A well-crafted fantasy marked by tenderness and optimism.

THE BONDS BETWEEN US

BOOK ONE OF THE WEB OF WYRD TRILOGY

A woman with elemental powers finds love while taking on the devil in this debut romantic fantasy.

Writer Katya Anders moved to Venice, Italy, three years ago. She lives with her best friend, Nina, and after a tragic upbringing in the United States, Kat finally feels as if she belongs. But while researching local myths for her next book, she gets the sense that Venice hides something. “People were afraid,” she notices, “and they obviously had been for a very long time.” One day, she bumps into a musician named Matteo with “expressive chocolate eyes.” She feels instantly bonded with him, and they agree to meet the next day at the San Nicolò festival. At home, she discovers a tattoolike mark on her wrist with red and blue strands intertwined. This is a “soulmark,” which should be impossible for her to possess. Kat is secretly a Daski, born to a human and a frost jotun from Norse myth. Her people have been denied soul mates by the fate-controlling Norns. Nina, a hopeless romantic and an Undine (water elemental), helps Kat prepare for the date nevertheless. Matteo woos Kat with a lovely night out and also possesses the soulmark. Then, near a stone bridge on the island of Torcello, a portal opens. The devil emerges, demanding the souls of seven children. Ruhl’s series opener focuses on Kat and Matteo’s romance while offering a detailed fantasy backdrop featuring the Vaettir, or Norse supernatural beings. Research helps the couple and their cohorts, including Matteo’s hotheaded brother, Leo, learn about a woman’s deal with the devil two centuries ago that still haunts Venice. Tension builds as readers wait for Kat’s special “kedja” necklace to break, which will unlock her dangerous ice powers. That Matteo is a fire-powered “Salamander” adds to the impossible odds of their happiness together. The cast expands to include arrow-shooting twins Arun and Janara and even Hela, “goddess of the Underworld,” who promises to cause the protagonist and her circle further trouble. Kat and Matteo’s romance is explored with the youthful enthusiasm inherent to new love. The audience will be interested to see if the author rocks their boat in the sequel.

A well-crafted fantasy marked by tenderness and optimism.

Pub Date: March 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63988-258-8

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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