A respectful, Islamophobia-free take on Muslim thought and culture in a sci-fi setting that also delivers shock-and-awe...

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NEW PERSIA

BEFORE THE STORM

On a planet settled by colonists from Earth’s Muslim cultures (whose true history has receded into myth), young soldiers in “New Persia” find their incipient romances—and lives—jeopardized by impending war.

Lynch (Endemic, 2018) isn’t alone in imagining Islam, or something very much akin to it, flourishing in deep space; Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) should come to mind straightaway. But Lynch’s vision centers more on the rigid codes and intrigues of conservative Bahá'í culture rather than monster sandworms. In ancient times, a distant planet with a twin-star system was settled principally by colonists/refugees from Earth’s Muslim peoples (the true history of those spacefaring days has receded into near myth). A thousand years after the early, arduous days of establishing a human foothold, the planet’s single continent hosts technology, folkways, and politics approximating those of the mid-20th-century Middle East (minus Israel). Imperial ambitions and religious divisions have arisen between the colonists’ descendants—who have established an Iranian New Persia and a Bantu-speaking North African/Arab nation of Azania—resulting in a series of wars. Talky opening chapters set the stage at a New Persian royal ball, with humble-born Capt. Basir Turani and his cousin, fighter pilot Farad Hashemi, becoming entangled in budding romances complicated by strict laws governing conduct. Basir catches the fascination of rebellious aristocrat Suri Pahlavi, who chafes at her restricted existence (one character notes: “Persian women were taught to fear men from an early age. Everything about their society was designed to protect women. Everything betrayed a deep anxiety about what would happen if men and women were free to meet”). Farad is attracted to Nasrin Avesta, from a family still tainted by association with an attempted coup against the monarchy. After that, however, the formal narrative transitions from Tolstoy to Tom Clancy. Basir and Farad head for their assignment—a border city that immediately becomes a key battleground in the latest Azanian attack. In Lynch’s novel, tank, air and ground skirmishes are crisply described while the background threat of a seasonal alien natural disaster, a fiery biochemical “seed storm,” supplies what often comes across as a token sci-fi quotient. Alternative-history fans are the ideal readership. Many readers may also appreciate (especially in the post–9/11 era) Lynch’s sympathetic portrayal of Islamic values and mores in a nuanced, layered world. In fact, we are told, the imperiled border town of Kerman predates most of New Persia and operates by its own liberal and progressive rules, and even Persepolis, the capital, tolerates Christians and nonbelievers. But adherence to dictates of the faith loom large in almost every affair, although the author is not one to criticize shortcomings of theocracy here. While principal plot threads are tied up at the end, it’s clear (even without the subtitle) this is just the promising beginning of a larger “New Persia” saga.

A respectful, Islamophobia-free take on Muslim thought and culture in a sci-fi setting that also delivers shock-and-awe combat action.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61309-641-3

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc.

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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