An ambitious and lush tale set during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

READ REVIEW

First Dark

A BUFFALO SOLDIER'S STORY - SESQUICENTENNIAL EDITION

Rogers (The Laced Chameleon, 2014, etc.) tells the story of a runaway slave–turned–Buffalo Soldier in this historical novel.

When his father is gunned down during a Union raid on a Confederate supply caravan, young Isaac Rice is understandably distraught. And yet he is fascinated that the Union soldiers conducting the raid are men like him: Gullah-speaking slaves from South Carolina’s rice plantations. Inspired by their changed lots in life, Isaac knows he must join the Union cause. With newfound certainty, he tells his sweetheart back on the plantation: “I’ma run t’night.” Isaac works his way up through menial positions in the Army until after the war, when he receives a proper assignment: he is to be a member of the new 10th Cavalry Regiment of Buffalo Soldiers. This role will take him to the frontier and America’s new conflict: not one between North and South, but one for the West, where blacks, whites, Native Americans, and Mexicans are scrambling to build a future—or to hang on desperately to a fading past. Surrounding Isaac is a cast of characters that offers other perspectives on these tumultuous times: Billy Duke, a dedicated Confederate guerrilla who keeps the war going long after the South surrenders; Rachel Black, a former slave who attains an education and battles her way to Mississippi’s postwar Constitutional Convention; Ortega, an Apache warrior who wants nothing more than to drive the whites away from his land; and Alejandra Luna, a Mexican exile seeking a new life and medical career in the United States. Rogers shrewdly balances the multiple points of view and is not afraid to complicate the reader’s understandings of the ways in which race and gender functioned during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Thoroughly researched and studded with historical cameos—both famous and obscure—the novel succeeds in its attempt to paint an accurate picture of the period. While the author’s desire to cram in as much history as possible sometimes exacts a toll on the story’s momentum and character development, the book as a whole is an impressive feat of historical fiction, offering many traditionally underrepresented perspectives in a sprawling work of love and warfare.

An ambitious and lush tale set during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63490-696-8

Page Count: 516

Publisher: Booklocker

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more