Gregory once again demonstrates her flair for dramatizing history.

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THE RED QUEEN

Second in Gregory’s series about the War of the Roses, this time featuring a determined matriarch of the Lancastrian clan.

Margaret Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI, vows from an early age to be as pious and staunch as Joan of Arc, and to someday be known as “Margaret R.,” for Regina. She spends hours on her knees praying, preferably when others are watching. After a brief, loveless childhood, 12-year-old Margaret is married off to Edmund Tudor, a Welsh earl. Before Margaret gives birth to their son, Edmund is kidnapped by a Yorkist rival and dies of plague. Margaret has high ambitions for her newborn, Henry. However, she will not see him grow up. Once again, noblesse obliges her to get married, this time to Henry Stafford, a cowardly homebody. The Yorkists mount a campaign to put their pretender, Edward, on the throne, and soon he is ruling with his fetching and fecund Queen, Elizabeth, a clairvoyant commoner (eponymous narrator of series opener The White Queen, 2009) reputed to be descended from water sprites. The battles rage on, Henry VI is reinstated and redeposed, and Stafford is killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile, young Henry takes refuge in Brittany with his uncle and guardian, Jasper Tudor. Margaret contracts a marriage of convenience with Lord Stanley, and both ingratiate themselves with King Edward’s court, secretly plotting to restore the Lancastrian dynasty. When Edward dies unexpectedly, his brother Richard III takes power and the rest is history, except not the one familiar from Shakespeare. Richard, though unscrupulous and paranoid, is neither a hunchback nor the murderer of the two young princes in the Tower—that crime, still a mystery today, is all but laid at Margaret’s door. Since we know Henry Tudor will invade and unseat Richard from horse and throne, the outcome is not in doubt: The suspense inheres in wondering whether Margaret’s prodigious hubris will be her downfall.

Gregory once again demonstrates her flair for dramatizing history.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6372-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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