Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

THE WEREWOLF OF BAMBERG

Someone or something is chomping on the good burgers of Bamberg, and it’s up to executioner-turned-detective Jakob Kuisl to figure out the whys and wherefores.

Being a hangman has some bennies, including, in the fraught era of counterreformation and inquisition, plenty of job security. Yet Jakob has been ticked off at the good citizens of Schongau ever since his pop “died in great agony” in a cold winter that saw the 1 percent comfortably bundled in furs and the great masses dying of hunger and frostbite. So what’s a self-respecting Bavarian to do? Head for a cathedral city for beer and solace, of course. In the company of daughter Magdalena and occasionally hapless son-in-law Simon (“If you can read books,” growls Jakob, “why can’t you read people?”), Jakob thus makes for Bamberg, where much is amiss. In this latest installment in the Hangman’s Daughter series, bestselling German writer Pötzsch (The Beggar King, 2013, etc.) is not always well-served by an off-handedness that sometimes comes off like Dick Shawn in The Producers (“Maybe he has the plague….That’s going around now”). Still, the setup is delicious: in a time of maddening superstition and general ineptitude (“These stupid drunks would probably get stuck even in a dry riverbed”), some party unknown is adding to the chaos by sinking blades or perhaps fangs and claws into the necks of the unsuspecting Bambergers, and it’s a grand entertainment to watch Jakob and associates go all CSI on the proceedings and sniff, deduce, and otherwise reason toward a solution that involves plenty of red herrings—or red simians, anyway. Fans of catacombs and secret underground cities will thrill at Jakob’s discoveries, and along the way Pötzsch turns in some quietly thoughtful moments that aren’t gooey with sentiment: “As a hangman’s daughter,” he writes to lovely effect, “Magdalena knew all too well how it felt when people looked away when they saw you and secretly crossed themselves.”

Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-61094-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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