A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.


From the author of Ready Player One (2011), another book centered around video games and the 1980s.

Teenager Zack Lightman loves playing games online with his friends, although any similarities to teenagers of today end there. He’s obsessed with '80s science fiction, ostensibly because it’s a way to fill the void left by his dead father. In the attic, Zack finds not only his dad’s favorite movies on VHS, but also a detailed conspiracy theory his father wrote when he was 19, claiming video games and movies about alien invasions have been secretly funded by a shadowy organization to prepare humanity for the real thing. It’s a crazy theory that, of course, turns out to be absolutely true. When aliens invade, Zack is whisked away to a secret training facility where he learns the game he’s devoted years of his life to playing has always been an advanced tactical simulation, much like the plot to the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter. Now, Zack and his fellow gamers must step up and defend Earth for real. In the hands of a more skilled writer, the book could have drawn on familiar stories to launch into a new science-fiction adventure. Instead, it offers little more than interminable video game–style battles and timeworn tropes, including a plot twist that can be seen coming for miles. Zack’s love interest is impossibly attractive, swigs booze from an R2-D2 flask, and laughs at all his jokes—a nerd-fantasy centerfold and just as one-dimensional. Meanwhile, Zack’s two friends are indistinguishable from one another and do little more than argue over geek minutiae, because as everyone knows, that’s all nerds ever do. However, in the end, it’s the unrelenting references to '80s movies that squander any possible tension in the narrative. Readers never doubt whether the good guys will win because they’re constantly reminded: good guys always win in the movies.

A hackneyed sci-fi spectacle.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3725-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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


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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Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.


Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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