A rollicking supernatural tale that will intrigue history fans and scratch their itch for adventure.

THE FLAMES OF MY FATHERS

This historical fantasy debut sees soldiers hunt ancient, magical artifacts during the Mexican-American War.

In 1847, the United States battles Mexico for possession of North America’s western half. Lt. Jedediah Faust stands aboard the USS Bunker Hill off the coast of Veracruz. Through an enchanted telescope, he watches some Mexican soldiers on shore who have fiery blue auras. These aren’t merely warriors—they’re men controlled by ghostly “tormentors.” Faust takes Sgt. Cormac McGuinness and Pvt. Benjamin Crowe ashore to hunt the creatures. His ultimate quarry is Viktor Chernyad, the Russian sorcerer responsible for animating the tormentors. Chernyad is a member of the Order of Exultus. He manipulates President Antonio López de Santa Anna’s troops so that he may locate the powerful Lamp of Shadow, rumored to be in Mexico. With the Lamp of Light already in his clutches, Chernyad needs the second object to open the dark dimension and free the vile wizard Tellurach, who would bring hell to Earth. Faust, for his part, would rather fight a war with mortals. But his lineage, including his father, Zebulon, has battled the Order for centuries. At a subterranean pyramid called the Pit of the White Serpent, Faust and company seemingly defeat Chernyad. While the villain escapes, the heroes take possession of the Lamp of Shadow. Zebulon pulls strings and sends his son to Paris to consult with Jacques de Molay, the “last Master of the Order of the Temple in Jerusalem,” about how to keep the artifact safe. The meeting broadens Faust’s mission substantially, encompassing the being called Arananth and the ancient city of Atlantis. Halleck’s series opener summons the kind of swashbuckling fun associated with Conan the Barbarian novels and Indiana Jones films. The well-rendered opening scene, with cameos by Gen. Zachary Taylor and Santa Anna, will convince readers that there’s plenty of adventure to be had without jumping continents. Historical details, including the Mexican army’s “antique artillery,” provide a narrative launchpad with gravitas. Yet confident storytelling and excellent pacing will ensnare readers, and the tormentors—“undead creatures whose souls have been twisted by dark magic”—only hint at the weirder tale ahead. The author’s prose spearheads each scene change in lines like this one, which depicts the heroes’ descent into the Paris catacombs: “Darkness fled from their torches like a ship cutting against a relentless black tide.” Intriguing characters interact with one another in entertaining ways. Throughout, Faust is rankled by Capt. Percival Blancheford, whose wealth and means supply transportation for the heroes. Crowe tells Faust: “You try to convince yourself that you’re better off without him, but you want to be exactly like him.” Numerous surprises lurk in the novel’s final third, including betrayal, death, and the femme fatale Capt. Zenobia Nubis. Audiences will forgive Halleck if his tale structurally resembles a football match, with the lamps bouncing between teams. He establishes a rich lore of “nine ancient cities” descended from the empire of “Alhur” and nonhuman entities called preternaturals (one of them being Balthazar Macabre) who may or may not interfere with mortal events. Both elements should allow the author an even deeper dive into strangeness for the sequel.

A rollicking supernatural tale that will intrigue history fans and scratch their itch for adventure.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-980960-12-6

Page Count: 247

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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