An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.

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THE MIDNIGHT BARGAIN

An intelligent and gifted young woman seeks to forge her own path despite considerable social and financial pressures in this feminist fantasy–meets–Regency romance.

Beatrice Clayborn’s father has gone deeply into debt to allow her to present herself properly at Bendleton’s bargaining season, when eligible unmarried gentlemen select their brides. But Beatrice doesn’t want to get married; she wants to make a bargain with a greater spirit and become a mage, supporting her family’s fortunes through her considerable magic powers. Unfortunately, only men are allowed to practice the higher magics; to prevent spirits from invading pregnant women’s wombs and possessing their babies, women are denied magical lore and are locked into collars that suppress their magical potential from their weddings until menopause. When Beatrice locates a grimoire that might offer the knowledge she seeks, it brings her into the orbit of the most eligible pair of siblings on the market, the wealthy and well-connected Ysbeta and Ianthe Lavan. Ysbeta wants Beatrice to teach her how to conjure and bargain with spirits, that she might also remain unmarried and pursue magic. Ianthe’s interest in Beatrice is more romantic in nature, and Beatrice fears those feelings might be mutual. Beatrice is faced with an impossible choice: Marry Ianthe and give up the magic she loves or pursue the dangerous and forbidden path to magery; meanwhile, various parties seek to prevent Beatrice from taking either option. As in Polk’s ongoing series The Kingston Cycle, magic represents a source of political and physical power that only a select group is permitted to wield. It’s a talent that can spring up in anyone but requires opportunities and training to flourish—and whether those are available depends heavily on gender, class, and finances. Obviously, such a concept has many parallels in our own world. The author’s penetrating social critique and deeply felt depiction of one woman’s struggle for self-determination are balanced by her charming take on classic Regency romance. The tropes of the story are such that we have a reasonable expectation that Beatrice will somehow find a way to realize her dreams, however paradoxical they seem in her milieu, but the author does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and places enough obstacles in her protagonist’s way that the reader might almost believe that failure is possible. The resolution therefore feels well earned and is pleasingly served with a righteous blow at the smugly complacent preservers of the status quo.

An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64566-007-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Erewhon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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