An intriguingly dark (and realistically depressing) deconstruction of a beloved mystery trope.

THE JUSTICE OF KINGS

From the Empire of the Wolf series , Vol. 1

Murder mystery meets grimdark political fantasy in this first of a trilogy.

Sir Konrad Vonvolt is a Justice of the Imperial Magistratum; accompanied by his taskman (a kind of bodyguard, enforcer, and investigator), Dubine Bressinger, and his law clerk, 19-year-old Helena Sedanka, he travels the Sovan Empire, solving, prosecuting, and judging criminal acts. A few decades after a dreadful period of war and conquest, Vonvolt is confident in the strength of the empire, the power of the law, and his magical abilities (necromancy and the Emperor’s Voice, which compels others to speak truth and obey his commands) to enforce his judgments. But all of those are threatened by a rising tide of religious zealotry and a call for a Crusade, both of which act as a cover for a shift in who holds the power in the Empire. As Vonvolt attempts to solve the murder of a noblewoman, the conspiracy of corruption he uncovers threatens everything he knows and loves. Meanwhile, Helena, the novel’s first-person protagonist, struggles with an internal conflict involving her loyalty to Vonvolt, who transformed her from a street orphan into an educated woman with the potential to become a Justice herself; her boredom and frustration with many aspects of her work; and her nascent desire to settle down with a young guardsman she meets during the investigation. The initial setup of the story—that of a traveling investigator/prosecutor/judge—will feel familiar to readers of Robert van Gulik’s classic Judge Dee series and Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma novels (these especially, as they include a certain amount of plot tension around orthodoxy vs. heresy and newly established religion vs. paganism). But aside from the fantasy setting, this novel differs in that it focuses far more intensely on how brutal realities of war and politics can overpower a well-established legal system and, in the face of that, erode the ethical and moral structures of that system’s representatives. We have hope that Judge Dee and Fidelma of Cashel and the laws they uphold will prevail despite the obstacles against them; but although Vonvolt, Helena, and Bressinger solve the case and several of the perpetrators pay the ultimate price, our heroes, too, pay a terrible price, and what occurs seems a bit more primitive and angry than dispassionate justice; certainly, that’s what Helena thinks.

An intriguingly dark (and realistically depressing) deconstruction of a beloved mystery trope.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-36138-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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