A sad, lovely, and blood-soaked song of a book.

TROUBLE THE SAINTS

The fates of three people intertwine in a World War II–era New York where some people of color are blessed and cursed with magic in their hands.

Phyllis, a light-skinned African American woman who can “pass” under many circumstances, has impossibly dexterous hands that wield murderous knives in the service of Victor, a Russian mob boss, and believes her kills serve justice. Her once and future lover, Dev, a half-Indian undercover cop posing as Victor’s bartender, whose own hands can sense threats to himself and others, can’t quite reconcile his feelings for Phyllis with his duty to a department that will never truly accept him as one of them. And Phyllis’ best friend, Tamara, an African American snake dancer and aspiring impresario at Victor’s club, with an oracular gift of reading cards, hopes that if she pretends she doesn’t notice the violent foundation of Victor’s empire, it won’t touch her. But the truths that each refuses to acknowledge and the death-haunted pasts that refuse to stay buried have dangerous implications for all three of them, both on the streets of New York City and in the supposedly quiet Hudson Valley town where Dev, Phyllis, and Tamara take an uncertain refuge. Johnson’s secret history is a nuanced portrait of racism in all of its poisonous flavors, brutally overt and unsuccessfully covert. She explores in deeper detail an issue she touched upon in her two YA novels, The Summer Prince (2013) and Love Is the Drug (2014): the incredibly fraught, liminal space of being a light-skinned person of color. In musical prose, she also offers passionate and painful depictions of the love expressed in romance and friendship and the sacrifices such love can demand.

A sad, lovely, and blood-soaked song of a book.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-17534-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read.

MASTER OF POISONS

An epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world on the brink of ecological disaster.

Djola, the Arkhysian Empire’s Master of Poisons, has a plan to stop the spreading poison desert. Hezram, a powerful priest, offers to use dark blood magic. But Djola believes in his “map to tomorrow,” which involves searching for a powerful spell to unravel the cause of the dangerous void-storms. Awa has an affinity with bees and a talent for traveling to Smokeland, the spirit realm. Sold to the Green Elders on her 12th birthday, Awa comes of age on the margins of empire, learning from Yari, the griot (storyteller) of griots. Along the way, she will learn to question much of what she’s been taught: about the Elders, about people the Empire calls "savages," and about “vesons,” who, like Yari, are neither man nor woman. Both Djola and Awa will be tested, and both will make enormous sacrifices to save the people—and the world—they love. This complex story spans years, travels to every corner of a richly imagined fantasy world, and even dips into the minds of elephants, bees, and rivers: “The Bees...dream of pools of nectar, clouds of pollen, and evening dew heavy with flower scent. Why dream of anything else?”

This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26054-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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