Ashe is more flag-bearer of the rampant Montfort lion than objective storyteller, but her sharp eye for human drama and...

MONTFORT THE FOUNDER OF PARLIAMENT

THE VICEROY 1243-1253

A full-blooded second installment of Ashe’s historical fiction, in which the seeds of rebellion against Henry III’s economic tyranny are sown in the mind of Simon de Montfort, the founder of Parliament.

More assuredly ensconced in the saddle than she was in her first volume, a volant Ashe (Montfort the Founder of Parliament: The Early Years, 2010) charges ahead, taking the reader along on a largely gripping ride. This volume opens with dark tidings that Palestine, gloriously secured by Simon in the First Crusade, has fallen. Plunged into an orgy of grief, he lashes himself until he passes out. He wants to immediately jump on his horse and head to the Holy Land, but the king has other plans; Henry sends his finest general to subdue the notoriously rebellious French province of Gascony. Although the fine detailing of the three Gascony campaigns occasionally plods, Ashe does her best to mine it fully to build up the antagonism that will eventually explode into civil war. Pitted against a spiteful, changeling Henry who plies him with favors only to then humiliate him by trusting the word of the Gascon lords over his, Simon is tried for treason but acquitted. The official charge against him is his ruthlessness in Gascony, but the real treason has taken place in the bedroom, with Simon lapsing back into his affair with Queen Eleanor. In the background is a quiet but dangerous campaign launched by Simon’s archbishop-mentor and chancellor of Oxford, Robert Grosseteste, to curb Henry’s arbitrariness by appointing a council. This could be seditious but it has a deep appeal for the barons and clergy bled to death by a king addicted to wars and keeping his foreign in-laws in velvet (literally—the fabric was new to the court, as, incidentally, was Roger Bacon’s rudimentary canon). The sanctimoniously loyal Simon initially dismisses Grosseteste’s talk with “Henry is no Tiberius,” but, in a deftly turned phrase by Ashe, he is soon bitterly aware that trusting Henry is akin to “leaning on Aaron’s staff that would one day turn serpent and sting him.”

Ashe is more flag-bearer of the rampant Montfort lion than objective storyteller, but her sharp eye for human drama and historic detail, together with strong characterization, keep the reader absorbed to the very end.

Pub Date: May 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-1450574235

Page Count: 265

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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