MONTFORT

THE REVOLUTIONARY 1253 TO 1260

In this riveting third volume of Ashe’s historical fiction, Simon de Montfort returns to England where he becomes embroiled in revolution against the king.

The deep but ultimately doomed filial love between Simon and Edward, heir to the throne—and, in Ashe’s telling, Simon’s illegitimate son—is poignantly developed. When the beautiful but vicious Edward orders an acolyte to prove his loyalty by gouging out the eyes of a peasant child, the whole kingdom is appalled. But Simon goes to Edward’s aid, admonishes him and then forgives him. England is now completely bankrupt, but Henry egregiously sets out on a Grand Progress through France, accompanied by an entourage swagged with gold and ivory. Ashe’s detailing of the procession is not only a forensic paean to foppery but a schadenfreuden build-up to a bonfire of vanities. Henry feels like a cheap Christmas tree when he is met by King Louis of France, dressed in drab penitential robes with a tiny cross as the only embroidery. Despite their sartorial differences, a personal chemistry kindles between the two monarchs, but Simon, caught between a changeling Henry and an insecure Louis, continues to be a nowhere man. It’s in France that he hears the second prophecy of parliament from an old Dominican monk, that in the New Age “our leaders will be chosen as monks choose their abbots. By election.” As famine and injustice ravage England and Henry foolishly pledges the Crown to the Pope so that he can have Sicily for his hunchback son Edmund, the barons finally revolt with Simon at the helm. Henry is defanged, the Magna Carta re-fanged and the Provisions of Oxford established. But unlike the idealistic Simon, the barons don’t want their unlettered tenants to be empowered. The poor still love St. Simon, but the barons now loathe him. He is arrested and sent to the Tower. As in the last two volumes, Ashe lards her tale with some informed guesswork and some wild speculation. The ghastly torture scene in the Tower with Henry III vomiting at the savagery is perfervid fantasy, but it works because it’s grafted onto a factual skeleton. An expertly told tale in which the star role is played by democracy, a poisoned chalice to be won only at the cost of treason.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-1452844473

Page Count: 454

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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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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