An impressive fantasy debut that creates a solid foundation for (hopefully) a much larger narrative to come.

THE KINGDOM OF LIARS

From the Legacy of the Mercenary King series , Vol. 1

Martell’s debut novel is a shelf-bending adventure fantasy that chronicles the life—and looming death—of Michael Kingman, an ill-fated young man awaiting execution for the killing of a king.

Set in a secondary world—particularly noteworthy for a fractured moon whose pieces frequently fall to the planet, wreaking havoc on the populace—the narrative takes place largely in Hollow, a once-thriving kingdom now beleaguered by tragedy, treason, and an impending civil war. Michael is an outcast whose father was executed for infamously killing a child prince years earlier, and he's obsessed with finding the truth behind his beloved father’s death. A war hero, the king’s adviser, and a man of honor, his father would never have killed a child, especially a child he vowed to protect. But with the once-venerated name of Kingman now irrevocably tarnished, Michael, a con man doing what he needs to survive, is faced with the monumental task of restoring his family’s name. After an alcoholic nobleman nicknamed Domet the Deranged agrees to help Michael prove his father was framed in addition to teaching the young Kingman how to use his fledgling magical Fabrication skills, Michael slowly realizes that his father was just a pawn in a much larger game of politics and power. An obvious strength of this novel is Martell’s worldbuilding prowess as well as his utilization of magic, which is subtle but powerful. But while the multiple subplots surrounding Kingman’s father’s death create a knotty mystery, they do sometimes slow the book's momentum. Martell generally keeps the pages turning, however, with a story full of relentless action and more than a few jaw-dropping plot twists. The structure of the narrative—a character awaiting death sharing their life story—is a bit overused in fantasy (in The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, among others), but the quality of the story more than makes up for it.

An impressive fantasy debut that creates a solid foundation for (hopefully) a much larger narrative to come.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3778-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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