An exciting and complex tale with memorable characters, standout battle scenes, and riveting worldbuilding.

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HOURGLASS

An aspiring comic-book artist and the ghost of his best friend join a fight against soul-seeking private military contractors in James’ fantasy novel.

Twenty-something freelance artist Clyde Williams dreams of drawing comics but so far has collected nothing but rejections. He shares his Brooklyn apartment with Kevin “Kev” Carpenter, who’s been his best pal for 20 years—and for the last two months, he’s been a ghost. Shot to death in a liquor-store robbery, Kev simply appeared to Clyde as an apparition afterward and stuck around (although he refuses to serve as Clyde’s “ghost writer”). Both friends feel as if they’re at an impasse—so when Agent Rose Hadfield knocks on their door, the pair hear her out. She works for Hourglass, a black-ops government department that trains ghosts, or “Post-Life Entities” like Kev, and their physical anchors, like Clyde, to take on unusual threats. Clyde, whose father and brother both died in combat, despises the military but agrees to accompany Kev to Hourglass for training. The friends learn all kinds of fighting tactics as well as information about Erebus, the land of the dead that’s also called “the Null”: “There are no pearly gates, no kingdoms of clouds, or 72 virgins,” explains an Hourglass trainer. Meanwhile, the wealthy, powerful, and clandestine Cairnwood Society is planning a raid on Erebus from its Brooklyn warehouse in order to harvest souls and monetize them—maybe as energy, maybe as weapons. The strike force needs a guide, so Cairnwood has coerced Konstantin Kozlov, a Russian monk and ghost anchor who’s been to Erebus before, into service. For his part, Konstantin hopes to find the Firmament Needle, which he believes “could stitch together a heavenly Paradise.” A showdown in hell, and in New York City, awaits all the players in this game, with the fate of many souls hanging in the balance.

James, in his first fantasy work, tells a story that’s bursting its seams with imaginative ideas, backstory, combat scenes, and developing relationships. It’s a little slow to get started, but once it does, readers will be drawn deep into this well-developed world—or rather, worlds. These include such arcane elements as Konstantin’s Rising Path sect, the hellish creatures of Erebus, evil capitalists, and the comic-book subculture. Similarly, Clyde and Kev provide emotional ballast among so much that’s unusual and extraordinary; indeed, Clyde serves as an anchor in more ways than one. His relatable struggle over whether he should join the battle connects directly with his family history, and the descriptions of his artwork’s visual impact help prepare readers for the novel’s bravura training and battle scenes. The latter are densely choreographed with verve, intelligence, and plenty of operatic (or maybe comic book–like) action. Even the names of Erebus’ nine territories are evocative, such as The House of Fading Light, The House of Silent Screams, and The House of Cold Stars. With Konstantin’s quest incomplete at the end, readers will likely want a second volume.

An exciting and complex tale with memorable characters, standout battle scenes, and riveting worldbuilding.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-68-891068-1

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Will hook readers with its gripping worldbuilding, well-rounded characters, and fantastic horror.

GALLANT

Seeking a place to call home, Olivia uncovers long-buried secrets after arriving at Gallant.

Olivia Prior has always hoped for a place to belong and a family that cares for her. Instead, she’s isolated at Merilance School for Independent Girls, with its strict matrons, shunned by students who ostracize and torment her for being mute. Olivia uses sign language, taught to her by a now-departed matron (although nobody else signs); treasures the journal belonging to the mother she doesn’t remember; and can see ghouls. When she receives a letter from her uncle, Arthur Prior, inviting her to live at his manor, Olivia leaps at the chance. However, instead of the big, welcoming family she imagined, the opulent yet run-down Gallant only holds Matthew, her irritable cousin, and kindly caretakers Hannah and Edgar. Olivia unravels the ominous secrets of both her family and the house, where ghouls lurk around every corner and the dilapidated garden gate calls to her. The evolving relationships between Olivia and her found family shine, and themes of freedom, the self, and belonging are well depicted. The gripping writing and effective incorporation of horror elements, including haunting, inky artwork, are satisfyingly spine-tingling. Olivia’s use of sign language and her artistic talents, part of the exploration of the importance of communication, are skillfully incorporated into the overall story. Olivia and the main cast are White.

Will hook readers with its gripping worldbuilding, well-rounded characters, and fantastic horror. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-283577-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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