Despite inconsistent pacing, the strong characters and realistic setting make this tale an enjoyable read.

FREY'S SAGA

A monk in training finds a new life and the possibility of love after being dragooned by Vikings in this historical novel.

Hill’s narrative opens with a nightmare scenario: During a raid by Vikings, a monk named Brother Tibbs is murdered, which causes the eponymous Frey to wake up screaming in a cold sweat. Unfortunately, Frey’s dream turns out to be prophetic and, in the aftermath, he is taken in the raid to serve as a thrall to the group’s leader, Trygve. But luck hasn’t totally abandoned Frey, as Trygve—a generally decent man—turns him over to Auger for training. One of Trygve’s men, Auger is a former thrall himself and a genuinely good soul. He shows Frey how to be part of Viking society and discovers that the newcomer has much to teach others. Now Frey has the chance to fully contribute to the village and deal with his burgeoning attraction to Trygve’s daughter—if he can overcome the machinations of some of the village residents. As the author points out in the preface, Vikings were more than just marauders, and the narrative skillfully builds the world of ninth-century Norse folk into a believable setting. Warriors are well represented, but so are merchants, farmers, craftsmen, and criminals. And while the dialogue sounds suspiciously modern at times—the use of such phrases as “off his rocker” are particularly anachronistic—the character voices are clear, and Hill gives them depth and vibrancy beyond the usual stereotypical portrayal. As a protagonist, Frey may conform to the Mary Sue trope of character fiction—seemingly good at everything, and possessing a phenomenal number of physical and intellectual gifts—but he’s also humble and grateful, which helps to ground the hero significantly. The plotting is not always up to the level of the cast; the pacing is choppy and, rather than building to a climax, the story simply stops. But given the richness of the backdrop and the players, readers will find these flaws easily forgivable.

Despite inconsistent pacing, the strong characters and realistic setting make this tale an enjoyable read.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4771-4465-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2020

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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