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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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