Deft, authoritative biographical fiction.



The brief reign of a reluctant queen.

In the third volume of her six-novel series on the unfortunate wives of Henry VIII, Weir (Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, 2017, etc.) offers a dramatic and empathic portrait of Jane Seymour, horrified witness to the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn and to the “seismic changes...taking place in the English Church.” As a teenager, Jane pleads for permission to become a nun, much to her parents’ dismay: They want her to make an astute marriage that will propel the family up the social ladder. Although they eventually give in, Jane finally wavers in her commitment to the religious life; and at the age of 19, through the ministrations of a family friend, she leaves Wulfhall, the Seymour homestead, to become one of 30 maids of honor to Katherine of Aragon. Quiet, diffident, “whitely pale” (Weir speculates that she may have been anemic), Jane has little confidence that she will ever attract a suitor. She grows devoted to the maternal Katherine, despondent at Henry’s cruel treatment of the woman she insists is the only true queen. As Henry exiles Katherine to one residence and another, Jane stays with her until the maids of honor are drastically reduced and Jane is forced to attend Lady Anne at court. “I hate her and all she stands for!” Jane weeps. Much of the novel reprises events from the first two volumes: Katherine’s exile and death; Henry’s passionate determination to marry Anne; the birth of their only living child, Elizabeth; the stillbirths of 2 sons and miscarriage of another; and accusations of infidelity and treason that led to Anne’s beheading—a violent end that haunts Jane. Weir portrays Jane as determinedly virtuous, giving in to Henry’s passion only after she has fallen in love with him and is assured that he means to marry her. Historical sources persuade Weir that Jane was a “humane and sympathetic personality.” Henry ardently professes his adoration, overcome with joy when she produces the son he desperately desires. Weeks later, powerless to save her, he watches her die.

Deft, authoritative biographical fiction.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-96654-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


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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