The author’s love of 19th-century detail almost buries what should be a vivid adventure tale. Like the wines his characters...

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The 19th-century adventures of Captain Matthew Hervey continue as our dashing hero, on a spying mission to India, tangles with bloodthirsty Pindaree raiders, conniving agents of the British East India company, a righteous rajah, and a wild, crashing boar.

Introduced in A Close Run Thing (1999) as a land-based rendition of Patrick O’Brian’s British seafaring Aubrey-Maturin series, Mallinson’s Hervey is a handsome, veddy British cavalry officer in his early 20s whose solid education, gift with languages, and sword-flashing fearlessness atop his faithful steed Jessye, is offset only by a youthful clumsiness: in an early episode here, Hervey knocks himself out when he charges valiantly into a French building and bangs his head on a ceiling beam. He is appropriately timid with women (an aristocratic English lass awaits his return) and also has a healthy conscience: it depresses him to see poor peasants brutally disemboweled, or brave soldiers tortured and mutilated because they happened to be on the losing side. Now, having been made aide-to-camp to the Duke of Wellington after running a crucial mission at Waterloo, Hervey is sent to India to observe the famed Bengal lancers, with instructions to spy on operations of the British East India Company and to destroy evidence of the Duke’s ownership of some politically incorrect income-producing estates. The India Hervey encounters is a dangerously exotic refuge for numerous English misfits seeking to plunder and pleasure their way across the subcontinent. Like the elephant that Hervey rescues from quicksand (thereby endearing himself to the wily Rajah of Chintal), Mallinson mires his hero in discursive mealtime dialogue about cultural and military tedium, then pulls him out at the last minute to hunt boar or help the rajah dispose of his enemies. Action scenes, when they arrive, are expertly detailed, with Mallinson describing battlefield tactics and military uniforms down to the button.

The author’s love of 19th-century detail almost buries what should be a vivid adventure tale. Like the wines his characters so frequently quaff, though, this series will improve with age.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-553-11134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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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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