An enticing read, sure to please lovers of historical fiction and political and religious intrigue.

READ REVIEW

ANVIL OF GOD

BOOK ONE OF THE CAROLINGIAN CHRONICLES

In this debut fictionalized account of Francia in the 740s, the death of a Dark Age ruler pits religions, and brothers, against each other.

The novel opens in the last year of the life of mayor of the palace Charles Martel, who, although not technically a king, has ruled the Frankish empire for decades. His military prowess has allowed him to take over a good portion of western Europe (including what is now Germany and France), but now he’s dying. He breaks his kingdom into three parts, making each of his three sons a mayor of one. One portion goes to his eldest son, Carloman, a Christian zealot; another goes to his middle child, the great warrior Pippin. The final third, which includes the prized city of Paris, goes to his youngest son, Gripho, the half brother of Pippin and Carloman and the product of Charles’s marriage to the pagan Sunni. Martel also has a strong-willed daughter, Trudi, who defiantly opposes her arranged marriage to a Lombardy prince and subsequently falls in love with a Bavarian—and pagan—lord. Although Gripho does his best to act like a good Christian, Carloman suspects that Gripho follows the pagan religion. What follows is political intrigue straight out of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, except that Gleason’s novel is based on stories of real people, and this historical “game of thrones” is engrossing, with fast-paced, crisp prose and smart dialogue. The tale’s real antagonists are religion and the conflicts it breeds; however, at times, the author’s disdain for Christianity comes close to undermining the story’s credulity, as Christian leaders too often come off as cartoonish villains. For example, at one point, the elder bishop, who has Machiavellian designs for power, nonchalantly has sex with a 20-year-old male “acolyte” as he speaks to another member of the church. Gripho desecrates a Christian church and Carloman turns from a principled if overly religious man into a kind of evil Christian crusader. That said, the story is strong enough for readers to overlook these flaws, which, fortunately, are few indeed.

An enticing read, sure to please lovers of historical fiction and political and religious intrigue.

Pub Date: July 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1475990201

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2013

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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