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THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT

A triumph.

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The end comes for Thomas Cromwell—and for the brilliant trilogy about his life that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012).

“Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away”: With this perfect sentence, Mantel plunges into the scene of Anne Boleyn’s execution, and there’s no need to spell out who “he” is. On the second page, the executioner, who was brought over from France, refers to him as Cremuel (“No Frenchman can ever pronounce his name”), and finally, a few paragraphs later, when the swordsman is showing off the special blade he used on the queen, “he, Cromwell, touches a finger to the metal.” And we’re off, knowing that by the end it will be Cromwell’s head that rolls. (We can only hope his executioner will be as meticulous.) In the meantime, we get more of everything we’d expect from Mantel’s evocation of the reign of Henry VIII: power, rivalry, strategy, love, loyalty, ambition, regret, loneliness, lust—all centered on the magnetic Cromwell, a man who knows everything from the number of soldiers commanded by each nobleman in England to the secret desires of their wives and daughters. The narrative voice is as supple and insinuating as ever, but the tone is more contemplative—now that the newly made Lord Cromwell has attained the loftiest heights, he returns often to certain touchstones from his past—while the momentum drives forward to our hero’s inevitable fall. (Perhaps it could have driven forward a little more relentlessly; it does occasionally idle.) Cromwell has become almost a bogeyman to the people of England, and Mantel describes his reputation with characteristic dry humor: “He means to…tamper with the baker’s scales, and fix liquid measures in his favour. The man is like a weasel, who eats his own weight every day.” Mantel has created a vivid 16th-century universe, but sometimes it feels like she’s speaking directly to her modern reader, particularly about the role of women: “Try smiling. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel. Not that you can put it like that to a woman…she might take it badly.”

A triumph.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9660-6

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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