Friday, November 9, 2007

Kirkus Reviews genre review round-up
(November 15th issue)

Not much here this time, I'm afraid. Alas!
There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern (Hyperion): "Ahern (If You Could See Me Now, 2006, etc.) approaches the less-than-playful subject of missing persons with her typical whimsy. Sandy Shortt of County Leitrim, Ireland, has been obsessed with lost objects ever since her playmate and rival Jenny-May Butler disappeared when they were ten. Concerned about her obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Sandy's parents sent her at 14 to a therapist, Gregory Burton, whom she saw until she graduated high school at 18, when he gave her a lingering farewell kiss. Now Sandy, who is 34 and whose 6'1" frame cutely belies her name, runs an agency to find missing people. She also has carried on a romantic relationship with Gregory since she was 21, but she has been unwilling to commit—the apparently unintentional creep factor of this relationship is emblematic of the novel. One early morning, while out jogging, Sandy takes a strange path and ends up in the world of lost things and people. It turns out to be a pretty nice world, actually, with good food. Sandy soon meets most of the persons she's been looking for over the years, including Jenny-May. While they have made complete lives for themselves, the lost are happy to have Sandy fill them in on the families left behind. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the last person Sandy noticed before disappearing was a familiar-looking man at a gas station. Coincidentally he is Jack Ruttle, the man she was scheduled to meet to discuss his missing brother. When she doesn't appear for their meeting, Jack, desperate to find his brother, goes looking for Sandy and stumbles upon the truth about his sibling. Sandy returns, cured of her obsession and ready to embrace the present. For all her wit and cleverness, Ahern's romanticizing of missing children, not to mention the disappeared, borders on offensive." (Jan.)

The Dragon's of the Sun by Michael Swanwick (Tor): "Another fantasy set in the seething, eye-popping elfpunk world of The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1994). During a relentless and seemingly endless war, a huge, badly damaged and utterly malignant battle dragon crafted of science, alchemy, engineering and magic crashes near the village where orphan Will lives. The dragon declares himself king and, crawling into Will's brain, forces the boy to become his lieutenant. Thereafter the villagers must do the dragon's bidding—including ordering Will to crucify his childhood best friend, a would-be rebel. Eventually, Will learns Baalthazar's real name and slays the brute, though the dragon remains a slumbering presence in his head. Will flees, and acquires a companion, Esme, a girlish creature who has sold her past and future memories in exchange for perpetual youth. After various adventures involving female centaur-soldiers, a refugee camp, a train journey across Fäerie and the local Gestapo, Will falls in with cheerful conman Nat Whilk. Together they arrive at Babel, a huge city that bears more than a passing resemblance to New York City, where Will disappears underground and falls in with a gang—until he discovers that the other gang members are merely figments of a crazy old elf's imagination. Emerging from the dark, he meets and falls in love with Alcyone, a high-elven of royal blood; meanwhile, Nat hatches his greatest con, claiming that Will is the long-lost king of Fäerie. Offering the message that humans, elves, dwarves, ghosts, demons, dinosaurs, basilisks, etc. are merely trying to get along and make a living, the book is impressive and often spectacular, but less than fully engaging."(Jan.)

The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code by Robert Rankin (Orion/Trafalgar): "Transcendent parody from Rankin (The Toyminator, 2006, etc.). Jonny Hooker—a musician whose invisible childhood companion, Mr. Giggles the Monkey Boy, stubbornly refused to vanish when Jonny grew up—floats headless in a London park pond. A week previously, he received a mysterious letter declaring him to be a WINNER. Before claiming his prize, however, he must solve the musical code of the title. Feeling unaccountably optimistic, Jonny goes to the very pub where blues legend Robert Johnson recorded a song; unfortunately, the recording also captured the Devil's laughter, so anybody that hears it dies. Later, Jonny sees a child drowning in the same pond where he is eventually found, but when he splashes in to make the rescue there's nobody there; men in white coats haul him off to the hospital, where he escapes through an evil psychiatrist's office window. Soon the doctor turns up dead (headless). Jonny meets park ranger Charlie Hawtrey, whose twin brother Hari is a prisoner in the same hospital; oddly, Charlie also saw the drowning child. Meanwhile, Jonny learns of the Air Loom Gang, who, since the 18th century, have been magnetizing people and exerting thought control. The owner of the printing press where the WINNER letter was produced turns up dead (headless), his recording of Johnson's song missing. Jonny discovers he's been magnetized, and starts lining his cap with tinfoil…and then there's Elvis, flying saucers from hell and much more. Downright obnoxious once or twice, amusing about as often, but nearly always clever and witty: Well worth a try, though Rankin's in no danger of knocking fantasy-comedy maestro Terry Pratchett off his perch anytime soon." (Feb.)

The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen (Simon & Schuster): "Narrative tension can't save this sequel from glaring flaws. Nine years have passed since John, Jack and Charles had their last Archipelago adventure in Here There Be Dragons (2006), but now they must return to save the world from a child-stealing villain. There's simply no child or YA audience for this text—the adult protagonists mock adolescence, and the child characters are lisping feral innocents. Thematically concerned with superior adulthood (much of the adventure takes place in the Archipelago's version of Neverland crossed with Dante's Inferno), this adventure is positively hostile to a young readership. Like the previous volume, this entry mixes mythology, fairy tale and folklore, intertwining Daedalus with Peter Pan, Arthur with the Pied Piper, Narnia with the lost Roanoke colony. The result might have been coherent had it been well-constructed, but clumsy moments, such as a classically trained character misattributing a John F. Kennedy quotation to Dante, shatter the story's conceit. Moreover, when one of the story's villains asks the heroes why the Caretaker position "has been reserved mostly for light-skinned Europeans," his brutal villainy makes a mockery of the question. In this world, raising concerns about elitism and racism is something done only by a foolish despot. Full of unmet potential." (Fantasy. YA) (Jan.)

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