Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, March 21, 2014

Week ending March 21, 2014

starred review starHarte, Aidan. Irenicon. Jo Fletcher: Quercus. (Wave Trilogy, Bk. 1). Apr. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9781623650391. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623650407. FANTASY
irenicon032114Combining mysticism and magic, Harte’s debut novel is set in a world that might have been our own if we had possessed advanced technology during the Renaissance period. It is a world, both beautiful and deadly, where chivalry and treachery go hand in hand. The river Irenicon, created by Concordian Wave technology in 1347, divided the city of Rasenna, leaving factions on both sides of the river in constant battle with each other, thus rendering them unable to join forces against Concord. It is into this environment of internal strife that Sofia, the next Contessa of Rasenna, is born and raised. When a young engineer from Concord is sent to the city to construct a bridge across the river to allow Concord access to the rest of the peninsula, the two young people work together to bring the northsiders and southsiders together to work on the project and fight the advancing Concordian army.
Verdict Though readers may need a lexicon to keep track of the huge cast of characters, the dramatic lyrical writing style will keep them entranced and turning pages long into the night. Epic fantasy lovers who appreciate complex worldbuilding and intelligent writing will embrace Irenicon and the people who live on its banks. [This title was a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut.—Ed.]—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Heath, Lorraine. When the Duke Was Wicked. Avon. (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, Bk. 1). Mar. 2014. 369p. ISBN 9780062276223. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062276230. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Just 19, Lady Grace Mabry, the daughter of the Duke of Greystone, has only one requirement of a suitor worthy of her hand and her not insignificant dowry: he must truly love her. But it’s not an easy thing to discern. The only person she can go to for advice is her friend the Duke of Lovingdon. She was quite enamored of Lovingdon when she was a child, and now two years after the death of his wife and daughter, though Lovingdon thinks fondly of Grace, he will never again know love. Instead, he loses himself in women, drink, and cards and has no use for society. Yet he is honest with Grace about the signs she should be looking for in a prospective husband, and he somehow manages to display each one. Can his emotional scars and her physical ones cancel each other out?
Verdict This first title in a new series from Heath (She Tempts the Duke) is exquisitely rendered, with two friends parrying and deflecting in order to protect themselves from pain and heartbreak. Featuring couples revived from the author’s “Scoundrels of St. James” series, this fully fleshed romance will stay with readers long after the final page.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

starred review starRose, M.J. The Collector of Dying Breaths. Atria. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781451621532. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451621556. F
When her brother suddenly and mysteriously dies, perfumer Jac L’Etoile (The Book of Lost Fragrances; Seduction), along with her former lover Griffin North and their unconventional benefactress, decides to continue her brother’s research into finding the secret to immortality. This revolves around an arcane recipe for reanimating souls by collecting dying breaths, which had been discovered by René le Florentin, the 16th-century alchemist/perfumer to Catherine de Medici. He is also the man responsible for bringing perfume to Paris and to whom Jac feels an almost otherworldly connection. Jac and Griffin delve deep into the potions and poisons of the past, venture into dangerous and deadly waters where the lines between past and present blur, and Jac wonders if one of the dying breaths collected will be hers.
Verdict Rose’s latest venture into myth and reality is a page-turning, alluring concoction of fiction infused with fantastical yet actual history. Readers will be charmed by her well-drawn and memorable characters, and they will be mesmerized by her enchanting narrative, which takes them on a mystical and magical journey. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/13.]—Debbie Haupt, St. Charles City–Cty. Lib. Dist., St, Peters, MO

starred review starScottoline, Lisa. Keep Quiet. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250010094. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466842045. F
keepquiet032114Jake Buckman doesn’t spend enough time with his son, Ryan, and he feels guilty. So when Ryan asks to drive on the short ride home from the movie theater, Jake agrees. After all, Ryan has his permit and will be able to drive legally in one month. It should have been uneventful, or at the very least a father-son bonding opportunity, but what happens on that fateful evening changes their lives forever. Shattered by the accident and bound by his responsibility for protecting his son, Jake goes to extraordinary lengths to hide his son’s involvement in the real events of that night from everyone, including his wife, Ryan’s mother, who also happens to be next in line for a federal district court judge appointment. As the pressure mounts, father and son struggle to maintain their own sanity as everything threatens to spiral out of control.
Scottoline (Don’t Go) has written another winning novel of unparalleled suspense. Fans of psychological suspense and family dynamics will want to snap this one up. [See Prepub Alert, 10/ 20/13.]—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC

Siegal, Nina. The Anatomy Lesson. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Mar. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780385538367. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538374. F
At the center of Rembrandt’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is the corpse of a career criminal, Aris Kindt, who had been hanged that morning and is on display for the annual public dissection. Siegal’s (A Little Trouble with the Facts) second novel imagines the world behind the painting, with Kindt again at the center. The story unfolds over the course of a single day and rotates through six historical characters and one contemporary voice. Each narrator is searching for something, from the esoteric to the prosaic: truth, knowledge, love, a political appointment, curios to sell, a lover’s body. All are connected to Kindt in some way, and the intersecting narratives construct a tale that weaves historical and fictional lives together.
Verdict The four somewhat stilted entries from the journal of a contemporary art conservator impede the flow of the story set in 1632. While these entries provide some foreshadowing, they hinder rather than help the overall narrative. Rich in historical detail about the day-to-day life and philosophical debates of 17th-century Amsterdam, this is an intriguing read. For fans of historical or art fiction, particularly Tracy Chevalier’s novels.—Sarah Cohn, Manhattan Coll. Lib., Bronx, NY

Zimmer, Michael. The Poacher’s Daughter: A Western Story. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Frontier Fiction). Mar. 2014. 500p. ISBN 9781432827632. $25.95. F
Rose Edwards finds herself in a difficult position. Her no-account husband, Muggy, has been hanged for his crimes by vigilantes who also burned down their cabin. Her small Montana ranch on the edge of Yellowstone Valley is under threat as large ranches begin to boom. Without a home or source of income, Rose feels at a loss for options until a band of horse thieves asks her to partner with them. Rose soon discovers that the gritty life of a horse thief suits her well. Running from keepers of the law, returning to ranching, and seeking revenge against her enemies, Rose quickly gains a reputation for herself and becomes known as the notorious Rose of Yellowstone.
Verdict Zimmer’s (Johnny Montana) tale of the unconventional Rose of Yellowstone is plainly and unemotionally told. Though many readers will grow weary of Rose’s repetitive adventures in the barroom and on the open range, readers of Westerns will welcome a female character who can take the bull by the horns.—Emily Hamstra, Univ. of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor