Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow
Head of Zeus December 2018
True confession: My first reaction to seeing Dana Stabenow’s name on a book on a “My Lucky Day” display at the library was happiness that Kate Shugak #22 was finally available. Then the style of the cover art and the title snuffed my celebration. Opening the front cover to see the “Alexandria 47 B.C.” heading confirmed my suspicions. Death of an Eye is not a Kate Shugak story.* On page 9, when the main character muses on Alexandria, “It was a city to delight every sense…” that sentiment applies to this entertaining tale of political rivalries and palace intrigue during the reign of Cleopatra. Immersive descriptions convey the sights, sounds, scents, and dynamic energy of the people, politics, and landscape of ancient Egypt.
A map and a detailed cast of characters set the stage as fading moonglow yields to the sun on a day during the harvest season on the sixth year of Cleopatra VII’s reign. Clandestine meetings and murderous intentions bring Tetisheri (“Sheri”) and Apollodorus together in the service of the queen to identify homicidal conspirators and their motives before it’s too late. There’s one orchestrated error in judgement that clanks as an obvious ploy to endanger a character, but the overall quality of the writing swiftly overcomes it. In addition to conducting an investigation with implications that could destroy the empire, Sheri is an equal partner with her uncle in an import and export business, and she supports her own version of an Underground Railroad for oppressed and enslaved women.
Sheri and Apollodorus are friends. Their rapport bubbles with undercurrents. Both of them are keeping dangerous secrets as they follow the evidence. Death of an Eye is a murder mystery, an amateur sleuth procedural, a political thriller, and an intellectual courtship of Sheri and the reader to reconsider what is believed to be the truth about Cleopatra. The book by Stacy Schiff has now been moved to the top of my non-fiction TBR list.
Brisk narrative pacing, distinctive character voices, and the potential for mayhem at any moment combined with deftly applied historical points of reference and the author’s honed storytelling skills make Death of an Eye a one-sitting read.
*The author’s website claims a November 9th release date for K.S. #22, but other book sites show January 2020.
The Forgotten Queen, Vols. 1 - 4 by Tini Howard and Amilcar Pinna
Valiant Entertainment, LLC August 2019
A seemingly mundane research dive goes all kinds of wrong in the present day and unleashes destructive power from the past. Flashbacks to the times of Chinggis (aka Genghis) Khan and of Marco Polo and other actual figures provide historical context for the martial rampage of a lovely immortal called Vexana and by other labels. Family drama, shocking revelations, and an alternate variation on the origin story for Vlad the Impaler as Dracula are just a few of the provocative story elements that offer social commentary about millennia of constant human strife. The body count is high and bloody.
Captivating illustrated story panels leap from the page with nearly the depth of 3-D images. Color saturation and nuanced specificity in the drawn details of the distinctive individual faces, bodies, and backgrounds offer a cinematic quality to the visual narrative flow. The dialogue is often morbidly amusing and sarcastic.
In these first four volumes of The Forgotten Queen, unapologetically smart, strong, powerful women rule in this clever fable about living life as a team effort, and other core lessons.