Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

PERHAPS THE STARS

From the Terra Ignota series , Vol. 4

The fourth and final volume in the Terra Ignota series, a science fantasy set on a 25th-century Earth where people affiliate by philosophy and interest instead of geography.

For the first time in centuries, the world is seized by war—once the combatants actually figure out how to fight one. While rivalries among the Hives provide several motives for conflict, primary among them is whether J.E.D.D. Mason, the heir to various political powers and apparently a god from another universe in human form, should assume absolute rule over the world and transform it for the better. Gathering any large group to further the progress of the war or the possibility for peace is hampered by the loss of the world transit system of flying cars and the global communications network, both shut down by parties unknown, indicating a hidden and dangerous faction manipulating the situation for its own ends. As events play out, they bear a strong resemblance to aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey, suggesting the persistent influence of Bridger, a deceased child who was also probably a god. Is tragedy inevitable, or can the characters defy their apparent fates? This often intriguing but decidedly peculiar chimera of a story seems to have been a philosophical experiment, but it’s difficult to determine just what was being tested. The worldbuilding—part science, part magic—doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, and the political structure defies comprehension. The global government consists of an oligarchy of people deeply and intimately connected by love and hate on a scale which surpasses the royal dynasties of old, and it includes convicted felons among their number. Perhaps the characters are intended as an outsized satiric comment on the way politicians embrace expediency over morality or personal feelings, but these supposedly morally advanced potentates commit so many perverse atrocities against one another it is difficult to engage with them as people. At times, they seem nearly as alien as J.E.D.D. Mason.

Curiously compelling but not entirely satisfying.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7806-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

PHASE SIX

Paced like a prophetic thriller, this novel suggests that "pandemic" is a continuing series.

Shepard has frequently employed research as a foundation for his literary creations, but never before in such pulse-racing fashion. He's set this narrative in the near future, when the threat of Covid-19 has passed but provides a cautionary lesson. And what have we learned from it? Not enough, apparently, as an outbreak within an extremely isolated settlement of Greenland begins its viral spread around the globe. Readers will find themselves in territory that feels eerily familiar—panic, politics, uncertainty, fear, a resistance to quarantine, an overload of media noise—as Shepard's command of tone never lets the tension ease. Eleven-year-old Aleq somehow survives the initial outbreak, which takes the lives of everyone close to him, and he may provide the key to some resolution if anyone can get him to talk. The novel follows the boy and the pandemic from Greenland to a laboratory facility in Montana as, in little more than a month, the virus or whatever it is, spread by touching, traveling, breathing, has infected some 14 million around the world. Jeannine Dziri and Danice Torrone, a pair of young researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who have dubbed themselves the “Junior Certain Death Squad,” find themselves on the front lines as they attempt to balance personal relationships (which occasionally read like plot contrivances) with all-consuming professional responsibilities. Meanwhile, the pandemic proceeds relentlessly. “APOCALYPSE II?” screams a Fox graphic amid “the social media cacophony,” as mass hysteria shows how human nature can take a horrible situation and make it so much worse. And though the novel builds to a sort of redemption, it suggests that there will be no resolution to the current pandemic beyond nervous anticipation toward the ones to come. Channeling Pasteur, Shepard promises—or threatens—“It will always be the microbes that have the last word.”

All the narrative propulsion of escapist fiction without the escape.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65545-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more