A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare.

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THE SEA QUEEN

Now fighting opposite her brother, Svanhild must decide how to navigate an ever more treacherous Norway in Hartsuyker’s follow-up to The Half-Drowned King (2017).

Things aren’t going exactly as planned for Ragnvald, who has fought in King Harald’s quest to unite Norway for six bloody years. As a warrior, Ragnvald is used to raids and war, but he is often startled by Harald’s penchant for revenge. Even after all the warring is said and done, Vikings have strict codes of honor, and Harald pushes Ragnvald into ever more gruesome confrontations that trouble his conscience. In a surprising move, Ragnvald’s sister, Svanhild, has married his enemy, Solvi, a skilled sailor and warrior rousing an army to resist Harald’s conquests and burdensome taxes. This puts the two siblings at odds, even after Svanhild leaves Solvi and returns to Ragnvald’s camp a grieving mother. As the factions continue to war, Svanhild is caught in the middle. Will she stand by her brother’s side or lie to protect the man she still loves? New characters, like Ragnvald’s stepbrother, Sigurd, give us insight into the labyrinthine political machinations, back-stabbings, and betrayals at work in the Viking age, taking us straight into the camp of one of Harald’s betrayers. Like many second books in a trilogy, this one can get bogged down trying to put all of the players in the right places at the right time, and the novel relies heavily on exposition. But Hartsuyker is a skilled storyteller, and the moral battles her characters wrestle with on and off the battlefield add compelling psychological depth to an old and epic tale. She also restores women’s work and political maneuverings to Ragnvald’s story, and Svanhild emerges as a complicated, talented, and shrewd warrior in her own right. “Should I give you a ship and a crew so you can fight my sea battles for me?” King Harald asks Svanhild after she proves herself a worthier sailor than many of his men. Svanhild, of course, doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes...I think you should.” It’s a good thing Harald listens.

A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-256373-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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