Seattle private detective Harper Blaine is just doing her job when, in this book’s opening pages, somebody up and beats her to death for no apparent reason. Don’t worry; she gets better. But after being dead for around two minutes, there’s no going back to business as usual. Even after the physical injuries are healed, Harper is haunted by strange images that flicker on the edge of her vision, and sometimes even more aggressively weird experiences. Her doctor refers her to some friends of his who specialize in problems at the fringe of science, if not beyond.
The author of “Lily’s Ghosts” brings us a book so funny that it hurts, set in a magical world so weird that it can only be New York City. She doesn’t come right out and name it, though. She describes it as “a vast and sparkling city, a city at the center of the universe.” But it’s also a city that has grown upward because the natural moat around it prevents it from spreading outward; a city with skyscrapers, subways, a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Radio City Music Hall, a Times Square, and a Brooklyn Bridge.
Thirteen-year-old Toby Vandevelde falls asleep in bed one full-moonlit night, and wakes up the next day in an MRI machine. Nobody, least of all Toby himself, can explain how or why he turned up naked in the dingo pen at a suburban Sydney zoo. His mother suspects epilepsy, until a pediatrician rules that out. The only explanation anybody has to offer is one that Toby’s mum considers crazy. Toby doesn’t quite believe it either… but he’s afraid it might be true.
Book 14 of “The Dresden Files” follows up on Chicago-based wizard/detective Harry Dresden’s apparent death in “Changes” and post-death experiences in “Ghost Story”. If you haven’t read those books yet, I’ve already spoiled that much; to say anything about this book, I’ll have to spoil a lot more.
“Vampire War”, the third trilogy within the 12-book “Saga of Darren Shan,” begins with this book. More like the previous “Book 1” than the first book in the overall series, it does not so much tell a free-standing story as set the gears in motion for a new chapter in the career of Darren Shan, half-vampire, magician’s assistant, and (increasingly now) warrior prince. It promises to be a chapter filled with savage conflicts, creepy magics, strange surprises, and the dread of a sinister destiny.
Book 6 of “The Saga of Darren Shan,” also known in some markets as the “Cirque du Freak” series, begins where the previous book left young half-vampire Darren—in a damp, dark place deep within Vampire Mountain, hurtling down a subterranean river toward all but certain death. Even after he (barely) survives his tumble out of the mountain, Darren faces odds stacked mightily against him. He has failed the trials that were to decide whether he is to be accepted by the vampire clan or executed. He has run away from a death sentence, which also carries a death sentence. And a vampire he counted on to help him, turns out to be a murderer and a traitor working with those enemy bloodsuckers, the Vampaneze.
In book 5 of the “Saga of Darren Shan”, a.k.a. “Cirque Du Freak”—or book 2 of the “Vampire Rites” trilogy, which is the second of four trilogies within the same—half-vampire Darren starts to look less like an eternally whiny teenage git and more like someone with the potential to be a hero. But it looks as if he may need to be drowned, roasted, sliced, and skewered along the way. As you would expect from the ending of “Vampire Mountain”, Darren must either pass five trials of physical courage, luck, and endurance—any of which could kill him—or, upon failing or wimping out, face execution by being dropped repeatedly into a pit of sharpened stakes.
Together with two rather dry introductory essays—one about the origin of the story, the other about the background of vampires in Greek folkore—these documents add up to a slender 50 pages or so, frisking along the borders of the novella. Taken by itself, it is quite a short story and, understandably given its nearly 200-year ripeness, its style now seems rather faded and old-fashioned. The abundance of typos in the free Kindle edition does not add much to its appeal. And there is no mistaking it for a work of real genius. Nevertheless, it is a very striking and effective story in its way—full of dread and suspense, exquisitely paced so that the ending comes as a sudden shock, and enlivened by the strange magnetism of the figure of Lord Ruthven.
Young Darren, half-vampire assistant to Larten Crepsley, leaves the Cirque du Freak and follows his master on a gruelling trip through northern wastes to the hollow mountain where the vampire clan meets every twelve years. Though Mr. Crepsley resigned from being a vampire general long ago, he is treated with great respect, even by the princes who rule over the whole clan. But the tidings he brings, in the person of one of the spooky “Little People” who travel with the freak show, could shake the very foundations of vampire society. An enemy clan called the Vampaneze—blood-suckers who kill their human prey, giving all vampires a bad name—seems to threaten the more benign vampires with imminent destruction. And Mr. Crepsley’s decision to “blood” Darren at such a young age adds another level of danger.
It’s the fifth and final “Fablehaven” adventure, and the world is coming to an end. More of the world’s magical game preserves are falling to the Society of the Evening Star, which is collecting the five hidden talismans needed to open the demon prison of Zzyzx. Young Kendra and Seth Sorenson, along with their family and friends, are charged with protecting these powerful objects, and the five “Eternals” who must die before the bad guys can turn the key in the lock. But after a death-defying visit to the Australian preserve where the last artifact is housed, Seth is taken prisoner by the so-called Sphinx—actually a centuries-old Ethiopian slave who rebelled against his masters and now holds most of the keys to Zzyzx.