A thoughtful, crisp take that brings just the right amount of newness to the timeless legends readers know and love.

HALF SICK OF SHADOWS

The Lady of Shalott narrates this new take on King Arthur, focused on a group of young people struggling to find their places in the world.

Arthur has lived in Avalon for so long that many of his people believe him to be no more than a myth. When Uther Pendragon's death calls his heir home to Albion, Arthur leaves the land of the fey with a small contingent of allies: his best friend, Lancelot; his betrothed, Gwen; his half sister, Morgana; and the young seer, Elaine, perhaps better known as Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, who has lived at Camelot before. A chilly reception in his father's lands turns grimmer when the would-be king learns that Uther has named his bastard son, Mordred, as his heir in Arthur's absence. When Merlin delays Mordred's coronation to make way for a set of trials—each designed to prove that Arthur is worthy of his father's throne—his friends dedicate themselves to his campaign, at least for a time. Destiny has a propensity for getting in the way, however, and the story soon shifts, not unpleasantly, to focus on the three young women—Elaine, Morgana, and Gwen—as they make their own ways in a world that fears their magic and mysticism. Sebastian's characterization is strong; each of Arthur's friends bolster one of his weaker qualities—and do it well—and the young prince's impostor syndrome will ring true to almost any reader. The novel remains relatively faithful to source materials from Malory and the French poets, though the eagle-eyed may spot an anachronism or two. Although the large central cast often requires an excessive amount of pace-hindering dialogue, the end result is one that Arthuriana buffs and newcomers alike can enjoy.

A thoughtful, crisp take that brings just the right amount of newness to the timeless legends readers know and love.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-20051-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

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KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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