Excitingly illuminates an ancient class of warriors despite a few missteps.



From the Brotherhood of the Mamluks series , Vol. 1

Debut author Graft’s historical novel follows a young, kidnapped nomad in the Middle East.

Near the upper Volga River in 1236, Duyal goes about his regular duties as a Kipchak. The Kipchaks are a migratory people whose lives revolve around the animals they tend. It’s not an easy existence, and it’s made even more difficult by raids from enemies. After a devastating attack by Mongols, Duyal is enslaved and taken from the steppe. His final destination is a citadel in the city of Hisn Kayfa in what is present-day Turkey. The citadel, like Duyal, belongs to a powerful prince named al-Salih Ayyub. The plan is to turn Duyal, along with other captured boys, from wild children of the East into Mamluk warriors. The boys train with swords, lances, and bows. If life on the steppe was hard, life in the citadel is almost unbearable. Many of the boys will fail the difficult training, and some will even die. Those who pass, however, will become fearsome warriors. Will Duyal be among the victorious? That question is answered stage by excruciating stage. The text abounds with evocative portrayals, like that of the city Hisn Kayfa: “Upstream, the blue-muddied river winds its way through irrigated fields of green, the rich foliage eventually tapering to tan.” Many particulars are time-appropriate and interesting; for example, in bow training, Duyal doesn’t jump directly to the massive qaw. He and the other recruits must instead work their way up from smaller weapons like the flexible kabad. However, the spell of an ancient environment sometimes falters with lines of modern dialogue. One novice is asked “What’s your malfunction?” and the reader may be left to wonder whether they hadn’t been transported some 700 years into the future world of Full Metal Jacket. Despite such anachronisms, there is an exciting urgency to Duyal’s survival and the greater question of what he will do should he make it through the program.

Excitingly illuminates an ancient class of warriors despite a few missteps.

Pub Date: May 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996338-5-4

Page Count: 468

Publisher: The Sager Group

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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