A conventional but well-rendered take on quest fantasy’s master-apprentice trope.

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NASU RABI (OLD BEAR)

A debut historical fantasy sees a peasant boy, orphaned by raiders, taken in and trained by a solitary old man whose very name is legend.

Fourteen-year-old Darius lives in a small village on the outskirts of what used to be the Chungoku Empire, a vast realm resonant of dynastic China. It has been 30 years since the empire fell. Barons now rule the land; the people are happy. But then raiders come to Darius’ village. His brother is killed and his mother captured. Vowing to rescue his mother, Darius sets off in pursuit of the marauders. This hopeless undertaking seems certain to end badly, but Darius meets an old hunter—Arthengal—who offers to teach him swordsmanship and survival skills. Arthengal lives in a secluded valley. If Darius will join him there, Arthengal will prepare him for the quest that lies ahead. Though impatient, Darius agrees. Thus begins the student-teacher relationship that will change and define his life. Arthengal is also known as Nasu Rabi (which means “Old Bear in the old tongue”) and is a hero of the civil war. Under his instruction, and listening to his stories, Darius grows to become a man. But even after 30 years, is the war truly over? And what of the other bear in Darius’ life—the one he blinded in an eye with an arrow and that to this day follows him? Darius believes it is the embodiment of Antu, the sky god, sent to test him. When the day comes to resume the hunt for his mother, will Darius be ready? In this series opener, Roley has an easy writing style, narrating in the third person mostly from Darius’ point of view but occasionally from the perspectives of minor characters as well. The resulting storyline has epic scope yet an intimate feel, pulling readers along familiar paths but in a manner that doesn’t seem forced. The dialogue is a little stylized but mostly quite natural. Even though the tale in this first book is as much about Arthengal as Darius, fans of the genre will find a comfortable familiarity in this mentoring phase of the teen’s journey. This skillful story bodes well for future adventures.

 A conventional but well-rendered take on quest fantasy’s master-apprentice trope.

Pub Date: July 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73395-250-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: JDR Publishers

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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