combat is incredibly tense, the palpable tension between characters is genuinely authentic, and the character arc that changes Weekes from an eager young soldier to a hardened veteran is truly compelling.

A fantastic example of worldbuilding on a grand scale that combines cinematic action with historical accuracy to great effect.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7818-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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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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