Fun, engaging prose enhances complex religious themes; a good novel for those already Elizabethan-era savvy.

THE LADY OF MISRULE

An addition to the growing shelf of Tudor-era historical fiction explores the consequences a young queen faces after her brief reign.

The unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, cousin of the short-lived Edward VI, was bullied into marriage and foisted upon the throne for a nine-day reign before being swatted aside by supporters of Mary Tudor. Dunn adds to her body of work set in this period (The May Bride, 2014, etc.) by guiding us through the months of Jane’s imprisonment in the Tower of London. She is chaperoned by Elizabeth Tilney, the love-starved teenage daughter of rural gentry who narrates the novel: “A good Catholic girl was what they said they needed” to keep Jane company in her Tower apartment. Merely indifferently good or Catholic, Elizabeth has an arresting, original voice, and, country girl or no, she sounds darkly street-smart and contemporary. Jane is a scholarly Protestant, dedicated to her books and the great theological freedom they might bring to England. Elizabeth, by contrast, describes herself as a “ducker and diver, following my nose, keeping to corners, taking what I could get and believing in nothing and no one.” In those turbulent times, Elizabeth’s equivocation is shared by most of her countrymen, who flipped between Catholicism and Protestantism to save their necks. But Elizabeth begins to feel fickle in the face of the devotion of her pious bedmate. Despite their differences, the women bond, and Elizabeth also grows close to Jane’s pompous but loyal husband, Guilford. Dunn assumes a reading audience attuned to the theology and politics of the times. But the story of the reluctant friendship between two young women, one from whom the world expected too much and one whom the world barely acknowledged, is keenly drawn and wrenching in its outcome.

Fun, engaging prose enhances complex religious themes; a good novel for those already Elizabethan-era savvy.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60598-942-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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

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CIRCE

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

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

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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

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