A well-rounded cliffhanger of an opening to a series likely to engage fans of medieval-themed fantasy.

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Invasion Of The Ortaks

THE KNIGHT

In the first installment of Benónýsson’s Invasion of the Ortaks fantasy series, a tale of political intrigue and unlikely camaraderie takes shape on the continent of Esthopia.

When Carl the Ranger is almost murdered by two foreign soldiers in the wilderness, it becomes clear that something sinister inhabits the otherwise peaceful Esthopian nation of Eniktronia. Saved in the nick of time by the battle-ready Princess Egny—the niece of Eniktronia’s King Haakon—Carl travels with her through the countryside, attacking the encampments of these dark-clad invaders. While lodged at an inn for the night, enemies posing as local tavern-goers make an attempt on her life. News of the attack reaches the king, who sends Sir Klaus eastward across the outlaw-riddled Bending Pass and into the country of Antonia to learn more about the assassination plot. As the knight makes his way, he and his team uncover a conspiracy that implicates even Eniktronia’s closest allies. What’s more, they confirm fears that inhabitants of Orknia, a southern land, separated from Esthopia by sea, have seized the port of Rutan and declared war on the continent. In the middle of this tumult, the team also helps Egny face the onus of royal responsibility when her grandfather, the king of Otanga, dies and leaves her a special inheritance. The novel, filled with well-wrought adventure, hosts a large cast, from the warm Asgrim to the foolhardy Gils, their back stories as attention-grabbing as the main narrative. We learn, for instance, the unsettling history of Christopher, a trader who freed two condemned slaves and joined forces with Klaus against the incoming Ortaks. Given its whirlwindlike pace, the plot’s speed sometimes comes at the expense of clarity but never so much as to obscure the essentials. Benónýsson convincingly sketches the lives of handfuls of Esthopians who, faced with the prospect of war with a brutal tribe and betrayal among their ranks, band together—building interest for the series’ next installment.

A well-rounded cliffhanger of an opening to a series likely to engage fans of medieval-themed fantasy.

Pub Date: May 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-312-13310-5

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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