Holleman’s gift of characterization will have readers rooting for all three Egyptian royals, hoping against historical fact...



Second in Holleman’s series about the last of the pharaohs that began with Cleopatra's Shadows (2015).

Now that Cleopatra's sister Berenice has been deposed and beheaded, Ptolemy the Piper, their father, backed by a few Roman legions, has reclaimed the throne, but not for long. As the terminally ill king lingers overlong, Cleopatra, spurred on by younger sister Arsinoe, age 15, hastens matters with a dose of hemlock. The Piper’s will provides that his son, 11-year-old Prince Ptolemy, will rule jointly with Cleopatra. (Tradition also dictates that brother and sister marry, and a purely ceremonial wedding ensues.) In chapters headed “Brother” and “Sister,” Ptolemy and Arsinoe alternate points of view, sharing the conflicted perspectives of younger siblings torn between succumbing to Cleopatra’s charisma and wanting to kill her. Cleopatra and Ptolemy plot to depose each other, both raising armies, and Arsinoe throws in her lot, serially, with each. Ptolemy heeds some bad advice to greet Pompey’s proffered alliance by beheading that Roman general, hoping to win Pompey’s rival, the more powerful Julius Caesar, to his side. This tactic backfires, though, when Cleopatra beats Ptolemy to a meeting with Caesar and soon has Rome’s wiliest commander and best-known seducer in her thrall. Ptolemy finds himself confined to quarters when his plot to poison Caesar is discovered thanks to leaked pillow talk. With Caesar’s backing, Cleopatra is on track to rule alone, but Ptolemy and Arsinoe, each surrounded by cabals of scheming courtiers, still have many tricks up their respective sleeves. On vivid display here are the paradoxical politics of a monarchy pitted against, and propped up by, a foreign imperialistic juggernaut. (The Ptolemaic dynasty itself, as Holleman’s many ironic observations make clear, was founded by conquering Greeks.) Holleman's poetic language contributes to the atmosphere of intrigue and menace, expertly capturing the roiling anxieties of the principals as they battle for Rome’s scraps.

Holleman’s gift of characterization will have readers rooting for all three Egyptian royals, hoping against historical fact that this sibling rivalry has no losers—at least not until the next installment.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-38303-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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