Bell Weather

Dennis Mahoney. Holt, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-62779-267-7
In his second novel, Mahoney (Fellow Mortals) awkwardly attempts to merge the smalltown realism of his debut with a more fantastical style. The setting is 18th-century Floria, a continent being fought over by two competing colonial powers in a fantasy version of Earth. A tavern keeper named Tom Orange rescues a beautiful young woman swept up by a raging river and nurses her to health in Root, an isolated town surrounded by dense woods. The locals know little about Molly Bell, a mysterious stranger—only that she recently gave birth and carries a chipped tooth in a locket. Tom and the village's suspicious inhabitants try to uncover Molly's closely guarded secrets even as they confront more pressing problems: a band of thugs called Maimers are intercepting travelers in the surrounding woods and inflicting brutal, Dantean punishments tailored to the profession of each victim. Eventually, Molly's past is revealed, often through overlong stretches of backstory, and cartoonish villains resurface to threaten her peace. As for the enchanted setting, Root boasts of many "native marvels," including immersive rainbows called colorwashes, a kind of "clinging lightning" called St. Verna's Fire, and exotic creatures such as wolf-bears. However, these details don't so much create an immersive world as add occasional touches of whimsy to momentarily distract from the wooden archaic dialogue. Beneath the novel's magical exterior lies a creaky, humdrum structure. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/04/2015
Release date: 07/07/2015
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-1-250-09381-3
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-62779-268-4
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