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The Empire of Night.
Butler, Robert Olen (author).
Oct. 2014. 416p. Mysterious, hardcover, $26 (9780802123237); Mysterious, e-book (9780802191892).
First published October 15, 2014 (Booklist).
“When a son replies to his mother with the exclamation, ‘Fuck me,’ she is faced with several interpretations, none of them pleasant.” That sentence may strike one as shocking, obscene, or witty (or possibly all three), but in the context of Butler’s third Christopher (“Kit”) Marlowe Cobb novel, it suggests all that and quite a bit more. Cobb, once a journalist moonlighting as a spy, is now a full-time spy working undercover as a journalist. It’s 1915, and as Woodrow Wilson dithers over U.S. involvement in WWI, Cobb is assigned to track the doings of a British citizen of German heritage, Albert Stockman, also a spy, but for the kaiser. Cobb utters the obscene exclamation above when he learns that he will be joined on his mission by another spy, a woman whose task is to get close to Stockman, to seduce him if necessary, in an effort to learn more about the secret weapon the Germans are devising. That woman, Isabel Cobb, is Kit’s mother. Adding one more level of sexual confusion and mother-son ambiguity, Isabel, a celebrated actress, is in rehearsal for her gender-bending starring role in Hamlet, a production that will be opening in Berlin. As he has in the first two volumes in this series, Butler combines fascinating historical detail about the pre-WWI period with genuine suspense and a tongue-in-cheek wit that gives the whole a uniquely tart flavor. The multilayered, adversarial relationship between Kit and Isabel grows more fascinating with each installment and will leave readers eager to learn more. Bill Ott
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SABOTAGE, SEDITION AND SUNDRY ACTS OF REBELLION
A dramatic, revealing chronicle of
enslaved people resisting their oppressors through acts of defiance, escape,
sabotage, organized rebellion and vengeful murder.
This entry in the A Peculiar History series opens
dramatically with a description of the German Coast Uprising, a violent,
widespread rebellion in French Louisiana in 1811, and proceeds with a mostly
chronological account of acts of resistance and rebellion from the beginning of
the Atlantic slave trade in the early 15th century. Subjects briefly touched
upon include a 1712 New York City rebellion as well as revolts led by Gabriel
Prosser, Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. Aretha discusses the Haitian revolution
but curiously fails to mention its leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture. In addition,
Aretha covers everyday acts of rebellion by slaves such as burning barns,
killing livestock, sabotaging crops, suicide, and infanticide by mothers who
wished to keep their children from enslavement. There is good information on
the draconian lengths colonies and states went to to discourage slave
resistance of any kind. With an attractive design, the text is complemented
with photographs, maps and reproductions of archival materials, many in color.
An informative, engaging chronicle
of organized and individual acts of resistance to slavery. (timeline, source
notes, bibliography, websites, index) (Nonfiction. 12-16)
In a simply but lyrically told tale,
a Choctaw boy builds himself a hole in the ground to hide from his alcoholic
Bobby’s mother has left, for reasons
that go unsaid but are nonetheless clear. When Bobby’s father picks a fight
with him one morning and threatens—again—to give him “the whippin’ you deserve,”
Bobby falls by accident into a hole in the backyard. Feeling safer there than in
the house, he gets an old door from a junkyard and lays it over the hole,
covering it with leaves. As the standoff with his dad continues, Bobby finds
support from his Cherokee basketball-player friend Johnny, his neighbor
Carolina Faye, and his dad’s friend Mr. Robison, who tells him a Choctaw story
about a boy called No Name and his fraught relationship with his father. Bobby’s
mixed emotions toward his own flawed father, and his father’s toward him, are
conveyed in straightforward yet revealing lines of dialogue and first-person
narration (“He might be the biggest bully in town, but he was still my dad”).
Supporting characters are similarly well-drawn, with the unfortunate exception
of two female characters—one in the frame story and one in the No Name tale—who
don’t have much personality beyond their interests in their respective male
Expressive and many-layered. (Fiction.
slim adventure tale is rooted in Cherokee culture.
Billy Buckhorn, 16, is surrounded by his Cherokee heritage—he's a
"full-blood" Cherokee, and his grandfather Wesley is a respected
medicine man. When Billy is struck by lightning, he gains psychic abilities,
which warn him that the new gym teacher, Mr. Ravenwood, isn't who—or even what—he
seems. Aided by Cherokee folklore and improbable events, he must stop “the Birdman’s”
evil spirit from hurting kids. The snippets of Cherokee lore are interesting,
but Robinson's didactic style makes Billy more prop than character. Billy's age
is incongruous with his young-feeling dialogue and the book's simple prose, and
his Cherokee heritage is mentioned so frequently that it feels forced rather
than organic to his identity. Nearly everything happens through exposition.
Present-tense explanations of Cherokee customs such as stomp dances and trances
interrupt the past-tense narration, and potentially powerful scenes pass in a
few declarative sentences. Even the mystery is explained by another character,
and awkward dialogue spoils the Birdman's power. Readers will learn a little
folklore, but it's unfortunate that the earnest information about Cherokee
culture and values doesn't integrate naturally into the story.
For a creepy thriller based on Native American lore, Joseph Bruchac's Skeleton
Man (2001) is a much stronger choice. (Paranormal adventure. 10-14)