This marvelous SF tale about dangerous technology offers sublime stretches that will warrant revisiting.

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A man reckons with his past while overseeing the construction of a tower in this debut SF novel.

Shea Ashcroft disobeyed Queen Daelyn. He refused to gas protesters who ran amok in Red Hill. As punishment, she banished Shea to the border shared with the rival nation of Duma. Now, the former minister of internal affairs and ex-counselor to the queen must see to the completion of the Owenbeg Tower, an “anti-airship stronghold.” But Shea receives a chilly welcome from the duke at Owenbeg castle. The paranoid duke intends to censor Shea’s reports to the queen regarding details of the tower’s construction. Shea soon learns that instances of sabotage at the tower involve dangerous Drakiri technology. The humanoid Drakiri have been allowed to settle in Owenbeg, and their egg-shaped “tulips” provide anti-gravity assistance for raising the nearly 1,000-foot structure. But if not properly handled, the tulips implode, sucking in whatever surrounds them. Shea thinks often of his sister, Lena, whose death resulted from mishandled tulips. Doubly strange is that the duke’s counselor of arts is a striking Drakiri woman named Lena. She shares with Shea her people’s record of the Mimic Tower, which sprang into being as they tried to build another tower. Ultimately, the Mimic Tower destroyed many of the Drakiri, which is why none of Lena’s tribe labor on the Owenbeg Tower. As Shea falls for Lena, he becomes determined to ban tulips from the construction process. Yet Chief Engineer Brielle has a secret that makes such a move impossible.

Barsukov’s slim novel will remind readers of Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass (1970) and China Mieville’s work, which frequently includes a Cold War flavor of decrepit bureaucracies. While the Owenbeg castle appears lavish, “moths had taken a good bite out of the couches’ velvet.” The Owenbeg Tower, even unfinished, feels mythic, as in the passage “Entering it was entering a city...a world painted by a lover of chiaroscuro...shadows lay in pools of ink, and there were blinding patches of daylight.” The Drakiri seem slightly vampirelike, with their enhanced speed, strength, and elegance—though no blood drinking is ever mentioned. Barsukov sketches in characters slyly, as Shea assumes Lena is the duke’s lover, half revealing to readers his own desire. Echoes of Shea’s sister haunt him in the way this new woman “holds her head, the pride. The eyes.” When he survives an assassination attempt, Shea intuits that Patrick, the duke’s military counselor, is the culprit because of how the duke embarrasses the man publicly. The tower as an arms race metaphor succeeds gracefully. Drakiri technology is useful, as is nuclear power, but the drive to overshadow one’s enemies can lead to self-destruction. The author depicts the fantastic sparingly so that the instances pop against the narrative’s overall gloom. One character’s augmented hand, for example, “branched off in metal and purple veins,” and its “knotted ‘fingers’ rolled in the air as though strumming a chord.” One scene that reveals some truth about the Drakiri, their origin, and the reality of the Mimic Tower is pure surrealism.

This marvelous SF tale about dangerous technology offers sublime stretches that will warrant revisiting.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64076-190-2

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Vestige

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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

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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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Prepare yourself for the long haul. This is expansive, emotionally complex, and bound to suck you in.


From the Roots of Chaos series , Vol. 2

Magic, dragons, and prophecy are welcome threads in a fantasy that extols the power of motherhood, friendship, and self-love to change the world.

This prequel to Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree (2019) has a similar scope to that 800-page fantasy, but dragon lore is less important here than the stories of people and events that become catalysts for The Priory's tale. Each chapter is grounded by a cardinal direction, lest you lose your bearings, with the four corners of the world home to central characters whom readers will get to know intimately. In the West lives Glorian, heir to the queendom of Inys. Her rule is based on the sacred Berethnet bloodline, whose power originates from the knight Galian Berethnet's banishing of the Nameless One, a giant fire-breathing wyrm birthed from the world’s core. In the East, Dumai lives on a mountain peak and trains as a godsinger, someone who harbors a human connection to the dragons the East worship as gods. In the South, Tunuva is a warrior of the Priory, a sisterhood that worships the Mother who is seen as the true banisher of the Nameless One. Their beliefs are so different and their societies so distanced that they don't know of the others' existence. And yet, when the balance of nature starts to waver, bringing whispers of new fire-breathing threats like the Nameless One, these women find themselves united by a common cause to save their people and seek truth about the higher powers at war with one another. This story is epic in scope, but its density is the sort that pulls you in. The biggest pull comes from the humanity displayed by the central characters, whose hearts ache for their children and their futures in a world fraught with turmoil. The fire-breathers bring more than destruction in their wake; they also bring a plaguelike sickness that will elicit sharp parallels to the Covid-19 pandemic. The very real struggles these characters face, whether they ride dragons or bear the suffocating rules of monarchy, make this a consuming read. While some fantasy tropes feel like they've only been added to the story's surface, the pages keep turning because of the heart-wrenching reasons that characters are driven to action. The heroes shine in their uniqueness, with diverse family dynamics interwoven throughout and representation ranging from queer lords and warriors to genderfluid alchemists. This prequel stands on its own, but a word of warning to people who have read The Priory: You'll want to reread it in order to benefit from the deeper knowledge of what came before.

Prepare yourself for the long haul. This is expansive, emotionally complex, and bound to suck you in.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-63557-792-1

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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