Aubrey and Hornblower need not worry; this newcomer won’t blow them out of the water. Still, Worrall acquits himself...

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SAILS ON THE HORIZON

A NOVEL OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS

A slack-sailed voyage into waters well charted by C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian.

When the captain of HMS Argonaut is blasted from his quarterdeck, Charles Edgemont is thrust into command. He entertains existential doubts over whether he’ll be able to stand up to Spanish shot, but Edgemont is not found wanting, even though “arms, legs, heads were ripped away or left dangling by thin strips of flesh” all around him. Now new troubles dog him; Edgemont worries about whether the pressures of command will make him as frigid and aloof as his unfortunate predecessor, and, later, flush with success, he worries about what to do with all the prize money (“He tried to calculate the one-quarter share that was the ship’s captain’s due in his head, couldn’t get it right exactly, but knew that it was a very large sum”). Debut novelist Worrall works the standard tropes of the fighting-men-and-tall-ships genre while bringing such postmodern, sensitive-leader matters into play, and if the prose is flat and the storyline predictable, Edgemont’s adventures on the high seas, now at a higher rank and astride different boards, are suitably action-packed to hold the reader’s interest. While having all those adventures, Edgemont finds new worries along with all the accomplishments and booty: Should he marry the Quaker girl down the lane? Should he indulge in the self-serving politics of the officer class? Resolutions ensue as our hero takes his well-fitted frigate out to sea and chases the blasted Spanish foe, wrestling with more immediate preoccupations (“He was beginning to worry that the Santa Brigada would refuse battle”) until he finally catches up with the enemy in a set-piece battle that ends with the promise of a sequel to come.

Aubrey and Hornblower need not worry; this newcomer won’t blow them out of the water. Still, Worrall acquits himself reasonably well, and those fond of cannon-splintered masts and grim-jawed captains won’t be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 26, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6305-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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