No lit-fic pretensions here: historical fiction rendered, with little expansion, via battles and royal intrigue and...

THE FLAME BEARER

Cornwell (Warriors of the Storm, 2016, etc.) draws another rollicking Saxon tale from the period when “the scepter’d isle,” soon to be “Englaland,” was plagued by Norse and Dane raiders.

Supported by the coffers of father-in-law Lord Æthelhelm, Saxon King Edward rules Wessex and East Anglia. Edward’s sister, though ill, controls Mercia. Half-Dane, half-Saxon, a worshipper of the old gods, Lord Uthred has allied with, and resisted, both. Now Uthred turns to his own interests: Northumbria and his fortress, Bebbanburg, stolen long ago by his uncle. Wryly told, the novel unfolds from Uthred’s point of view, with back story filled in as he plots to seize Bebbanburg. He also must outwit Constantin, king of the Scots, scheming behind Hadrian’s Wall, and Norseman Einar the White, blockading from the sea. In this volume, Uthred, called the Wicked by his foes, proves the most nuanced character, sometimes doubt-ridden and ruthless, always loyal and fierce. As Uthred slips north toward Bebbanburg’s Sea Gate and unleashes his warrior “wolf pack,” blood and gore drip from the pages. Familiar characters—Uthred’s loyal lieutenant, the Irish warlord Finan, or his one-eyed son-in-law, Sigtryggr—play minor roles. The duplicitous cousin holding Bebbanburg is seen from afar, as is King Edward waiting to pluck Bebbanburg and Northumbria from the chaos, but mad Bishop Ieremias joins the fun. As always, Cornwell reinforces credibility with ancient place names—modern York was then Eoferwic—and the blow-by-blow details of shield warfare in a period when “armies” numbered a mere 50 to 500 warriors.

No lit-fic pretensions here: historical fiction rendered, with little expansion, via battles and royal intrigue and portraits of day-to-day life circa 1000 B.C.E.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-225078-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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