A grand tale reminiscent of old Hollywood epics with their immense casts, dedicated heroes, and doe-eyed maidens.


The Crimson Emperor


Baren’s (The Canary in the Mine, 2015, etc.) epic novel traces momentous events in imperial Byzantium. 

It is the year 587 when young Romulus, seated in the Church of Saint Sophia, has visions of a soldier engaged in a fierce battle: “He sliced and cut furiously, his sword flashing crimson, against four enemy warriors clothed in dark rough animal hides.” The son of a successful weapon maker, Romulus shows great interest in military subjects as he goes about an education involving “physical exercise and in subjects such as Roman mythology, philosophy, the Roman classics and rhetoric.” Yet he’s coming of age in a time of unrest: “Too many things are not right....Too many....Disagreeable rumors from the army....Even worse corruption than usual in the Government’s Procurement Offices,” as one character remarks. (Readers familiar with the time period will know that Maurice, the emperor of Romulus’ youth, has a difficult, ill-fated rule.) As Romulus rises to prominence and attracts the attention of young women like Zenianthe, a girl who “blushed very prettily,” and Lydia, whose “splendid blue eyes were large and brilliant,” his future seems sure to be one of conflicts both physical and romantic. Readers are told in no uncertain terms that “Byzantium’s history was not without its lively moments,” and neither is this information-packed fictional account. It’s full of all the bloodshed one might expect from the time period, with violence including an unsuccessful bid of rioters who “screamed and shrieked as they struggled desperately against those pushing them into the Guards’ stabbing pikes.” Severed heads also make an appearance, and one emperor is said to show “a poorly-concealed deranged bloodlust at each successive murder.” Love interests tend to be clumsier, falling into melodrama, as when one young woman explains to her mother, “I love him, but I have such strong passions for him....Is this what it is to be in love?” Readers excited by the setting will nevertheless find themselves eager to see how Romulus fares in such a historically significant time.

A grand tale reminiscent of old Hollywood epics with their immense casts, dedicated heroes, and doe-eyed maidens.

Pub Date: March 7, 2015


Page Count: -

Publisher: Westminster & York, Ltd

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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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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