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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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