A tried-and-true heroic tale made fresh with novelty and well-researched details.

OLDE ROBIN HOOD

This epic fantasy retelling of a classic story delivers characters both new and familiar.

Danley’s (A Spirited Manor, 2018, etc.) tale has a mythic bent from the beginning, as the corrupt sheriff of Nottingham murders Robin Hood’s father and burns their family farm to the ground. This episode invokes the idea of the monomyth (and a call to action, especially for the farm boy). From there, the story hits familiar beats but keeps them fresh with information from folktales and oral traditions apparently pre-dating the Robin Hood mythos of modern popular culture. Exiled, Robin escapes to Sherwood Forest, where he meets Little John (fleeing the sheriff’s service). The two become friends and join forces with others, adopting a moral code even as they turn to highway robbery to survive. Interestingly, this code is less contingent on their targets’ wealth than their honesty, as Robin and his companions visit justice on only those who lie when asked if they have money. Rather than resorting to violent acts, they have a strict rule against killing and, in fact, invite some weary travelers to join them in their feasts. Further, Robin renounces Christianity early in the story, seeing clergymen as another aspect of the corrupt state, preying on the downtrodden and coveting riches beyond their needs. This stance—as well as the fact that Robin is neither a nobleman nor a loyalist to an absent king, as in some adaptations—sets Danley’s protagonist apart from the simplicity of the morality plays the character often stars in and introduces pagan religion and a philosophy akin to political anarchism, with its strong opposition to unjust hierarchies. Some readers may find that these elements fail to breathe new life into the tale’s well-trod ground, especially as the plot proceeds. Robin (now beloved by the poor) is pitted against an increasingly irate sheriff, forcing the hero to use only his wits and skills to save his friend and lady love. The bones of the narrative are familiar (Little John says of Robin: “He gets one taste of treating folks with kindness, and it is like a thirst that is never quenched”). But the classic story endures for a reason, and many readers will likely find themselves intrigued and entertained by the novel’s rich prose, intense action, historical and mythological depth, and captivating innovations.

A tried-and-true heroic tale made fresh with novelty and well-researched details.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72384-312-9

Page Count: 313

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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