A tale of two brothers for whom things work out a little too well to be worth the investment.

THE ODDLING PRINCE

The king of Calidon is about to die when a mysterious stranger saves him at the last minute—but the stranger carries a secret that could tear the kingdom apart.

A magic ring, after appearing seemingly out of nowhere, is killing the king. Even Prince Aric can't take it off his father's hand, but just when all hope seems lost, a beautiful, fey young man appears at the castle. He tells Aric his name is Albaric and says he's there to help the king. Miraculously, Albaric is able to get the deadly ring off the king's hand, saving his life. Not only that, but he tells a wild story of how the king got the ring from the Queen of Elfland. She captured the king when she saw him out riding, then kept him as her prisoner and companion in her strange world. But the king longed to go home, and when the queen finally granted his wish, she sent him back to the exact moment he'd left, eliminating all memories of his time in Elfland and the son they had together. That son, of course, is Albaric, who sacrificed his immortality to save the father who forgot him and who is devastated when the king distrusts and dislikes him. Even worse, he struggles to adapt to the world of mortals and is unsure of what to do with himself now that the king is alive but doesn't accept him. Aric, however, feels an instant bond with Albaric and vows to help his beloved brother find his place in a world where he will always be an oddling. The prolific Springer (Drawn into Darkness, 2013, etc.) certainly has a knack for a specific twee tone, as this novel floats along like one of the songs Albaric is so often singing. It's a sweet little tale, best suited for those who like their stories entirely without stakes or drama. Not only do no characters lose anything in any meaningful way, but the story doesn't even drum up the fear that they might. Problems are instantly solved, villains immediately eliminated or redeemed. The arc of the king's disdain for Albaric falls flat. Perhaps Springer is aiming for a kind of stylized narrative detachment here, but it comes across as affected and hollow.

A tale of two brothers for whom things work out a little too well to be worth the investment.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61696-289-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tachyon

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

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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