I first found out about By Light of Hidden Candles by Daniella Levy when the author asked people to vote on cover candidates for this book on the Goodreads group Jewish Historical Fiction. I voted for the cover that Levy decided to use. So I recognized it when I saw it on Net Galley which is my source for this ARC. By Light of Hidden Candles won't be published until October 2017.
The historical aspect of this novel deals with 15th century Spain. Long before I began blogging, I had read quite a bit about Jews during this period. The only time I've approached the subject on this blog was when I reviewed The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona here. Corona's book was set apart by her highly accomplished female protagonist.
What makes By Light of Hidden Candles different is that it's a dual period novel. We pretty much know where the 15th century Jewish characters will end up because Alma, their 21st century descendant, already knew that information. This necessarily lessens the suspense in the historical story line. So the central drama of the narrative involves the contemporary characters, what they will discover about their ancestors, how they will discover it and the impact that learning about their ancestors will have on them.
I was most interested in the Spanish Catholic contemporary protagonist, Manuel Aguilar, who we first encounter unexpectedly walking into a Judaica store in New York. Readers may think they know why he entered that store, but this is a complex character whose motivations aren't completely clear even to himself. Readers come to know Manuel through the process of his own grappling with his faith, values and identity.
I very much enjoyed the fact that Alma and Manuel found history as compelling and meaningful as I do. They are excited by finding documents that are centuries old. Any readers who don't think that history has any real relevance will be amazed by the power of research to change the lives of Alma and Manuel. As someone who absolutely loves archives, I was delighted by a novel where the entire plot turns on a mention of an ancestor in archival records.
Although the contemporary story has a less obvious ending than the historical plot, there is an element of predictability for the contemporary characters. The strong sense of destiny at work plus other factors that are spoilers made me realize how the contemporary plotline would resolve very early in my reading. So very little was surprising in By Light of Hidden Candles, yet I was still moved by the characters and their relationships.
I recommend this book to people who want to read about family history and genealogy that makes a difference in the way people see themselves.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Friday, August 4, 2017
The Eldritch Heart
Matthew S. Cox
Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Publication date: August 1st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Princess Oona Talomir enjoys the little things that come with her station: a handmaiden, her lavish bedchamber, and scores of fancy dresses―the duty to win a decades’ long war, not so much.
Oh, did I mention assassins?
Seers foretold the conflict would end by her hand. From the moment she drew her first breath, the neighboring kingdom has been trying to kill her so she could not grow powerful enough to destroy them. The king, fearing for his daughter’s life, has kept her confined to the castle grounds for most of her sixteen years. With the tide of war turning against them, the burden of her crown becomes too much to bear, yet one thing lifts her spirits amid the gloom.
Her servant girl, Kitlyn.
Alas, in a kingdom obsessed with the god of purity, she is terrified to confess her forbidden love. When her father makes a demand she cannot abide―marry a prince to forge a military alliance―Oona panics. He is handsome and honorable, but he’s not Kitlyn. Unable to admit why she cannot obey, Oona does the only thing she can think of, and runs away.
Alone and unprepared in the wilderness, she prays the gods will let Kitlyn find her—before the assassins do.
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour,and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life and what happens after it. He is also found of cats.
The first thing I need to say about this book is that it's entertaining with engaging central characters and intriguing plot twists. I want novels that are page turners like this one, but I also want them to be more than that. I want originality and important ideas too.
I once observed in another epic fantasy review that originality is synthesis. It's the process of combining elements from a variety of sources so that they coalesce into a new fusion of themes, plot motifs and characters. This is what I think Matthew Cox has done in The Eldritch Heart. I recognized savory bits from the work of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Stephen Donaldson melded into a distinct recipe.
I requested a review copy of this novel and a slot in the blog tour because a lesbian protagonist is still relatively unusual in epic fantasy. So I thought The Eldritch Heart might need my help to reach its audience. Oona could be an inspiration to those who need her in their lives.
Once I read the book, I realized that it also deserved my support for another important reason. Fantasy and science fiction author Jane Lindskold had complained at a reading which I attended a number of years ago that epic fantasy has a strong anti-democratic tendency. She thought that American fantasy authors shouldn't be uncritical cheerleaders for monarchy and aristocracy. So I noticed when Matthew Cox seemed to be questioning some of the values of traditional epic fantasy without completely overturning them. The plot actually resembles a Mark Twain classic in some ways. I won't say which one. That would be a spoiler.
I feel that I need to mention the use that The Eldritch Heart makes of the name of Ogun , a spirit who is worshiped widely in a number of African diasporic traditions. Some might think that this is disrespectful. Yet it's also possible that others might see some similarities to attributes of the African Ogun in Cox's character, and have no problem with it. Readers will need to decide for themselves on this issue. If you are an adherent of an African diasporic religion, you have the option of consulting Ogun yourself.
I enjoyed reading The Eldritch Heart for its plot and character relationships. I also thought that it explores some important themes. I considered it a good read.
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