Packed with more derring-do than a dozen pirate films and with smarter, sparklier dialogue than a handful of Pulitzer...

THE CONFUSION

VOL. II, THE BAROQUE CYCLE

Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle grows streamlined in a hefty but propulsive second volume.

Building on the solid foundation that he’s already laid (Quicksilver, 2003), Stephenson provides us here with what’s actually two novels, interwoven with each other and carrying us forward from 1689 to 1702. In “The Juncto,” we follow Eliza’s ever-scheming efforts to keep her head attached to her neck while playing royal politics at Versailles, but “Bonanza” is the real treat, a rousing continuation of the adventures of the Vagabond King, the ever-stupid yet quite resourceful Jack Shaftoe. When we last left the luscious Eliza, she had nicely recovered from being rescued (by Jack) from an Ottoman harem, being named to French royalty (for services rendered). Now, she’s not only trying to raise her three children, but also operates as a crafty spy, brokering a byzantine deal involving the minting of monies in London to pay the massed French-Irish army soon to cross the Channel—to take London. The Juncto itself, a learned group that includes Leibniz and Newton, pops in from time to time to debate alchemy, theology, and abstract financial theorems—sessions that, though fascinating, are blessedly shorter than in the prior volume. Meanwhile, Jack starts out as a Mediterranean galley slave, but it’s obvious that the calling won’t last. It isn’t long before he and his impossibly diverse band of slaves (the motley band in ridiculously tough situations being a Stephenson trope) have stolen a boatload of gold and are on the run. A few rough patches aside, when the book is firing on all cylinders, as in a relentlessly funny running battle through the streets of Cairo, there’s little else out there that could hope to match it.

Packed with more derring-do than a dozen pirate films and with smarter, sparklier dialogue than a handful of Pulitzer winners, this is run-and-gun adventure fiction of the most literate kind.

Pub Date: April 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-052386-7

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2004

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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