An exciting, educational ride through medieval times.

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THE APOSTLES OF SATAN

Kimmich brings fresh eyes to an oft-studied period of European history and offers the opening for what promises to be a strong sequence of historical fiction.

The religious and political controversies of 13-century Europe have been an unexpectedly rich vein for recent novelists to mine. So it’s a testament to the quality of Kimmich’s volume—set in Europe during the early 1200s—that he offers an original contribution to an established niche. The book opens in Languedoc with its hero, Olivier de Mazan, ready to play witness as his mother is accepted as a priestess into a growing—and increasingly suspect—Christian sect. But that’s just the beginning of the book’s spiritual intrigue. Olivier learns of ancient scrolls that reveal Jesus married, had children, and produced a familial line—a concept that could rock the church to its foundations. After this revelation, Olivier is drawn into a maelstrom that will see his family threatened, his country imperiled, and his faith challenged. In preparing to set this drama in motion, Kimmich read widely among the histories of the era in both English and French, and his research pays off. His narrative not only brims with detail, but it also holds up under scrutiny; you could teach a class from this stuff. Yet the author’s thick descriptions of European lore are never overlong. His story moves nimbly, consistently enticing readers through every thrilling twist and turn. Perhaps only in one case does Kimmich’s devotion to authenticity lead him astray. Trying to fill his heroes’ mouths with period dialogue, Kimmich gives them lines that sound like a kind of faux Middle English. With all their “mayhaps,” “wots,” and “forsooths,” his characters too often seem like extras in a Monty Python sketch. Yet the admirable verisimilitude of the rest of his rendering means that these linguistic blips don’t distract much.

An exciting, educational ride through medieval times.

Pub Date: May 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495913020

Page Count: 422

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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