A vividly detailed rendering of a well-known tragedy.

KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN

The familiar travails of Henry VIII’s beleaguered first wife.

The author of 14 biographies and 5 previous novels about the Tudors, Weir (The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, 2016, etc.) brings considerable expertise to her fictional retelling of the life of Katherine of Aragon. Sent to England at the age of 16 to marry Arthur, the sickly eldest son of Henry VII, Katherine was a widow after 4 months—and, she claimed, a virgin. Henry VII did not know what to do with his Spanish daughter-in-law: after his wife died, he thought of marrying her. But she was repulsed: “I will be torn in pieces first,” she said. Much more appealing was Arthur’s brother Henry, who even as a boy of 10 had “undeniable charm.” Weir makes much of Katherine’s enduring sexual attraction for Henry, which lasted throughout their 25-year marriage despite Henry’s philandering and unspeakable cruelty to her after he took up with Anne Boleyn. Although the novel is well-populated with assorted members of Katherine’s and Henry’s court, the queen herself is the central focus. Weir portrays her sympathetically as both credulous and steely: she believed unwaveringly that Henry would return to her, even after he spurned the pope and established himself as head of the Church of England; even after he married Anne and bestowed upon her Katherine’s jewels; even after he beheaded formerly trusted supporters. “Nature wronged her in not making her a man,” Thomas Cromwell remarked about Katherine. “But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.” She adamantly refused to swear loyalty to Anne, maintaining until her death that she was the one true queen of England. Although figures closest to Katherine are fleshed out, others (Wolsey; “the great black spider Cromwell”; and even the spiteful Anne) remain shadowy.

A vividly detailed rendering of a well-known tragedy.

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-96648-8

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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