Serious-minded yet eminently readable historical fiction handily done.

READ REVIEW

THE AGITATOR

A NOVEL OF IRELAND IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

Based on real events, this novel offers a sweeping view of politics in rural Ireland in the turbulent 1870s, focusing specifically on activist Michael Davitt and his role in the class struggle known as the Land War.

Michael Davitt has just been released from seven and a half years at Dartmoor prison, paroled from his 15-year term for felony treason against the British Crown. Although quiet and cautious from his years of solitary confinement, he is by no means chastened; straightaway he resumes his role as an agitator for chipping away at “landlordism,” the vestigial feudal system that persists in Ireland. Potato crops are failing, rents are rising, and the starving poor are being turned out of their homes just as they were during the famine of the 1840s. Davitt, everyone agrees, has the visibility and passion to help right these wrongs. Keady (The Dowry, 2006) enlivens his story with a cast of memorable characters: Mary Duddy, the housewife evicted from her land; Father O’Malley, the parish priest who must balance his love of country and commitment to the poor with his sworn allegiance to Rome; Lord Lucan, the malevolent aristocrat known as the “Old Exterminator,” and his unctuous Scottish land agent, MacAlister; Bicko, the ambivalent spy; and visionary parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell. The extent to which characters other than Davitt and Parnell are based on real people isn’t exactly clear, but either way, the author has laudably made them believable and engaging. Readers will find themselves fretting over what will become of Mary Duddy and her family, mentally hissing whenever MacAlister appears on the pages and rooting for Davitt to win in politics as well as love. Dealing with material that might easily become either ponderous or strident, Keady writes liltingly, with dialogue that rings true whether it’s the vernacular of Irish farmers or the measured politesse of the duchess of Marlborough. The book ends with some successes, some lingering complications and less than a third of Davitt’s life story told—a tantalizing hint, perhaps, of a sequel or two in the works.

Serious-minded yet eminently readable historical fiction handily done.

Pub Date: May 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4751-9082-3

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Castletree Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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