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MOON WITCH, SPIDER KING

From the Dark Star series , Vol. 2

The second part of this trilogy is darker and, in many ways, more moving than its predecessor.

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Stories as ambitiously made up as this aren't expected to so intensely engage the shifting natures of truth and reality. This one does.

A chorus of enthusiastic comparisons to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice greeted James' Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) upon its publication. This second volume in a projected trilogy set in a boldly imagined, opulently apportioned ancient Africa shows that the Man Booker Prize–winning novelist is building something deeper and more profoundly innovative within the swords-and-sorcery genre. In this middle installment, James doesn’t advance his narrative from the first volume so much as approach its main story, Rashomon-like, from a different perspective. This, then, is the story of Sogolon, the 177-year-old Moon Witch, whose path crosses in Black Leopard with those of the one-eyed Tracker and his motley entourage in a far-flung and fraught search for a mysterious young boy who's been missing for three years. This novel, told in the main character’s patois, which is as witty, richly textured, and musically captivating as the story it tells, begins decades and decades before, back when Sogolon is an orphaned child and indentured servant who first becomes aware of her dark powers when she repels her master’s violent sexual advances with some involuntary—and deadly—violence of her own. From then on, a force she identifies throughout the narrative as “wind (not wind)” is summoned to carry her (and often rescue her) through years of travail and adventure across several kingdoms and wildernesses, encountering such wonders as a city that levitates at sunset and such perils as the witch-hunting Sangomin gangs. Through calm and stormy times, she’s always aware of being stalked by the Aesi, known from the previous installment as chancellor to Kwash Dara, alias the Spider King, but here Aesi exists mostly as a demonic spirit that can dispatch invisible assassins and manipulate people’s minds for its own ends. There’s barely enough space to talk about James’ many inventions, from children capable of changing into lions to a river dragon known as a “ninki nanka.” So much is densely packed into this narrative that it sometimes threatens to leave the reader gasping for breath, especially at the start. But once Sogolon’s painful, tumultuous initiation ends and the Moon Witch’s legend takes hold, James’ tale picks up speed with beautifully orchestrated (and ferociously violent) set pieces and language both vivid and poetic.

The second part of this trilogy is darker and, in many ways, more moving than its predecessor.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2020-1

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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