A historical adventure that ends with a stunning revelation.

THE ABDUCTION OF SMITH AND SMITH

Harrison’s (Our Man in the Dark, 2011) new historical fiction explores family and freedom, rage and revenge in the melting pot of post–Civil War San Francisco.

Jupiter Smith left Col. Smith’s plantation to fight for the Union. The colonel raged, but he didn’t stop Jupiter. Jupiter was his slave, yes, but he was also his son, a connection Harrison slowly and elegantly reveals. What follows touches on themes from The Odyssey, Jack London’s Sea Wolf and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. At war’s end, Jupiter returns to the plantation seeking his wife, Sonya, and child. Instead, he finds the colonel descended into syphilitic madness and Sonya gone west. Thinking it an act of mercy, Jupiter kills the colonel and sets out for San Francisco. There he takes work "crimping"—shanghaiing men and selling them to ship captains. Jupiter can't find Sonya right away, but Archer Smith, the colonel’s son, finds him, seeking vengeance. However, war-wounded Archer’s addicted to opium, easily acquired along the embarcadero. Harrison’s clever with descriptions, capable of sketching a character with a quick sentence—"Large ears and head, beady eyes and too many teeth, he looked like the product of royal incest"—and his deftly plotted historical novel quickly becomes an around-the-world adventure. Sonya and young son Jacob are told Jupiter has traveled to Liberia, so they set out for Africa. Jupiter and Archer are themselves crimped and sold to Capt. Barrett, a China-bound gun-runner able to "slip through any blockade like a shadow." Jupiter, Archer and Barrett are soon marooned on Tikopia Island, prisoners of the Kurtz-like Yerby, one of a plethora of characters in San Francisco, China, Cuba and finally Liberia who color the narrative, a motley cast ever conniving to betray, cheat or kill one another. 

A historical adventure that ends with a stunning revelation.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2578-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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