A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

KAGEN THE DAMNED

In the first of a series, epic fantasy blends with eldritch horror and folklore as a man seeks vengeance for the destruction of an empire.

Kagen Vale, sworn protector of the young heirs of the Silver Empress, awakens from a night of debauchery to discover himself naked and weaponless as the forces of the long-defeated Hakkians slaughter the royal family and conquer the Silver Empire in the course of a single night. Tormented by his failure to save his charges and by a vision of his nation’s gods literally turning their backs on him, the apparently damned man wanders the countryside in a drunken and murderous haze while nursing vengeance against the usurping Witch-king, a sorcerer and disciple of Hastur, the sinister Shepherd God. Both the Witch-king and a desperate rebellious cabal are seeking Kagen, the former to capture and humiliate him, the latter because they believe Kagen is key to defeating the Witch-king, whose ambitions threaten the whole world. Meanwhile, having lost the protection of their destroyed empire’s faith, two nuns seek the help of other, older gods. Lovecraft-ian pastiche remains a popular, some might say overused, subgenre, but it’s usually presented in a more contemporary or recent historical setting rather than a high fantasy milieu as it is here. Maberry also blends in the mythology of Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow as well as references to Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott” and Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” While it’s difficult to garner any sympathy for the Witch-king and the gruesome god he serves, the author offers a shades-of-gray approach to most of the story, suggesting that not all the worshippers of the other Great Old Ones are evil, that the Hakkians had at least some justification for rising up against the Silver Empire, and that the Silver Empire’s seemingly gentle Garden faith had some fairly ruthless underpinnings. Various characters warn Kagen and the reader that things are not always as they appear, and one of the stunning revelations at the end should probably be obvious, but that foreknowledge doesn’t prevent the novel’s thrilling denouement from striking like a hammer blow.

A vibrant, textured, and exciting admixture of subgenres that do not often play together.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-78397-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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