A tale of war, love and religious strife by a promising new novelist.

Conquest Defiled

TRIUMPH OF EVIL

A young man struggles against family, church and state to find love and a life of his own.

In Wagner’s debut historical novel, Spain’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are waging war to reclaim the country from Portugal and the Moors. In the process, they expel Muslims and Jews and seek to establish a nation of pure blood. In this context of war, racism and religious fervor, a young man named Casiano comes of age with difficulty. Born with a birthmark interpreted to be the mark of Satan to a Christian mother in a Muslim household, the child doesn’t have the odds in his favor. Competition between Casiano and his half brother, Juan Diego, dominates Casiano’s childhood.  While the half brothers are riding through treacherous passes, a pig charges them, startles Juan Diego’s horse and sends Juan Diego plummeting over a cliff to his death. From that point on, Casiano labors under the presumption of guilt for the loss and under the enmity of his stepfather. He is imprisoned but eventually taken in by monks. He falls in love with a Jewish converso named Perla, and he fights in the many battles that rage at the time. He also fights for the life of Perla, who is nearly burned at the stake for heresy. Eventually, Casiano and Perla set out to make a life for themselves free from the oppression of church and state. Wagner’s well-researched novel brings the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella to life. The story is a little slow paced at times, and the dialogue can be stiff, sounding more like that of a period-piece drama than natural speech, a danger in historical novels. The novel also has some predictable plot elements. Nonetheless, Wagner’s novel rises above these limitations. It’s a lively, historically detailed narrative, filled with well-rounded characters. Readers of historical fiction interested in the time period will find much to enjoy.

A tale of war, love and religious strife by a promising new novelist. 

Pub Date: March 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1477407448

Page Count: 332

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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