Steeped in period detail and political backbiting in a richly imagined world, but needs a more engaging narrative.

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THE OATH OF THE FATHER

An epic fictional Norse saga set in the ninth century, featuring royalty, repressed love, battles, and the raw appeal of untrammeled nature.

Rich with Viking lore and fact, this compelling family saga involves royalty, territorial battles, and the fraught tensions of the love that dare not speak its name. The tale begins by outlining the relationship between the newly minted king and queen of Herius, who are sailing to an unknown territory. The eye-poppingly named scout Cnut is sent to check out the new land, leaving the king and queen to some rather clunky exposition. Indeed, the entire book tries hard to evoke the great weight of history, which makes for plodding reading: “ ‘Oh Abriel, it is such a curse!’ exclaimed Edwin with a wave of effeminate emotion. ‘To punish me, Padraic whips me mercilessly whenever I show the slightest interest in another man. Yet, I cannot help it. It is who I am! Who would have thought a father could be so cruel to his son?’ ” Not all is well in the kingdom, and tensions simmer among all characters. Oddr, the most poignant and developed character, serves as the book’s emotional backbone. First described as an Angel of Death, Oddr experiences a full and satisfying character arc throughout the story. Ultimately, the book pleasingly wraps up loose ends with an elegant symmetrical narrative. Indeed, structurally and factually, the book is engrossing; however, the prose, especially dialogue, could use an injection of humanity. One warrior describes his cherished weapon: “It was taken from me by Bjorn Kormaksson. There was a time when I could not defeat him. As such, he took my prized sword from me.”

Steeped in period detail and political backbiting in a richly imagined world, but needs a more engaging narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0989929189

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Voyageur Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2015

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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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THE VANISHING HALF

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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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