An engrossing world and a strong supporting cast put a fresh veneer on familiar moral allegories.

THE SEVENTH MESSENGER

After surviving a sacrificial ritual, an African teenage girl is tasked by God to end the custom once and for all in this historical fantasy novel.

Every seven years, the citizens of Jigoland gather to honor God with a ritual sacrifice of a virgin maiden, and this year, they’ve selected a 14-year-old girl named Nankyer. After they cast her into Ampidong Lake, she has a spiritual experience in which she discovers she’s been chosen to end the tradition of blood tribute and usher in a new age for Jigoland. Nankyer survives the ritual, and many citizens label her as cursed, or even a witch; meanwhile, the land’s leader, known as the Jigolo, and his array of advisers are unsure how to proceed. Nankyer finds few allies beyond the psychic village drunk, Darlong; a woman named Satzen, who first offered the maiden aid; and Satzen’s father-in-law, the Chief Hunter Dadet, whose dead ancestors have called upon him to protect Nankyer. However, the Chief Warrior Gwol, a powerful sorcerer and shape-shifter, stands between the maiden and the Jigo traditions she seeks to alter. In this fantasy set in precolonial Nigeria, Kwardem crafts a unique culture with its own customs, sayings and social norms, complete with greetings and extensive folklore. This worldbuilding makes it easy for readers to become invested in how Nankyer will change the society. However, the protagonist herself isn’t as engaging; she shows little agency in the story, always looking to others to move her to action. This flaw is assuaged, however, by the novel’s impressive supporting cast. Darlong, for example, joins the delightful Shakespearean tradition of the visionary fool, and Gwol grows ever more desperate in his villainous machinations. The book’s female characters are particularly exceptional, from brave Satzen, unmoving in her support for the maiden she rescued, to Jigoland’s queen, brazenly defying tradition for her king and people. The narrative relies heavily on Christian teachings, with many obvious analogues to the stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham and others. This choice effectively blurs the lines that separate religion, mysticism and superstition, in order to further explore how doubt, panic and fear can spread in uncertain times.

An engrossing world and a strong supporting cast put a fresh veneer on familiar moral allegories.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-9789365579

Page Count: 578

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2014

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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