This book was a study in unrealized potential. Some other reviewers have complained first and foremost about the historical inaccuracies, and those weThis book was a study in unrealized potential. Some other reviewers have complained first and foremost about the historical inaccuracies, and those were certainly clear and present, but I was able to move past those fairly easily. What got me was how good this book *could* have been.
The story itself was almost good; in some ways it almost reminded me of Phantom of the Opera. But it fell short every time. The main characters were almost clearly drawn, but their actions kept veering into the unrealistic and melodramatic. The female lead is a teenager, lives in poverty, assists her father in his bloodletting practice, is emotionally and mentally abused by her mother, but goes all grrl power and acts determined to pursue her dream of becoming a physician. In 17th century Bohemia. Uh huh, sure. That's plausible. The male romantic character appears fairly early in the story, largely disappears for half the book, reappears two-thirds of the way through declaring his love for the female lead (sorry, spoiler) and his intention to marry her... after briefly meeting her once. Right. The terror exacted upon the village by Don Julius is palpable, and he may be the most clearly and truly depicted character. The author jammed historical contemporaries in and had them cross paths (Jesenius and Kepler, among others), which they may well have done, but these interactions were - at most - minorly germane to the story. She addressed the struggle between the Hapsburg royal family for control of the throne, but only skimmed the surface.
Basically, this was a good first draft, an excellent outline, but desperately needed a capable author to flesh out the plot, refine the characters into believability, and enhance the historical aspect (to say nothing of the historical facts) a la Victor Hugo (though maybe I was the only person who enjoyed the historical interludes in Les Mis)....more
Let me preface this by noting that I bought this in the Amazon Kindle edition (so maybe some of the Cons are different in the paper version), for $2.9Let me preface this by noting that I bought this in the Amazon Kindle edition (so maybe some of the Cons are different in the paper version), for $2.99 (so it was definitely worth what I paid), and I'm a professional writer/editor (so I may be a bit harsh in terms of editing review).
Overall, I was impressed with the book as a whole, and particularly the level of research and detail. As another reviewer mentioned, over here in the States, we rarely hear about King George III past the obligatory study of the American Revolution in elementary school. I consider myself rather better schooled in the subject in that I saw "The Madness of King George" via Netflix some years ago. Well if we hardly hear about King George III, we *never* hear about Queen Charlotte and their children. Laura Purcell has done a fine job in introducing the reader to Charlotte and the brood of 13 (13!) surviving children. While overall Charlotte struck me as an ice-cold b****, Purcell has also done a masterful job of giving us just enough insight into the other sides of her character to prevent us from hating her outright, even leading us to sympathize with her and - dare I say it? - ache for her. We get very little perspective from the men in the story; all of the story seems to be through the eyes of Queen Charlotte, Princess Royal (also Charlotte, after her mother, but called Royal so as to avoid confusion), and Princess Sophia. I might have liked some perspective from either the other daughters or even the sons, but it was a respectable writer's choice. So in sum-up, I'm very impressed with her restraint in painting her historical characters in shades of gray when it would have been easy to cast them in black and white, and with her immersion of the reader in the time, events, and details of the period.
Where the book loses a star is in the pacing and the narration switching. She did at least dedicate each chapter/sub-chapter/section to its own narrator, but it was sometimes jarring to switch back and forth. Also jarring was, as I said, the pacing. Sometimes only one incident would dedicated to an entire year, making the time fly by; some years were full-to-bursting with incidents, making them seem almost to drag; and sometimes she skipped years at a time. Being little familiar with the time period in the monarchy (I've generally lost interest after Elizabeth I), I can't be sure whether the events were really that spaced out; but since she admits to taking a little bit of license with the sequencing, I think she could have been a little freer in terms of balancing the flow.
While I'm thinking about it, I might have liked to see something - anything - that let the reader believe that Charlotte genuinely loved any of her children. She claims to, periodically, and she seems to want to keep them around her, but I don't understand why, since she appears to have such distaste and displeasure in them. Even the ones she seems to consider her favorites are treated with contempt. Was it just her way? Was it of the times? Or were there times in between the instances that caused her to harden that she was actually tender and gentle toward, well, any of them? Even just some insight into the mentality, what Charlotte might have been thinking in spite of her outward actions and appearances. Purcell seems to try, in explaining the reticence to let the daughters marry, but I don't think she goes far enough.
Lastly, who edited this thing? This may be where the Kindle version comes into play, but there were dropped letters (particularly initial caps) and a lot of "alright" (which is WRONG; it's "all right") and everything was "towards" and "forwards," etc. (it's "toward," "forward," "backward," etc.)
In spite of my lengthy complaining paragraph, I really did enjoy the book, and was driven to keep reading, keep reading, keep reading, and not put it down. I blew through it in a couple of days. I look forward to more from Laura Purcell, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, I feel like I learned something, and I will be seeking out more from the period. ...more
Four stars because it was expertly written, but not five because it pissed me off. The historic details, interweaving of plots, and lifelike characterFour stars because it was expertly written, but not five because it pissed me off. The historic details, interweaving of plots, and lifelike characters were a collective thing of beauty. I did note that Michener left a couple of loose ends (Ethan Grebe, to start), and seemed to forget to color up a character who fascinated me (Tim Grebe). The character was toward the end of the book - maybe he just got tired of writing and wanted to finish it already?
What pissed me off, however, was a distinct sanctimoniousness. In addition to crappy dialogue in the modern sections ("Because he sends me, you old prude!" Really? People talked like that?), I'm guessing based on the tone of this book that the 70s were full of people wandering around and wailing about the state of the natural environment at the hands of the evil, evil homo sapiens. The opening chapters about the natural development of the landscape and the early inhabiting species and migrations and such were fascinating. It was fine when it was only the Native Americans there because apparently they understood the world and were in harmony with absolutely everything. But then the white man comes along and it's all downhill from there! Because of civilization, the rivers are polluted and the landscape is stripped, and the natural fauna are exterminated, and everyone is oppressed, oppressed I say! I'm not denying that it happened, I just object to the tone. My heart ached during the passages about exterminating the buffalo and trapping the beaver into oblivion, and I came near to tears about the abuse of the Arapaho. But seriously, did the settlers do ANYTHING right? Were they all evil, selfish, heartless people except for a thin handful of protagonists that I can count on one hand? Are only descendants of Native Americans able to see and be dismayed by what kind of disaster has been wrought?
I know the book was written 35 years ago. I know that vast advancements have been made in the way things are handled out there in the past 35 years, possibly as a result of things like this book. But I don't like reading a novel and coming away from it hating myself for being a human and thus related in any way - including merely sharing a species - to the people that performed these atrocities. I was depressed and angry for the rest of the day.
The 70s must have been an utterly miserable decade - thank god I missed most of them....more