A lively, emotionally charged medieval trot.

MONTFORT THE FOUNDER OF PARLIAMENT

THE EARLY YEARS 1229 TO 1243

Ashe presents a jousting first installment of a four-volume fiction on the deeply contentious founder of parliament, Simon de Montfort.

Historical novels allow writers to braid fact with fantasy, and Ashe’s work is a smooth result of this flexible license. This first volume deals with Simon’s meteoric rise, fall and rise again in the intrigue-ridden Plantagenet Court, where he starts out as an unpopular foreigner from France and grows to be the king’s go-to man. Ashe conjures up a fanatically religious but tormented youngster who marries King Henry III’s nun sister, cuckolds the king, is banished from England and joins the Crusades. While his warts, such as the tyrannical violence visited upon Jewish money-lenders, are not elided, Ashe clearly empathizes with her hot-headed knight and plays up his positives, be it his dexterity on the battlefield, his loyalty to Henry (deftly portrayed as a weak, willful sapling on whom Simon refuses to spy for Louis of France) or the manner in which he tries to scour his sexual guilt by lashing himself with a nail. If the novel is thoroughly researched as Ashe’s is—from descriptions of medieval latrines and houseboys called “Garbage” to the decadence of Europe’s emperors—it is all the more thoroughly imagined. The slightly salacious plotting that makes Simon into the queen’s stormy lover and thereby biological father of Edward, heir to the seemingly impotent Henry III, is worthy of Hollywood, but Ashe, a playwright and screenplay writer, presents the affair persuasively, allowing the reader’s inner-romantic to be seduced. A riveting prophecy by Simon’s archbishop-mentor that Simon and his firstborn will die on the same day and by the same hurt, and the veiled announcement by Henry that he wishes Edward to be brought up by Simon “as his own son” so that he can be schooled in the art of warfare, inject a frisson into the narrative that make the second installation worth waiting for.

A lively, emotionally charged medieval trot.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-1439264669

Page Count: 319

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2011

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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