Though Kleopatra sometimes gets lost in all the mayhem and machinations, she is still, with Essex’s provocative take, a...

PHARAOH

VOL. II, KLEOPATRA

In a follow-up to Kleopatra (2001), Essex again gives the Egyptian queen a feminist tweak in detailing both her love affairs and her accomplished statecraft.

Though the evidence is thin, Essex is persuasive that Kleopatra was not an evil seductress, but rather an able ruler, good mother, and devoted wife. The story picks up as the young queen, evading her enemies, arrives back in Alexandria, and, rolled up in a carpet, meets Julius Caesar. The two are soon lovers as well as strategists and intellectual soulmates: Caesar admires her mind, and Kleopatra, believing that an alliance with Rome will help Egypt, deliberately becomes pregnant. She bears a son, Caesarion; travels to Rome with Caesar; and is there when he’s assassinated. Escaping the subsequent power struggles, she returns to Egypt and continues her enlightened rule, doing all she can to ensure the survival of Caesarion, now Caesar’s only remaining child. When, in the tenth year of her reign, she decides that Mark Antony could be an important ally for her in securing Egypt’s alliance with Rome, she gains not only a political partner but also the love of her life. Charming and handsome, Antony, who has defeated Caesar’s assassins and now shares the rule of Rome with Octavius and Lepidus, is at the height of his powers. The two marry, she bears him three children, but life for ambitious queens and Roman generals is always perilous. In the 20th year of her rule, they must contend with Octavius, who is ruthlessly eliminating all those opposing his ambition to be emperor. When Antony and Kleopatra’s forces are defeated at Actium, the end is inevitable. Even then, Essex suggests, Kleopatra acts as much out of a desire to protect her children and kingdom as out of grief.

Though Kleopatra sometimes gets lost in all the mayhem and machinations, she is still, with Essex’s provocative take, a woman as remarkable as the great men who loved her.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2002

ISBN: 0-446-53025-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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