An often vivid historical epic with moments of lilting prose.

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The Heart of a King

A STAR KIN BOOK, VOLUME 1

In her latest fantasy novel, Harris (Enter the Dream, 2012) tells the wistful tale of a king, a priestess and a pantheon of gods called the Star Kin.

In seventh-century Britain, the ravishing, red-haired Faine is a member of a wild clan of Celts living in Northumbria, ruled over by Saxon King Edwin. Faine is training to be a priestess and hopes to develop her healing gifts under the guidance of the goddess Ceridwen. But all appears lost when slave traders butcher her clan and bring her to Ad Gefrin, the king’s fortified village outpost. Her harsh new life of servitude, however, can’t strip away her beauty and regal bearing. King Edwin, a philosopher, statesman and widower, takes notice and falls for the Celtic slave despite his promise to marry the Kentish princess Ethelberga, who wants to convert King Edwin from his inclusive pagan beliefs to hard-line Christianity—which would, in turn, become the religion of his Saxon and Celtic peoples. Meanwhile, a group of Celtic gods called the Star Kin watch these developments with growing concern. The normally tolerant group must take bold action to keep from losing their followers and vanishing altogether. Thankfully, author Harris excels at action scenes, and her debut consistently zooms with gripping depictions of battle, intrigue and romance. However, the prose’s breathless quality may fatigue some readers; much of the plot is laid out with long descriptions, sometimes at the expense of dialogue and atmosphere. At times, the Star Kin feel like stage directors rather than characters caught up in the drama. At her best, however, the author gives readers scenes of perfect intimacy: “Greywing put his arms around [Earendel] and they rested, cheek to cheek, warm breast against warm breast.” She also skillfully conveys the gods’ celestial majesty: “Ceridwen swung around to the Master, so fast that small stars loosed themselves from her flowing black hair and danced around her head.” As a result, readers will likely find the story of Edwin, Faine, and the Star Kin a memorable one.

An often vivid historical epic with moments of lilting prose.

Pub Date: April 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479117468

Page Count: 556

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2013

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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