A rip-roarin’ read, and inspiration to go and sack a few cities on your own.


In Xanadu did Kublai Khan…well, before all that, he had to take care of some nasty business, the subject of Hun-meister Iggulden’s (Emperor, 2003, etc.) latest installment in his series of novels devoted to the Golden Horde.

Here’s how to be a Hun in a few easy steps. First, kill anyone who gets between you and power. Second, rape and pillage. Third, practice saying meaty things, such as, “The world cannot be full of lead dogs, or the pack would pull itself apart.” Just so. But in the family of Temujin, or Genghis Khan, everyone wants to be the alpha Mongol, and, as Iggulden’s novel opens, the grandchildren are squabbling over who gets to be the grand poobah. The heroes of the piece, early on, are those who keep their heads and hold their allegiances close to their chests, such as the courtier named Ochir, who counsels one scion, “There must be no struggle for power, Guyuk, such as there was between your father and his brother.” Well, fat chance: This is medieval Mongolia, after all, and in those days before television, there was no better pastime than struggling for the throne. Iggulden is skilled at depicting the back and forth, and there’s even the historical fiction equivalent of a mysterian’s red herring in his steering the reader to back the wrong horse—uh, khan—until we finally get to the one who shows the most promise of surviving the internecine, interfamilial unpleasantness, a sturdy chap named Kublai, who intones lines that John Wayne himself (see The Conqueror) would be proud to utter: “He was khan, Orlok. Give him a funeral pyre to light up the sky.” Iggulden lacks some of the grace and sinew that inform the historical novels of Mary Renault or Robert Graves, but he’s made a very close study of the workings of power and its infinite abilities to corrupt infinitely, and his understanding shows on every page. Besides, he’s pretty good at the blood-and-guts stuff, the flying columns and whistling arrows and spurting blood that makes for a good battle scene.  

A rip-roarin’ read, and inspiration to go and sack a few cities on your own.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-34305-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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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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