Readers who willingly lost themselves in Iain Pears’s An Instance of the Fingerpost should know that King has written its...


An unusually literate historical mystery—the imposingly accomplished second novel from the Canadian-born British author of the nonfiction Brunelleschi’s Dome (p. 1261) involves a mild-mannered London bookseller in a scholarly search that rapidly mutates into a dauntingly labyrinthine intrigue

In 1660, widower Isaac Inchbold reluctantly leaves the musty confines of his establishment and travels to Pontifex Hall, the Dorset estate of Alethea Greatorex, Lady Marchamont. Isaac is engaged to find the only existing (unpublished) copy of a manuscript lost when the Hall was occupied by Cromwell’s soldiers during the recently concluded civil war: the Labyrinthus Mundi of Hermetic philosopher Hermes Trismegistus, a renegade work very likely a candidate for “the Vatican’s catalogue of forbidden books.” Once this delicious premise is established, King alternates Isaac’s tale of his increasingly convoluted adventures with others (presumably reconstructed out of his research) involving Emilia Molyneux, a handmaiden to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Holy Roman Emperor’s librarian Vilem Jirasek, and the reappearing specters of three murderous black-clad horsemen. An “underground river” threatens the foundations of Pontifex Hall—just as Isaac’s safety, and perhaps sanity, are assailed by contradictory evidence interpreted from the writings of such sages and mages as Plato, Copernicus, Galileo, the cartographer Ortelius, “the Rosicrucian Brethren,” and other authorities. And he learns much more than he cares to know about Alethea’s scholar-adventurer (and thief?) father Sir Ambrose Plessington, sinister “art broker” Henry Monboddo, the ironic (hidden) meaning of the Latin motto Littera Scripta Manet (“the written word abides”), and enigmas surrounding the wreck of a German ship carrying “mysterious cargo” to London, and Sir Walter Raleigh’s ill-fated exploratory voyage to Guiana. Ex-Libris wears its considerable learning lightly, and its climactic succession of surprises does not disappoint.

Readers who willingly lost themselves in Iain Pears’s An Instance of the Fingerpost should know that King has written its entirely worthy successor.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-8027-3357-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?