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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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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