The second part of this trilogy is darker and, in many ways, more moving than its predecessor.

MOON WITCH, SPIDER KING

From the Dark Star series , Vol. 2

Stories as ambitiously made up as this aren't expected to so intensely engage the shifting natures of truth and reality. This one does.

A chorus of enthusiastic comparisons to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice greeted James' Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) upon its publication. This second volume in a projected trilogy set in a boldly imagined, opulently apportioned ancient Africa shows that the Man Booker Prize–winning novelist is building something deeper and more profoundly innovative within the swords-and-sorcery genre. In this middle installment, James doesn’t advance his narrative from the first volume so much as approach its main story, Rashomon-like, from a different perspective. This, then, is the story of Sogolon, the 177-year-old Moon Witch, whose path crosses in Black Leopard with those of the one-eyed Tracker and his motley entourage in a far-flung and fraught search for a mysterious young boy who's been missing for three years. This novel, told in the main character’s patois, which is as witty, richly textured, and musically captivating as the story it tells, begins decades and decades before, back when Sogolon is an orphaned child and indentured servant who first becomes aware of her dark powers when she repels her master’s violent sexual advances with some involuntary—and deadly—violence of her own. From then on, a force she identifies throughout the narrative as “wind (not wind)” is summoned to carry her (and often rescue her) through years of travail and adventure across several kingdoms and wildernesses, encountering such wonders as a city that levitates at sunset and such perils as the witch-hunting Sangomin gangs. Through calm and stormy times, she’s always aware of being stalked by the Aesi, known from the previous installment as chancellor to Kwash Dara, alias the Spider King, but here Aesi exists mostly as a demonic spirit that can dispatch invisible assassins and manipulate people’s minds for its own ends. There’s barely enough space to talk about James’ many inventions, from children capable of changing into lions to a river dragon known as a “ninki nanka.” So much is densely packed into this narrative that it sometimes threatens to leave the reader gasping for breath, especially at the start. But once Sogolon’s painful, tumultuous initiation ends and the Moon Witch’s legend takes hold, James’ tale picks up speed with beautifully orchestrated (and ferociously violent) set pieces and language both vivid and poetic.

The second part of this trilogy is darker and, in many ways, more moving than its predecessor.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2020-1

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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