A gripping, meticulous, and illuminating tale of war and intrigue.

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THE GOTHICA

Forced from their home by invading Huns, Visigoths navigate a volatile relationship with the Roman Empire in this historical novel set in the fourth century.

When the Huns cross the Dniester River, the barrier that divides the Visigoth and Ostrogoth communities, they leave destruction in their wake, raping and pillaging without restraint. More than 100,000 Goths flee their homes, hoping to seek refuge under the protection of the Eastern Roman Empire. But the Romans see them as “uncivilized barbarians” and receive them ungenerously, disarming them and letting them starve. During a fragile peace between the Visigoths and the Romans, Alaric, a “rash and reckless” young man who lost his father to the Hun invasion, becomes a new recruit for the Roman army and establishes himself as a brave military leader with a gift for strategy, an ascendancy thrillingly portrayed by DiCarlo. When Emperor Theodosius dies and is replaced by the young Arcadius, Alaric sees a unique opportunity for the Visigoths to assert their independence, and he rises to become their first king: “I do know the Roman way. I know it well. The Romans respond only to strength. We have now an opportunity. The East is weak. We should not wait for the young emperor to become a man.” The entire novel is an impressive display of historical scholarship, notable for its painstaking exactitude and breadth. The author authentically captures the perspectives of the Goths as well as the viewpoints of their Roman and Hun adversaries. Furthermore, DiCarlo constructs a captivating drama that reveals the culture of the Visigoths in all its complexity, a depiction brimming with nuance. This is precisely what historical fiction should provide: a seamless amalgam of scholarly rigor and dramatic power, a reading experience both educational and riveting.

A gripping, meticulous, and illuminating tale of war and intrigue.

Pub Date: July 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-66322-385-2

Page Count: 274

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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