A medieval fable of obscure moral import blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex, absorbing drama that stands...

SPINNING SILVER

From the author of Uprooted (2015), the splendid Temeraire Napoleonic Wars–and-dragons series, etc., this reworked fairy tale’s opening sentence might well have read Once upon a time in Old Lithuania....

Expanding a recent short story based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” Novik weaves in other elements of Eastern European folklore along with some fine original flourishes. Miryem, the granddaughter of affluent Jewish moneylenders, takes over her incompetent father’s failing business affairs. Channeling anger and frustration into business acumen, she collects the debts that are owed, accepting goods or services as well as coin. In this and other ways, Miryem turns copper and silver into gold. Unfortunately, gold attracts the attention of the Staryk, coldhearted fairies who occasionally intrude into the human world, bringing with them forgetfulness and a breath of winter. One such gives Miryem fairy silver, ordering her to change it into gold. Fairy silver, Miryem finds, is so beautiful that it fetches huge sums in gold, especially when made into jewelry magnificent enough to intrigue the Duke. Miryem slowly grasps that she’s made a bargain with the Staryk: He will make her his queen if she succeeds in spinning a vast pile of silver into gold—and freeze her solid if she fails. She has no wish to marry him but also notices that the Staryk do not particularly value gold in itself—so why do they want such large quantities of it? In spare prose of great clarity Novik weaves in and out of multiple first-person narratives in sometimes-illuminating, sometimes-disconcerting or confusing ways, exploring human and alien social structures and ethnic prejudices, fathers and daughters, damaged relationships and hidden agendas, wringing unexpected consequences from seemingly simple choices.

A medieval fable of obscure moral import blossoms into a thoughtful, emotionally complex, absorbing drama that stands confidently on its own merits.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-18098-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

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THE FIFTH SEASON

From the The Broken Earth series , Vol. 1

In the first volume of a trilogy, a fresh cataclysm besets a physically unstable world whose ruling society oppresses its most magically powerful inhabitants.

The continent ironically known as the Stillness is riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and periodically suffers from Seasons, civilization-destroying tectonic catastrophes. It’s also occupied by a small population of orogenes, people with the ability to sense and manipulate thermal and kinetic energy. They can quiet earthquakes and quench volcanoes…but also touch them off. While they’re necessary, they’re also feared and frequently lynched. The “lucky” ones are recruited by the Fulcrum, where the brutal training hones their powers in the service of the Empire. The tragic trap of the orogene's life is told through three linked narratives (the link is obvious fairly quickly): Damaya, a fierce, ambitious girl new to the Fulcrum; Syenite, an angry young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor and who stumbles across secrets her masters never intended her to know; and Essun, searching for the husband who murdered her young son and ran away with her daughter mere hours before a Season tore a fiery rift across the Stillness. Jemisin (The Shadowed Sun, 2012, etc.) is utterly unflinching; she tackles racial and social politics which have obvious echoes in our own world while chronicling the painfully intimate struggle between the desire to survive at all costs and the need to maintain one’s personal integrity. Beneath the story’s fantastic trappings are incredibly real people who undergo intense, sadly believable pain.

With every new work, Jemisin’s ability to build worlds and break hearts only grows.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

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