An inventive and impressively researched alternative account of the influence of Rome on the genesis of Christianity.

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HAIL JUDEAS CAESAR

A debut revisionist historical novel imagines a political interpretation of Jesus’ ministry and the birth of Christianity.

Pontius Pilate is ordered to leave Rome to become governor of Judea, a role he does not relish, though it’s ostensibly a promotion. Judea is notoriously insurrectionist, dominated by Jewish zealots who chafe at Roman rule. Pilate makes little headway upon his arrival, but recruits Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew, to spy on the Jewish Council. Joseph convinces the merchant John to also help, and Pilate encourages him to pose as a prophet and proselytize pro-Roman messages of conciliation. John becomes increasingly popular over time and known as John the Baptist, but also disenchanted, he ropes in his cousin, Jesus, to be his replacement. Jesus’ own Judaism perfectly suits Pilate’s ends—he’s progressive and contemptuous of the attachment to traditional rituals, and extremely critical of violent radicalism. He preaches a message of peaceful coexistence with Roman rulers, and even encourages Judeans to be less hostile to tax collectors. He amazes gathering crowds with staged miracles. Despite Jesus’ growing following, many stalwart traditionalists vehemently oppose his teachings. But when John, arrested on political charges, threatens to reveal the subterfuge, Pilate quickly hatches an opportunistic plan. He conspires to have John executed, and orchestrates Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, as well as an ersatz resurrection, to pit Jesus’ more pliable disciples against the anti-Roman contingent. Fleming develops a clever and historically convincing narrative that suggests a secular interpretation of the birth of Christianity, shorn of supernatural explanation. In addition, Pilate is made much more than a villain. While certainly impatient and capable of great cruelty, he also shows compassion and love, as evidenced by his utter devotion to his wife, Claudia. Jesus, too, is portrayed in artfully complex colors, theologically iconoclastic but also egotistical and sensitive to criticism. Fleming’s attention to historical detail is admirable—he must have studiously researched the cultural and political realities of the day. For those more interested in the scholarly plausibility of the plot, the author includes a note at the end of the book discussing precisely that.

An inventive and impressively researched alternative account of the influence of Rome on the genesis of Christianity. 

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 369

Publisher: Wellspring Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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