Great entertainment for fans of historical epics.

WAR OF THE WOLF

This 11th entry in Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series (The Flame Bearer, 2016, etc.) is a rousing, bloodthirsty tale of tumult in early-days Britain.

Uhtred, the powerful 10th-century Lord of Bebbanburg, sets out with less than a hundred men to relieve the siege of Ceaster and rescue Prince Æthelstan, King Edward’s son. But someone has tricked Uhtred, who has been lured across Britain “to rescue a man who did not need rescuing.” Someone has drawn him away from defense of his native Northumbria, and he determines to “discover the name of an enemy.” Around the year 920, Britain is still a jumble of small kingdoms. Edward is the self-appointed Anglorum Saxonum Rex, the first king of the Angles and the Saxons. He wants to annex Northumbria, but Uhtred will not swear loyalty to him. For one thing, Uhtred’s son-in-law Sigtryggr is already king there. Meanwhile, Christianity is beginning to spread, but the 60-something pagan Uhtred wants none of that—his gods can walk on water too, if they want to. Although the plot is complicated, it boils down to this: Uhtred wants to kill the Norseman who wants to kill him and conquer Northumbria. The story has marvelous details, such as the fierce warrior Svart who has a beard with bones woven into it. Swords have names like Serpent-Breath, Soul-Stealer, and Wasp-Sting. And be they Saxon, Angle, Dane, or Norse, everyone is enamored of wolves, especially the “wolf-warriors” who use henbane ointment to make them crazy before battle. Uhtred observes that King Edward is caught in “a tangle of love, loyalties and hate, mostly hate….The only thing that was simple was war.” And war there certainly is. Serpent-Breath and his many murderous cousins inflict bloody butchery in spectacular hand-to-hand combat. A Christian man laments that “my god weeps for Englaland…my god wants peace.” Alas, that god gets no satisfaction in this grand adventure.

Great entertainment for fans of historical epics.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-256317-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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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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