A sometimes-diverting dystopian fantasy with an unconvincing romance and inconsistent politics.

READ REVIEW

CHRONICLES OF SPARTAK

FREEDOM'S HOPE (BOOK 2 OF 2)

A bisexual, teenage slave squares off against the combined might of church and state with the help of his rich husband in this sci-fi thriller.

This second installment of Coulter’s (Chronicles of Spartak: Rising Son, 2016) series finds 17-year-old Spartak Jones, an Olympic gold medalist gymnast with divine pectorals and long blond tresses, on a honeymoon in orbit around Earth with his 19-year-old quadrillionaire husband, Zinc McClain, leader of the Twelve Families plutocracy. Zinc is technically Spartak’s owner, per a U.S. Supreme Court decision reinstituting slavery, but their relationship is portrayed as loving and egalitarian. In 2116’s neo-feudal America, where “barronials” lord over oppressed “downers” and democracy has been debased by the philosophies of Ayn Rand and Donald Trump, Spartak is a symbol of liberation to the oppressed masses. In many passages, characters praise him as “the most famous and lethal warrior on the planet” with an “endless supply of energy and goodness”; they toast his common touch, ponder his pronouncements on religious liberty, and applaud his “wondrous” interpretations of Frédéric Chopin’s and Franz Liszt’s works. Alas, there are distractions from Spartak-olatry: a military coup takes over the U.S. government; Dominionist theocrats attack barronials and kidnap Spartak’s siblings; and, most entertainingly, Spartak’s in-laws even sell him to a Marrakesh house of ill repute. Spartak fights back, assisted by Zinc’s limitless wealth, enormous private army, and invisible weapons. Throughout the book, Spartak often comes off as an overhyped, idealized character. However, when the book stops worshipping him long enough to throw in some conflict, Coulter pens some lively action scenes. Vigorous supporting characters also add some spice to the story. But the two romantic leads are a boring couple, and readers may find that their callow canoodling is far less arousing than their prurient weaponry: “I extracted the floppy plasteel sword from its hiding place in my belt….the sword lengthened, thickened, erect, hard, glowing and lethal.” Readers also may not buy that a master-slave marriage could possibly be as rapturous and non-exploitative as Spartak’s allegedly is—and may also feel that it undermines the novel’s soapboxing about equality and democracy.

A sometimes-diverting dystopian fantasy with an unconvincing romance and inconsistent politics.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9966473-3-5

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Jubilation Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more