An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.

THE EMPEROR STRIKES BACK

A European emperor goes to war with his own Crusader subjects in this historical novel.

Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman emperor, is the nominal overlord of Outremer—the Crusader states that European Christians established in the Holy Land. But Frederick’s temporary treaty with the sultan of the Saracens has made him unpopular with Outremer’s Christians, who feel beset by enemies on all sides. What’s more, the emperor’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem is being disputed by the local lords there. In all these matters, Frederick blames John d’Ibelin, the honorable lord of Beirut, who recently seized Cyprus from the emperor’s chosen governors and who has won the favor of the land’s teenage king, Henry. Frederick strips John of his title and of Beirut itself, ordering that the Ibelins “vacate the city within 30 days of the judgment of this court or face the consequences of their treason.” As the emperor moves to subdue his own subjects, the embattled Ibelins—including John’s impulsive but capable heir, Balian, and his teenage daughter, Bella, who aspires to become a nun—are left to protect all they have built while withstanding the wrath of an entire empire. Schrader’s (Rebels Against Tyranny, 2018, etc.) prose manages to summon the culture and time period of the Crusader states while remaining light and readable: “As far as the Archbishop knew, this man had not committed any great sins—at least not recently. There were rumors, of course. Whispers of nuns ravaged and churches plundered, but from long ago, and the victims had been Greek, in any case.” The houses and backstories are as dense as anything from Frank Herbert or George R.R. Martin, and this slows the pace down a bit even as Schrader attempts to hew to the tales of a few main characters. The amount of detail and underlying research in the novel is remarkable, and fans of history will not mind the digressions and connections that ornament the plot. The author manages to spin quite an epic out of this relatively obscure historical event, bringing a vibrant forgotten world to life in the process.

An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.

Pub Date: July 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62787-699-5

Page Count: 433

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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