Impeccable research and haunting, poetic language create a lush tale to be lingered over and savored.

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THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

Chamberlin (Gloria, 2005, etc.) breathes life into the ancient Arabic world in this epic historical novel of one girl’s tumultuous search to discover her past.

One scorching summer day, 12-year-old, blue-eyed Rayah participates in a rousing water fight with her aunts and cousins at their home in the desert oasis of Tadmor. When her small cousin, Bushra, slips and lands head first on the mosaic floor, all believe her dead. Rayah prays over the body, and something miraculous happens; underneath her hand, the skull fragments of Bushra’s head fuse and life suddenly fills the toddler’s body. For Rayah, this new, unknown power only fuels her desperation to uncover the truth of her ancestry. She finds unwelcome answers from Sitt Sameh, the woman with the same blue eyes as Rayah, who lives in the harem, yet has no family connection. Sitt Sameh confirms what Rayah doesn’t want to hear: she is Rayah’s mother and carrier of a dangerous secret. But it’s the arrival of a eunuch scribe that demolishes the sanctity of Rayah’s world. His master is Khalid ibn al-Wal?d, the Sword of God. This mighty conqueror is Sitt Sameh’s father and Rayah’s grandfather. The scribe begins reading Khalid’s memoirs, and as Sitt Sameh fills in the details, Rayah learns the astonishing story of her sacred lineage, of blue-eyed women who rode into battle, of the men who loved them, and of the jinn, beings of fire and smoke who helped them. Readers should be prepared to immerse themselves so completely into the ancient Middle East, with its exotic spices, silken veils and hot, desert sands, that leaving it is akin to reemerging into the modern world like Rip Van Winkle. Chamberlin beautifully captures the depth of Rayah’s awakening to her heritage, both emotionally and spiritually, and deftly intertwines the narratives of her mother and grandmother to create a multigenerational saga of love, betrayal, faith and legacy.

Impeccable research and haunting, poetic language create a lush tale to be lingered over and savored.

Pub Date: July 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-1936940097

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Epigraph

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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