An absorbing fantasy novel that delivers many satisfactions.

Al-Kabar

In French’s (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) fantasy novel, a young woman gains magical powers and sets out to avenge her slaughtered family.

For 18-year-old Fakhira at Aitrae Oasis in Ilauris, a fantasy world similar to ancient Arabia, the future looks simple: she’ll marry the man her father chose for her, a guardsman for Caliph Korval. But then her father’s rival Caliph Trimar’s forces attack the Oasis; Fakhira manages to hide, but her family is brutally murdered. On her way to sanctuary in Korval’s city, Kamrik, Fakhira falls through a crack in the ground into a pool of water. While she’s submerged, whispering voices address her as “Al-Kabar,” urge her to “Go forth and fight for freedom,” and give her a special sword. Using her new, magical powers, Fakhira plans to disguise herself as a man named Al-Kabar, join Korval’s army, and attack Trimar. She soon rescues a thin young man called Tahjis the Rat from thugs in Kamrik. He sees through Al-Kabar’s disguise but makes a deal to help her. Soon she gets close to Korval and gains his confidence, but she discovers that avenging her family is more complex than she thought, with innocent lives in the balance and more factions vying for power than she’d realized. But if she gets it right, Tahjis’ prediction may come true: that “The time of greedy, power-hungry men leading our people is over. The time of the Al-Kabar has come.” French offers an intriguingly layered world in this novel, taking what could be a simple revenge story and making it far more engaging by considering such things as unintended consequences and competing interests. Her worldbuilding is three-dimensional and subtly realized; for example, Fakhira’s culture, while clearly patriarchal, is also matrilocal. French’s voice is strong and vivid, never succumbing to the overwrought style that often plagues other fantasy books; the dialogue, too, is natural and unstilted. The unpredictable plot features some plans that work and others that fail, and it moves at a fast clip, nicely weaving in romantic elements between the battle scenes.

An absorbing fantasy novel that delivers many satisfactions.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-032-9

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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