INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an unremitting classic, as is the signed limited edition of the novel by Earthling Publications.
The thing about INSPECTION that is so unnerving is that it is entirely plausible.
The main character J is one of twenty-six twenty-four Alphabet Boys growing up in a school where their adopted father, D.A.D., and his Inspectors and staff have withheld the very existence of the female gender from the boys their entire lives so that they are “undistracted” in pursuit of academic and artistic greatness.
This book is a new favorite of mine! INSPECTION is visceral, poignant, moving, and frightening, and, man oh man, that ending packs a wallop!
The world-building, the characters, the prose could not be woven together better, like a song, or be more impactful.
“Oh, J knew the inspections were for his own good.” [INSPECTION, Josh Malerman, p.86]
That very line sends a shiver up my spine.
If a boy fails a daily inspection to the point where they are dubbed “rotten”, then they will be sent to The Corner, an infamous, hidden place from which two of their brothers have gone but never returned.
That threat is nearly as ingrained as some of the specifics it is wrapped in by D.A.D. – the diseases that disobeying can bring – and therein, the need for Inspections, for every day of their twelve-year-old lives.
The boys are even fed books crafted to them to teach specific lessons and to be devoid of any female terminology.
In a world where so many struggle and generations of youth have to learn history in schools where books are banned and/or censored into incoherence, the brilliant and twisted premise of Malerman’s INSPECTION borders on prescience.
And you will not be able to put this book down.
Earthling Publications’ signed limited edition of INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an innovative marvel that captures the soul of the book, art reflecting art.
I imagine Josh Malerman must have felt a thrill jolt through him as he first held the Earthling S/L in his hands.
There is no dust jacket. No word on the book’s cover. And it is all the more stunning because of that.
The Earthling INSPECTION has every minute facet of the tale highlighted perfectly.
The cover is a “D.A.D. red leather jacket” Skyvertex covering, and there from front to spine to back are the black silhouettes of the Alphabet Boys waiting in line for their inspection.
It such a dramatic display.
The endpapers are the actual notebook pages that Warren Bratt printed with his hand-written story where “the woman” enters.
I mean, wow!
This is powerful, as are the brilliant illustrations of Patrick Arrasmith, the fantastic foreword by Jonathan Maberry, and both of them sign alongside Josh Malerman in this numbered edition of 235 (there was a lettered edition of 15).
The paper is bright, smells delicious, and boldly displays the text on 80# Finch interior papers that are held in a Smyth sewn binding.
Earthling is top-notch, even raising the bar they have set for themselves with INSPECTION.
A Sleight Of Shadows By Kat Howard ups the ante, as the fate of magic and the many lives surrounding it are in grave peril.
The magic is fighting back!
A Sleight Of Shadows is the exciting second book in the Unseen World Series and the follow-up to Kat Howard’s Edgar-award winning An Unkindness Of Magicians.
One of the Unseen World’s most powerful magicians, Sydney, finds herself bereft of nearly all magical ability.
She can with the greatest effort just barely light a candle.
Meanwhile, the New York City secret society of magical houses are cracking at the seams, spells are misfiring, and the corruption of the House of Shadows is still intertwined in magic itself.
Sydney thought she had destroyed Shadows, but that magical force is tipping the scales and doing all it can to rebuild.
The stakes could not be higher, as the Unseen World languishes and its chief defender, in Sydney, is powerless to fight magic with magic.
Regardless, the fantastic character that Howard creates is resolved to end the threat any way she can. She is smart, adept at planning her moves as though she plays a great chess match, and her willfulness is unmatched.
How can you not root for a character like Sydney?
Once again, the world building in the Unseen World is top-notch and delivers the vibrant, realistic, and vivid magical universe to life in A Sleight Of Shadows.
Howard’s prose is brilliant – it scintillates.
Here is a passage I love:
Once they arrived, Dahlia stopped. She took in the place. The slow, inexorable movement of the stones searching for wholeness. The stale, ancient scent of the air and the earth that blanketed so many dead. The electric hum of power vibrated around them. Potential. Waiting. [Howard, Kat, A Sleight Of Shadows, Gallery/Saga, 2023, page 158]
Check out our interview with Kat Howard discussing The Unseen World Series:
Sydney thought that in sacrificing her own shadow, and all of her magic, that she had fully destroyed the House of Shadows and its evil vines of magic that had gripped the Unseen World using the power of sacrificed children’s bones.
But she was wrong.
The magic in the Unseen World has its own will and its own balance that the last Turning had thrown way off kilter, and the House of Shadows filled a needed void.
Shadows had its own will, to feed and to exist, and its magic fought back.
The island built on bone that Shadows resided on worked to rebuild.
And a new forest of trees with bones at its center, the unremembered and unrevered dead magicians that had died being leached by Shadows, rises up in Central Park moaning for recognition.
Many of the great elements from the first book of the series are expanded upon and explored.
The heart of magic itself, the founding of the first houses, reveals itself to Sydney in the Archives and it is the weavings of ancient spells and the very finger bones of the founders that are the foundation of the Unseen World that is in peril.
Other magicians seek their own easy way to magic, with no cost, that renewing the House of Shadows will bring them.
Despite the cost of sacrificing their own children to Shadows, the ability to freely wield magic appeals to many in the magical world.
The pull is so strong that Dahlia convinces Mia, a teenager, newly brought into the Unseen World to join with Shadows.
The child willingly begins to feed and strengthen Shadows.
And Sydney needs to bring down the house without harming Mia.
A Sleight Of Shadows is chilling and tense, mired in magical darkness.
A couple of beloved characters from the series are lost in the book, as the thrilling page-turner casts an ‘all bets are off’ layer to the plot.
The physical houses of the Unseen World’s families show their personality, which is a lot of fun, and their ability to aid their family magically comes into play and is vital.
The theme of sacrifice, whether to properly cast magic, or to achieve goals in life, in general, is strong and effective.
The only thing I was disappointed about in A Sleight Of Shadows is that it did not have a Turning and any of the medieval magician duels, and then, lo and behold, the sacred hierarchy to reside in and control the Unseen World used mortal contests to settle some outcomes, and a revitalized Sydney is called upon once more to show her magical prowess.
What Sydney does in the duel is surprising, though planned perfectly, and makes the ending a gripping ride with a far-reaching fallout.
It is the perfect conclusion to a phenomenal tale.