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Book roundup

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Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow)

Charlie Nancy is an easily embarrassed London accountant in this sort-of sequel to Gaiman's "American Gods," winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards. Attending his father's funeral, Charlie discovers two disconcerting facts: 1) His dad was actually Anansi, an African trickster god; and 2) Charlie has a brother, Spider, who's inherited some of his dad's powers. When Spider comes to visit, he proceeds to seduce Charlie's fiancée and get Charlie fired from his (admittedly horrible) job. Then things start getting out of control. The genre-busting novel is very creative and very funny, two Gaiman specialties. Its sweep is less epic than "American Gods," but it works well on its own terms. Grade: A-

Eldest, by Christopher Paolini (Knopf)

To all aspiring fantasy writers: Resist the temptation to write Elvish poetry. Even Tolkien couldn't really pull it off. This has been a public service announcement from your neighborhood critic. Aside from a tendency to wax flowery (see note, above) and a sad lack of humor, Christopher Paolini largely delivers on the plot of his followup to the bestseller "Eragon," about a boy and his telepathic dragon. (In addition to Tolkien, Paolini owes a large debt to Anne McCaffrey.) The second installment opens three days after the dwarves' and rebels' victory over the forces of the evil King Galbatorix, and they don't even get a chance to bury their dead before the fighting breaks out again. Eragon heads for the elf stronghold to complete his training as a dragon rider. Meanwhile, Eragon's cousin Roran, in the strongest sequences of the book, tries to protect their home village from the beetle-like Ra'zac. The book is too long by about 200 pages, but Paolini has created a likable hero, and fantasy buffs should enjoy "Eldest" - even though they probably guessed the finale's "startling revelation" back in Book 1. Grade: C+

The English Teacher, by Lily King (Atlantic Monthly)
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