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  New York Times Review

FOR ROUGHLY THE first quarter of Nora Roberts's post-apocalyptic saga year one (St. Martin's, $27.99), all the formulas for a good thriller are deployed to magnificent effect. Readers follow the MacLeod family as they enjoy a pleasant holiday in Scotland - in the process somehow awakening a mystical ancient doom. The epidemic that follows, eventually wiping out billions, is described with relentless brutality as governments collapse and things fall apart. In power and poignancy, this segment of "Year One" is a match for end-of-the-world classics like Stephen King's "The Stand," Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" and the better zombie apocalypses. And then the tension just... stops. Once the bulk of the human race is dead, the pace of events slows drastically. The novel's main characters shift their focus from survival to building a pastoral community away from the city. Many have manifested "magickal" abilities; elves and faeries suddenly appear, spouting cryptic warnings. Matters of magic begin to supplant the usual divisions of humankind, though this might be because there's little mention of survivors who aren't white, cishet or practitioners of Celtic belief systems. Eventually it turns out that one of the novel's two pregnant characters bears the One, a savior destined to save humanity. Other than vague prophecies about the Ttiatha de Danaan, however, not much happens. This is the first book of a planned trilogy, and it shows in the latter half's sluggish pace. As a venerated romance writer with hundreds of books under her belt, Roberts could have brought an exciting perspective to the postapocalyptic subgenre. Romance novels tend to center character and emotion in a way most science fiction and fantasy novels can't or won't - but for some reason Roberts chooses not to do so in "Year One." This results in a story of shallow people, striving for not all that much, in an implausible world. A frustrating disappointment. Gods spring forth from the human heart in Rachel Neumeier's winter of ice and iron (Saga, $29.99), a sprawling epic fantasy of political intrigue and cold, bitter magics. Every polity in the Four Kingdoms generates magic, which wells up from the intentions and labors of its people and invests local rulers with hereditary, semi-sentient spirits called fmmanents. When the ruler of Emmer decides to feed the fmmanents of every other nation to his own, conquest isn't the greatest danger. The real problem is that any one of the Immanent Powers in play might achieve apotheosis, transforming into a god - and in the process destroying the land that created it. This is a solidly traditional epic fantasy on its face, taking place in a vaguely European land of dukedoms and mad kings, featuring names full of umlauts and acute and grave accents. The plot is a familiar one, too, wherein the princess of a threatened nation must agree to a political marriage, and a young duke plots to overthrow his king. Eventually, they team up. ft's all so very traditional that the narrative lingers overlong on explanations of the politics and world-building, which aren't necessary past the first chapter or so. There's nothing here that the average Dungeons & Dragons player would find challenging. But Neumeier's writing has a spare, haunting quality that makes up for the repetition and predictability. Best of all are her characters - particularly fnnisth, the conscientious duke burdened with a sadistic Immanent. This is fnnisth's story by virtue of the fact that he's got more agency and layers than the princess Kehera, but they work together beautifully, and their romance has a number of interesting and unconventional complications. The characters hook; the writing holds, ft's comfort food, but more satisfying than most. A speculative fiction reader can be forgiven for mistaking Ana Simo's madcap melange of a novel, heartland (Restless, paper, $17.99), for genre, ft sits somewhere at the intersection of "Naked Lunch," absurdist experimental theater, telenovelas and magical realism. The publisher bills it as dystopian satire and lesbian pulp noir - all of which is to say that this story is unclassifiable. That isn't a problem; the fact that it's a chaotic mess is. The setting is dystopian, and irrelevant, ft's an alternative modern-day America in which millions have starved in the "Great Hunger," which hit the heartland harder than the cities. The novel's nameless Latina protagonist is a refugee from this crisis, having migrated on foot and survived the resettlement camps, eventually remaking herself as a writer in New York City. Despite the partial economic collapse of the country, there are still arts grants, and the protagonist has survived off one for 10 years while writing little - indeed, while progressively losing the ability to write, in increasingly ridiculous ways. One day while wearing a "whiteface" disguise to avoid the arts grant administrator, she learns that the love of her life, Bebe, has broken up with her longtime partner, Mercy McCabe. The protagonist decides that McCabe is to blame for all her troubles - her struggles as a writer, her own loneliness and unfulfillment - and therefore begins an obsessive campaign of violent surrealist erotic revenge fantasy. There's really no better way to describe this. The protagonist is hilariously absurd and profane, but after the fifth racial slur or transphobic remark or fat joke, it all starts to feel like performative edginess meant to shock the novel's presumed white Middle American audience. (If this book had been published before 2016, the character's bigotry might have been funnier.) Her disjointed thought processes make it difficult to tell what's actually happening versus what is absurdism - a difficulty sometimes muddled further by Simo's stream-of-consciousness style, ft's a quick read, but not an easy or pleasant one. Considered by most to be the first work of science fiction, "Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus" was published in 1818. Its author, Mary Shelley, significantly revised and republished a more popular edition in 1831. In a powerful introduction to a new bicentennial edition, FRANKENSTEIN: THE 1818 TEXT (Penguin Classics, paper, $10), the literary scholar Charlotte Gordon makes a case for the 1818 text being a purer distillation of the complexities of Shelley's life. She does this by contextualizing Shelley as a "monstrous" female artist, according to the standards of Shelley's time and station. Shelley was born to the radical philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who died within days of her birth, and she was later rejected by her father, the novelist William Godwin, after she eloped with the poet Percy Shelley. Both events, according to Gordon (the author of "Romantic Outlaws," a joint biography of Shelley and Wollstonecraft), heavily influenced Shelley's tale of a rejected symbolic child demanding the human rights and redress it is due. Also true to her mother's legacy, young Mary Shelley refused to obey the upper-class English insistence that women should make babies but never art - though she did not do so without consequence. Gordon argues that these consequences effectively tainted the 1831 text. Shelley was by this point a struggling single mother who had lost a husband and three children to tragedy. She needed to sell books, and therefore prefaced that later, darker, text with a bit of extra fiction about the idea coming to her in a dream. If Shelley was at the mercy of her own subconscious, Gordon suggests, perhaps potential readers would be more willing to overlook the fact that this scandalous book had been written by a woman. Yet Gordon also notes: "But buried within Mary's apparent self-deprecation is another, prouder claim. Like the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge ... Mary was asserting her qualifications as a true poet. A dream vision was the marker of a true Romantic artist. Extraordinary dreams were not democratic; only great artists received visions." Gordon's framing is the real standout of the anniversary edition, but other appendixes include a chronology of events in Shelley's life, an excerpt from her diary, the 1831 text's introduction, and excerpts from Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman." Highly recommended. N. K. JEMISIN won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016, and again in 2017, for the first two parts of the Broken Earth trilogy, which concluded this year. Her column on Sciencefiction and fantasy appears six times ayear.

  Booklist Review

Graphic adaptations of classic literature are a mainstay for reluctant readers, and this installment in the Graphic Revolve series aims to introduce Shelley's Frankenstein. The story follows the basic structure of the original, beginning in the Arctic wastes where Robert Walton discovers Dr. Frankenstein in pursuit of the monster. From there the story moves at a fast clip, zipping through major plot points and introducing as many characters as possible. The comic book-style artwork is grim and shadowy, with figures peering out from expanses of black, befitting the gothic atmosphere. At times the pace is a bit too speedy, sacrificing the suspense and tension that make Shelley's story so spooky. While, at fewer than 100 pages, there's plenty left out, youngsters eager to learn about the green-skinned, bolt-necked monster (a misconception clarified in the opening pages) without picking up the novel will find enough of the bare bones of the story to get a tantalizing taste, which may lead them to more comprehensive versions. Common Core-related back matter provides some curriculum help, as well.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2015 Booklist
<p>Tor Classics are affordably-priced editions designed to attract the young reader. Original dynamic cover art enthusiastically represents the excitement of each story. Appropriate "reader friendly" type sizes have been chosen for each title--offering clear, accurate, and readable text. All editions are complete and unabridged, and feature Introductions and Afterwords.</p> <p>This edition of Frankenstein includes a Foreword, Biographical Note, and Afterword by Keith Neilson.</p> <p>When obsessed university student Victor Frankenstein finds the secret of animating dead flesh, he tries to create the first of a master race, stitching rotting corpses into a superhuman giant. Then the ghastly thing opens its hideous, soulless eyes and Frankenstein flees into the night, shrieking with horror--</p> <p>Leaving a being who wants love and finds hate, wants friends and finds enemies, wants another and finds no one. Frankenstein is its father, mother, maker and living god, and Frankenstein has abandonded his own monster to a living hell of unutterable isolation. But now, unstoppable, the creature means to get revenge for having been born--</p> <p>Not by killing its creator...but by destroying everything holds dear, and everyone Frankenstein loves...</p>
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