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WARRIOR'S PRIZE

A carefully crafted tale that offers a fresh, woman-centered reevaluation of an ancient story.

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A minor character in the Trojan War becomes the hero of this historical novel.

In the Iliad, Briseis finds herself the prize of Achilles when the famed warrior kills her husband, King Mynes. Achilles’ surrendering her to King Agamemnon is a turning point in the Trojan War, but her appearances are fleeting in Homer’s epic. Medieval poets will develop her character further, and the resulting romances will inspire Shakespeare, for whom Briseis becomes Cressida. Douglas goes back to the source while creating a distinctive hero. Here, Briseis accepts a loveless arranged marriage as her lot but discovers a sense of loyalty to Mynes when she’s treated as the spoils of war. Her beauty—and fiery spirit—attracts the attention of the “fair and honorable” Achilleus (the author uses the alternative spelling) after he kills Mynes. Accepting the role of Achilleus’ favorite would give her freedoms and luxuries other captives are denied, but to do so would dishonor her husband’s memory and herself. It’s only after she has prayed for release from Achilleus that she falls in love with him. By then, the gods have already intervened—or is she just playing a part decreed by the Fates? In making Briseis the hero of her story, Douglas skillfully gives center stage to women who are mostly silent pawns or invisible in the Iliad and most texts inspired by it. Briseis finds friends—and enemies—among the women captured by the Greeks. She forges alliances with Andromache—the wife of Achilleus’ greatest rival—and Helen of Troy. Whatever sides their husbands or lovers are on, these women must look out for themselves. But unless Douglas chooses to break with Homer—and the laws of Greek drama—an unhappy ending is ordained. Briseis begs Achilleus to forget about his honor and take her to his home so they can live in peace. This is where the narrative starts to strain credulity. Briseis’ desires are understandable, but her apparent ignorance of the roles of honor and a heroic death in her universe doesn’t make much sense—especially given her commitment to protecting her husband’s honor by not giving herself to Achilleus. That said, Douglas adds emotional heft to the bare bones of a foundational work of Western literature.

A carefully crafted tale that offers a fresh, woman-centered reevaluation of an ancient story.

Pub Date: April 7, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-985529-86-9

Page Count: 410

Publisher: Penmore Press LLC

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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