Did Richard III do in or merely discourage—“ ‘suppressed,’ mark you, not murdered”—his youngster kin? Read on.

A DANGEROUS INHERITANCE

A NOVEL OF TUDOR RIVALS AND THE SECRET OF THE TOWER

A curiously structured historical whodunit by Tudor doyenne Weir (Henry VIII, 2001, etc.).

There’s a certain kind of historical obsessive, found mostly in Britain laboring alongside the Earl of Oxford vs. Shakespeare set, who argues that Richard III had nothing but love for the tykes known as the “boy princes” whom he shut away in the Tower of London, the Abu Ghraib of the late Middle Ages, from whom nary a peep would emerge again. A person of such a bent might wax wroth, to be sure, on reading Weir’s imaginative view of events. Other readers will wonder at her narrative strategy, bracketed by the points of view of two women separated by a century: Lady Jane Grey’s sister Katherine on one hand, and Kate Plantagenet on the other. Both young women, scarcely teenagers when thrust into the limelight, are bound up in the intrigues so beloved of royals and nobles back in the day; both wind up doing time in the pokey, where they have ample leisure to ponder the fates of the young boys. Weir’s tendency to didacticism sometimes slows what is already a complex tale, and the proceedings can be a little talky; just so, the interweaving of the tales of the two Kates doesn’t always quite work. Still, no one alive knows as much about the Tudors as Weir; her historical facts and speculations alike are watertight, and any reader of Hilary Mantel’s excellent Tudor evocations will want to explore this book as well. Weir’s language is often as glorious as the tongue back in those endlessly inventive days: “Through the enticement of your whoredom, you sought to entrap me with some poisoned bait under the color of sugared friendship.” Zounds!

Did Richard III do in or merely discourage—“ ‘suppressed,’ mark you, not murdered”—his youngster kin? Read on.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-51189-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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