This absorbing tale deftly brings to life momentous military events of the 13th century.

EDGE OF ARMAGEDDON

This third installment of a historical fiction series focuses on Mamluk warriors.

Graft follows up his previous book, A Lion's Share(2019), with another narrative based on highly trained, enslaved soldiers known as Mamluks. It is the year 1257 when the Sultan of Egypt is murdered in his bath. It does not take long for Cenk, a Mamluk from the preceding two installments with a penchant for koumis (fermented mare’s milk), to dispense with the culprits. But what does the future hold for Egypt? Things are tense throughout the region. This is especially true thanks to a threat from the East. Mongol forces are on the warpath; their destruction of Baghdad is ruthless and quick. Those who hope to withstand one of their invasions will need more than luck on their side. It’s a good thing Egypt has men like Leander. Leander, a Mamluk who defected from the French years ago, is on a scouting mission. What he sees is not encouraging: The Mongols’ weaponry is advanced and their numbers are immense. To further complicate matters for Leander, a spy is looking for him. Meanwhile, an accomplished Kipchak craftswoman named Esel embarks on her own path of survival. Esel seeks to escape the life of an enslaved person to help a nephew she has not seen in years. Early portions of the narrative that focus on Esel can move slowly. Readers come to understand all about how (and why) Esel is so good at making bows. They also learn how important bows are when one lives in a harsh steppe environment. Wolves eating your livestock? Better have some well-made weapons at your disposal. Nevertheless, the story kicks into a higher gear when attention turns to the Mongols. Even if some of the political maneuvering and alliances can be complicated, readers learn a lot about the opponents approaching the Mamluks. From wielding mangonels and 12-foot lances fitted with hooks to displaying a fondness for systematically destroying local structures (and subsequently catapulting the debris), a fierce group that is too often generalized as a faceless horde is skillfully illuminated. When a battle approaches, even the horses “snort their realization of what soon comes.”

This absorbing tale deftly brings to life momentous military events of the 13th century.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-950154-71-5

Page Count: 552

Publisher: The Sager Group LLC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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