Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.

THE DARK QUEENS

THE BLOODY RIVALRY THAT FORGED THE MEDIEVAL WORLD

The lives of forgotten queens.

Poet and essayist Puhak makes her nonfiction debut with a dual biography of two fierce, indomitable sixth-century women: Brunhild and Fredegund, rival sisters-in-law who inspired the fictional story of the Valkyrie, immortalized in Wagner’s Ring opera cycle. Brunhild, the daughter of a Visigoth king, married King Sigibert, a son of Merovingian King Clothar; Fredegund, a slave, became the third wife of Chilperic, Sigibert’s vengeful half brother. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Puhak creates a richly detailed tapestry depicting a volatile, turbulent age. Fratricide, torture, betrayal, and execution—as well as deadly illnesses—were common: “Among the Merovingians,” writes the author, “intrafamilial violence was accepted as a hazard of the job,” and the two queens did not shrink from bloody conflict as they sought to consolidate power for themselves and their heirs and to wrest land from enemies. By the end of the sixth century, the dual queens had reigned for decades over an empire that “encompassed modern-day France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, western and southern Germany, and swaths of Switzerland. Only Charlemagne would, briefly, control more territory than these two women.” Moreover, Puhak writes, they “did much more than simply hang on to their thrones. They collaborated with foreign rulers, engaged in public works programs, and expanded their kingdoms’ territories.” They knew their worth as women who, through marriage or motherhood, could consolidate realms. After Sigibert died, Brunhild married his nephew, a strategic move: “Her new husband was to depose his father and rule Neustria; her son would remain king of Austrasia.” Fredegund’s alleged “talent for assassination” led foreign kings to solicit her services. Puhak takes a sympathetic view of their plights: widowhood that might relegate them to life in a convent; the death of children from illness or foul play; and their physical vulnerability as women. Her brisk narrative rescues two significant figures from misogynist historians who, in perpetuating rumors and scandals, have diminished their significance.

Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63557-491-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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