Laudable characters and striking exposition give this world a grand introduction.


From the Memories of the Cataclysm series , Vol. 1

In this fantasy debut, a warrior on a mission to infiltrate a band of rebels begins to empathize with his targets.

In the world of Isfalinis, Vistus belongs to the t’Okaedrin, human warriors for the Kayrstaran Empire. T’Okaedrin serve the Syraestari, who are beings that live for thousands of years. But some humans, such as the Scions of the Fallen Tree, openly defy the Syraestari. The Scions make concerted efforts to liberate and recruit the Kalilaer, the Syraestari’s human laborers. The Scions consider these workers slaves. In response, Syraestari High Lord Tazil drafts Vistus to pose as a Kalilaer escapee and ultimately lead the t’Okaedrin to a Scion camp. Though the assignment is moderately successful, Tazil wants Vistus to go deeper: live among the Kalilaer to locate more camps and identify Scion leaders. Meanwhile, Ninanna, a Sword-Whisperer and essentially Empress Kayrstana’s bodyguard, is a Syraestari outcast since she sees humans as equals. Accordingly, the mysterious Shadow-Servant approaches Ninanna with a plan he derived from a prophecy: Further conflict in Isfalinis can be avoided by the Syraestari isolating themselves and leaving humans alone. Though the prophecy’s wording is vague, it seemingly warns against the Syraestari’s dominion and references an individual whom the Shadow-Servant believes is Vistus. As a Kalilaer and under the alias Belarrin, Vistus, along with other laborers, endures abuse, even from his t’Okaedrin “brothers.” He quickly befriends Kalilaer and Scions, later learning that, in connection with the prophecy, he may have an extraordinary ability of which he’s never been aware. Oldenburg’s painstakingly detailed world sets a solid foundation for his series opener. For example, long ago, one of the Etyni (firstborn of Isfalinis creator His Highest Above) rebelled and precipitated the Great War. The Etyni’s deaths, in turn, created the Cataclysm, a series of natural disasters that still affect characters in the present-day narrative. Vistus is a perpetually conflicted protagonist: He’s loyal to the Syraestari, whom he believes are “wiser and stronger” than humans, but also tormented by some of the Scions he’s killed in servitude. The narrative even takes to calling him “Belarrin” when he’s on a mission, differentiating his compassionate alter ego from Vistus and the t’Okaedrin life he’s beginning to doubt. As such, he garners sympathy when he’s with the Kalilaer and Scions. A female Scion named Sravika, whom Belarrin grows close to, becomes an obvious love interest. The story boasts ample mystery, primarily through possibly shady characters, like the Shadow-Servant. Ninanna has trouble trusting the enigmatic character, while Belarrin is certain Shadow-Servants are killers. In the same vein, there are dubious goings-on among the Syraestari and t’Okaedrin as well; several high lords are clearly plotting something against the empress. Despite the book’s length (over 800 pages), the author’s rich descriptions are often concise: “The thunder and lightning roared to the tempo of Belarrin’s nightmares until a final crash wrenched him to wakefulness.” Although this novel is the first installment of an epic series, its thorough resolution makes it a stand-alone.

Laudable characters and striking exposition give this world a grand introduction.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941956-22-9

Page Count: 826

Publisher: Autarch LLC

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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