A straightforward, somewhat awkward fantasy epic about a determined monarch and a dangerous knight.


The Prouds

A debut novel sets the stage for a war between two great factions.

Taher’s story explores the pre-industrial fantasy kingdom of Widea, governed by King Matthew. In Matthew’s tumultuous youth, his father, King Kendrick, dies and leaves him suffocated under the control of a regency council. Matthew is vexed that a single neighboring tribe—the Prouds, descended from their legendary ancestor, The Proud, and following their Leader, Addison—will not submit to his rule. Though Matthew wishes to invade neighboring tribal lands and use the income from annexing them to reduce his people’s tax burden, his regents remain stubbornly conservative. Finally, with the aid of an ambitious military officer, he kills his regents and effectively conquers his own kingdom at the age of 16. While revenge breaks his heart, he still moves forward with his ambitions against the Prouds—not reckoning with his own inexperience and that of his armies or with the might of Jarvis, son of Leader Addison and a deadly knight. But as the tide of war turns against Jarvis and the Prouds, they become divided in their purpose: should they carry on in their struggle to defy Matthew, risking everything, or make peace and at last bow to an overlord from a rival land? The story is broad in focus, with numerous characters. Jarvis, the ostensible protagonist, does not truly enter the narrative until halfway through the book. (The first half is essentially the story of Matthew’s early life and career.) Unfortunately, the large cast is drawn in simple strokes and needs greater depth and complexity. The author has apparently mastered at least two languages, and while this is admirable, the text is often inelegant and lacks fluidity. (For example: “His loud words were very harsh on the commander because he loved the king so much. Besides, he was not used to being treated so harshly even by King Kendrick, who was much older than him, let alone that king, who was much younger than him.”) Overall, the book remains a worthy first effort but lacks polish.

A straightforward, somewhat awkward fantasy epic about a determined monarch and a dangerous knight.

Pub Date: July 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62526-410-7

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Solstice

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

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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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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