THE TOMBS OF ATUAN

A finely realized fantasy set in the ancient Place of the Tombs, a desert society of women and eunuchs, where Tenar is taken at six and renamed Arha, the Eaten One, because her former existence must be cast off when she becomes high priestess to the Nameless Ones, the spirits of the tombs. The girl is raised with other neophyte priestesses until at fourteen she assumes her grand and isolated role of guardian of the sacred underground labyrinth, where light is forbidden and no one but Arha may enter. She accepts her new identity solemnly and completely, and the account of her life as a growing priestess is appropriately stately. But the story becomes more than the skilled creation of a closed, exotic world when a trespasser enters Arha's underground domain; then the stifling formality becomes a background that adds impact to the stranger's violation of the Place and drama to the girl's subsequent rebirth. The man is Sparrowhawk, the Wizard of Earthsea some years older, and he has come for the missing half of the amulet of Erreth-Akbe, which can bind the warring kingdoms and which is buried with other treasures in the labyrinth. Arha traps the wizard in the labyrinth and plans to kill him, but instead she begins to pay him compulsive visits, first to taunt, then to listen to his tales and watch his feats of illusion, finally to weep because her gods are dead. But the wizard answers that they are not dead: "They are immortal, but they are not gods. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief light of our mortality. . . . They exist. But they are not your masters. You are free, Tenar." Thus Sparrowhawk gives Tenar back her name and helps her to escape from the Place and the dark powers of the Nameless Ones. The usual tidy ending is foregone, though, just as the story is not the usual allegory; the abstractions do not so much dictate the events as rise naturally from Tenar's real struggles and transformations in her firmly structured underground world.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1971

ISBN: 1416509623

Page Count: 183

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1971

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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