An intricate, sexy historical narrative, exploring the triumph of individual will over masculine coercion.

THE SCROLL OF SEDUCTION

Nicaraguan poet, novelist and memoirist Belli (The Country Under My Skin, 2002, etc.) offers a beguiling feminist take on the frustrated life of a 15th-century Spanish queen.

The tortuous saga of Juana of Castile, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, who spent 46 years of her life locked away as a madwoman, is evoked through an illicit modern-day love affair. Now 17, Lucía has been a student at a Madrid boarding school for four years, since her Latin American parents died in a plane crash. Much older Manuel, a professor specializing in the Spanish Renaissance, is obsessed with Juana’s story and much taken by Lucía because she looks remarkably like the queen. Manuel seduces the willing virgin by dressing her in a period costume and mesmerizing her with a longwinded narration of Juana’s life: Beginning with her birth in 1479, the tale takes a dark turn with Juana’s passionate marriage at age 16 to Philippe the Handsome, Archduke of Burgundy, whose ties to the Hapsburg line are politically desirable but later disastrous. The novel moves fluidly between the Renaissance and the present, with both stories narrated in the first person, as if Lucía is indeed possessed by Juana. The Spanish princess bears many children for Philippe and overlooks his infidelities while she grows increasingly isolated living away from her family. After a series of unexpected deaths, Juana is in line for succession as queen of Castile but is thwarted and imprisoned through the machinations of her husband, father and son (who became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). In the present, young Lucía becomes pregnant and is ensconced in Manuel’s childhood home, where his Aunt Águeda watches over her. Also surveying Lucía are the ghosts of Manuel’s ancestors, the Denias, who were appointed to guard Juana but ended up looting her effects. Belli’s historical savvy and skillful use of novelistic devices render these intertwined tales powerfully compelling.

An intricate, sexy historical narrative, exploring the triumph of individual will over masculine coercion.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-083312-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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