Geoff Nelder is one of those writers who seems to be able to work across multiple genres seamlessly. There’s always an element of action, a hint of steamy romance, and his trademark twist. In his latest novel, Xaghra’s Revenge, the twist is a mixture of history, science, horror and fantasy. The research that underlies this novel is obviously impeccable. The narrative is built on the true story of Turkish pirate Rais Dragut, a brutal and deranged man who, in 1551, captured the entire population of Gozo, one of the Maltese islands, and sold whoever survived the terrible journey into slavery in Northern Africa.
This novel is more than just another a period piece of fiction. Crowhurst has written an evocative experience: a time-machine back to three and a half centuries ago into a world so unlike the present day that it actually become entangled and is essentially involved in generating our present heritage. This is set in a time before those childhood nursery rhymes were yet to be constructed as political satire and when the Dutch were the current adversary. Mix up the wrong potion and you could be accused of witchcraft.
From the beginning to the end The Joyce Girl is an enchanting tale, beautifully written. It drew me in and wouldn’t let go; I was caught and trapped right up to the epilogue. And what a cast of characters … their names kept dropping from this book like exotic fruits, starting with James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Madam Egorova, Alexander Calder, Nijinsky, Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Stella Steyn, Thomas McGreevy, Pablo Picasso, Dr Carl Gustav Jung, Gertrude Stein, Margaret Morris, John O’Sullivan, Isadora Duncan, and Stirling Calder all get a mention.
The author has researched her material thoroughly, even becoming a volunteer at the Queensland Museum and learning how to prepare ornithological specimens. This makes her descriptions of the preparations of the birds in her novel thoroughly convincing, as when Elizabeth is required to prepare the body of a brush turkey for its skeleton to be displayed. And the descriptions of her drawing and painting the prepared birds sometimes take the breath away, as with the quetzal, who ‘sported iridescent sheens in its plumage, like silk from China, gossamer and spider’s webs, droplets of water catching the light’ (94).
Burns’s novel is set in Chicago in 1919. Her choice of poem to quote at the beginning and set the tone for the story is inspired. “Working Girls”, by Carl Sandburg, is about the “river of young woman-life” in that city, as factory and office girls headed off to work each morning. He contrasts the “green” stream of young innocent energy with the “gray” stream of more experienced women who say, “I know where the bloom and laughter go, and I have memories.”
In the end, one of the main characters enjoys a sober happiness, but under it “ran a thin vein of sorrow what millions like her would feel down the years.” To educate readers while entertaining them is no small achievement. Simonson deserves critical as well as popular acclaim for pulling it off in a subtle way.
Edenland is the evocative title of an evocative novel set in the early days of the US Civil War. Its story plunges us into the Great Dismal Swamp that straddles Virginia and North Carolina, and never quite allows us to escape the treacherous waters that threaten to engulf its protagonists.
I would categorize this book as historical fiction first and foremost, though it is touted as magical realism. I had this in the back of my mind as I read, but other than Beulah’s mysterious arrival in town and her omnipresence for most of the rest of the book, the “magical realism” elements weren’t obvious—until the end. This is where Graham’s gift of storytelling shines through
Warlick’s bio mentions her work as editor of a food magazine, and her lush, detailed style is well suited for this type of writing. Reading one of her novels is like biting into something rich and decadent—it is something to savor. Her writing style is a sensory as well as literary experience—she brings the reader fully into the smallest moments of a scene.
The Last Wife of Atilla the Hun manages the perfect balance between the epic setting from which it takes its cue, and the intimate and domestic world that Gudrun finds herself in. Gudrun is cut off from the battlefield from which she only hears news, and unlike Sigrid, doesn’t go on a quest for dragon’s gold.