A thrilling coming-of-age story with compelling worldbuilding.

HALF A LION

A fantasy novel by a Cameroonian author that draws on Central African folklore.

After half brothers Sakhan and Neneh engage in a public fight that embarrasses their father, Chief Kheng, the latter finds himself troubled by the perilous state of his Lion tribe. But when Sakhan’s sister Adah is killed by unknown assailants, the chief opts to bring his sons with him as the tribe prepares for an uncertain war. From there, the action-packed novel kicks into gear as the tribe quickly finds members of a rival tribe and engages them in bloody battle, with Sakhan experiencing his first kills. After the chief’s eldest son, Haikachi, infamously known as the “Butcher of Bamundia,” is wounded and then mocked by the deceitful Neneh, a power struggle among the chief’s sons arises—and all the while, warring tribes begin taking steps for further battles. After Kheng’s death, his tribe threatens to cleave into smaller, antagonistic factions, fueled by Neneh’s ambitions and claim to his father’s throne, while Sakhan works to come to terms with his own destiny as he prepares to mount a challenge. Although the fight scenes, especially between the siblings, often take center stage in this narrative, what stands out most impressively is Oswald’s respectful treatment of elements of Central African culture. His characters are well rounded, and although the story make ample use of mysticism, it never falls prey to exoticism; instead, the author’s reverence for the traditions that inspired the work is clear. Oswald also effectively creates a world with a clear sense of mythography, with characters frequently taking the time to recall past battles and events, which gives the novel just enough dramatic sweep to feel like a historical epic.

A thrilling coming-of-age story with compelling worldbuilding.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-7377999-1

Page Count: 365

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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