SAXON HEROINES

A NORTHUMBRIAN NOVEL

From the Women of Determination and Courage series , Vol. 3

A captivating account of the lives of extraordinary women in perilous times.

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A historical novel set in seventh-century England follows a new queen and the women of her court as they struggle to survive and prosper.

Princess Ethelberga of Kent marries King Edwin of Northumbria to form a political alliance between Edwin and her brother, Eadbald, the King of Kent. She’s disgusted by Northumbria, which she sees as a coarse backwoods, and by her new husband, an unrefined warrior who’s perpetually in search of new wars. However, she’s intent on securing a future for herself, so she plans to give the king an heir. Also, with the encouragement of Pope Boniface and the helpful machinations of Bishop Paulinus, she aims to convince Edwin to convert to Christianity and abandon his allegiance to Woden and other pagan gods, to whom he attributes his military fortunes. In addition, Ethelberga decides to teach the women of her kingdom to read, including Princess Hildeburg, Edwin’s young niece. Wagner-Wright, in the third installment of her series, chronicles the trials of Ethelberga and the women surrounding her as they attempt to carve out meaningful lives in a male-dominated world. The author’s command of the historical period is magisterial, and she paints a lively, even terrifying picture of an England riven by tribalistic conflicts, fleeting alliances, and bloodthirsty monarchs. Furthermore, she thoughtfully captures the religious conflicts of the time and the ways in which they feed into political and territorial ones; as Hildeburg aptly puts it, “When gods dispute, kings die.” Ethelberga, in particular, emerges as a memorable heroine; even after she faces a major tragedy and a siege of Northumbria, leaving her a “displaced queen,” she displays remarkable resilience and shrewd, calculating intelligence. Wagner-Wright has a tendency to freight the reader with an excess of detail—particularly when it comes to the labyrinthine political entanglements that are central to the novel—but this dramatically gripping novel is worth readers’ effort.

A captivating account of the lives of extraordinary women in perilous times.

Pub Date: March 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73-541320-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Wagner Wright Enterprises

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

THE VASTER WILDS

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.

As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593418390

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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