If I'd read this compilation (or the individual novels) about twenty years ago, before I'd studied and read so much concerning Tudor history,2.5 stars
If I'd read this compilation (or the individual novels) about twenty years ago, before I'd studied and read so much concerning Tudor history, I probably would've enjoyed it more. As it is, I just know too much and have too many suppositions and theories of my own; whenever I came upon points of contention, I would say to myself, "Ah, so she went with this version of that event. Okay, so she used this birth date rather than the later one." And so on. So while I can appreciate that Plaidy was an excellent author insofar as creating believable characters and a compelling narrative, her biases ruined the overall experience as they made for rather one-sided characters, especially when it came to Henry VIII. Yes, he was a bastard, there's no doubt about that, but Plaidy's version was almost a caricature--his behavior and personality was just so over-the-top, it was cartoonish. And of course Plaidy went with the standard (at the time) portrayal of "mad" Juana, Katharine's sister, a woman whose image was thoroughly tarnished and maligned by those who purported to love her, who is now becoming somewhat rehabilitated. Not to mention Plaidy had a habit of repeating either information (in what is probably one of the earliest examples of the "As you know, Bob" exposition, I'm guessing), dialogue, or, the most egregious, descriptions. I stopped counting after about the tenth use of "piggy" to describe Henry's eyes. In a way, I believe Jean Plaidy was the Philippa Gregory of her time: she was able to introduce many exciting historical eras and personages to readers using what reference materials were available to her, for which she deserves the lauds she receives, but it's quite obvious she infused her novels with biases and suppositions, possibly her own, possibly those of the sources on which she relied. Either way, while it makes for an entertaining read for those not in the know, for those in the know, reading her books can be disappointing and frustrating, which overwhelms their entertainment value....more
As it's been a while (a long while!) since I read this book, I don't think I'll be able to turn my notes into a coherent, "traditional" review, so I'lAs it's been a while (a long while!) since I read this book, I don't think I'll be able to turn my notes into a coherent, "traditional" review, so I'll just post them here as-is.
-Like other reviewers have pointed out, the continued use of “the phallus” got old very quickly. After the first use, in fact. And, for me, it wasn't necessarily the use of the word 'phallus' that bothered me, though it was annoying enough; no, it was the fact that it was always referred to as “the phallus.” Greenwood slipped up one time and wrote “my phallus,” and, oh boy, I had a hearty chuckle over that. --Once again, Nefertiti is portrayed as being beautiful yet stupid. I mean, I guess I can see that as one explanation as to why she goes along with Akenaten's new religion—Greenwood writes Nefertiti as extremely biddable and easily placated, as someone who won't be dissuaded from a path of action once she's fixed on it, no matter how much anyone argues with her to the contrary—I'm just getting tired of people writing beautiful women as also being stupid. Haven't there been many beautiful women, both famous, infamous, and ordinary, over the centuries who have been twice-cursed with both brains and beauty? Why not Nefertiti as well? I guess I'd just like to see her written as being rather canny, perhaps as a woman who used Akenaten for her purposes rather than simply bowed to his. Maybe I'm just daydreaming. --I am not a lettered or professional historian or Egyptologist; I'm more what you would call an “armchair” expert. So I can't comment on the research Greenwood has done in order to write this book, though, to my eyes, it looks comprehensive enough. And some of the hypotheses she's used in her story seem perfectly reasonable, especially as regards to Akenaten's personality. After all, Akenaten was a cult leader, probably one of the first. He managed to convince an entire country, willing or not, to abandon their belief system in favor of a god, the Aten, he may not have necessarily created but certainly limned in the image decreed by Akenaten. Because of this high-handed approach, Akenaten, as described by Greenwood, is dreamy, unfocused, unconcerned with day-to-day problems, yet also completely ruthless, megalomaniacal, deluded as well as delusional, and completely willing to sacrifice anyone in the service of his religion and his goals for the Aten. The Amarna period is a fascinating one and ripe for all sorts of exploration and deconstruction by novelists. It's also quite vulnerable to revision, which makes the version presented by Greenwood the most realistic, even probable. --I think the main problem I had with the book, apart from it not being a mystery despite what it says on the cover (which I really can't figure out, unless they're talking about the mystery of Amarna and the goings-on of Akenaten et al, but even that seems rather senseless). What was I saying? Oh, yes, the main problem I had with the book is that it seemed as though it couldn't decide whether to be a dynamic tale of two people set in the court of Akenaten or an expanded version of one of those “What Life was Like...” books, where the daily activities of the Amarna period are brought to life by showing a couple of characters, real or fictional, acting them out. The story itself was compelling, at its heart, that of two people, Mutnodjme, half-sister to Nefertiti, and Ptah-Hotep, Great Royal Scribe, who get caught up in the center of the whirlwind changes instigated by Akenaten, from their beginnings to the bitter end. The story alternates between those two P.O.V.s, which is fine. However, where the “What Life was Like...” aspect came in was with the insertion of almost tedious asides, such as the numerous poems and songs and fables and parables recited by one character or another for the edification of some other character and, by extension, the reader. After the first couple of these recitations, which didn't seem to have any bearing on the actual plot, I started skimming over the others whenever they appeared, which was quite frequently. It's not that I have anything against reading ancient Egyptian literature; quite the contrary, in fact. I just didn't see the point of inserting so many examples of their writing into the novel. Yes, when the characters quoted something wise or on point in regards to the action of the moment, those were relevant, but the others simply felt like an excuse for Greenwood to share some of her research with us. --It was hilarious at the end of the book: Someone forgot to put the end tag to some italic text (yet another piece of Egyptian writing, this time an edict by Horemheb, concerning his right to the throne), meaning that the last two and a half pages of the book were italicized. This has been the poorliest (that's a word, right?) edited book of Greenwood's put out by Poison Pen Press that I've ever read. The constant italics were the worst error, but I saw many others as I read, usually having to do with punctuation. Was PPP in that much of a rush to publish this book that they could've have taken a bit more time to make sure it was a bit better edited? Seems sloppy to me. --Yet the more I think about the book and remember the story, the more I like it, in spite of its problems and idiosyncrasies. It's a vivid, entertaining, richly detailed (and I do mean detailed) look at a period of ancient Egyptian history that, yes, has been covered quite extensively in the past. But because the Amarna period is a lively enough nonfiction subject, there's enough scope and depth to mine for inspiration, and the mysteries that come along with the facts provide ample fodder for intelligently hypothesized solutions to those mysteries. Thankfully, Kerry Greenwood is an intelligent and competent enough writer to tackle those mysteries and do them some justice....more
I really wish I could like this book more than I did. After all, considering the amount of time (ten years!) and effort Michael Ennis put int2.5 stars
I really wish I could like this book more than I did. After all, considering the amount of time (ten years!) and effort Michael Ennis put into writing it, to not like seems like a supremely douche-y move on my part. Yet I can't help myself. Now before I break down what it was about the novel which made me dislike it, let me list some things about the book I liked.
First off, those ten years of work clearly shows. This particular period of Italian history hasn't necessarily been brought to life (there's not much focus on anything or anyone beyond that which impacts the plot), but it has been rendered with a depth of detail that creates a passable simulacrum. Part of this might be because all the events used as the backbone of the plot actually occurred; the only fictional bits are the murders and the reactions of the players to those murders. Now, I tend to have mixed feelings about novels which blend real, historically-based figures and/or events with fictional storylines as, frankly, the results can be a mixed-bag, ranging from imaginative to god-awful dreck. It takes real skill to weave a murder-mystery or romance or whatever into an established timeline of events and make that whatever not stick out like a sore thumb. This is a skill Ennis has in spades: He managed to fit a series of gruesome murders seamlessly into an already violent background and make it seem believable that the novel's players, in addition to actions which are on historical record, scampered around the Italian countryside in order to solve those murders. Plus, despite its problems, the story does move along at a nice clip, keeping the reader involved without bogging them down in endless exposition or info dumps.
There's no argument that Ennis is a fine storyteller who is able to create a vivid and compelling tale, and is skilled in the craft of writing. I have no issue with that. If you look at the bare bones of the novel, it's got everything needed to be an engrossing murder-mystery: well-drawn characters (I can say that even while not liking the way they were drawn), action, some gruesome murders, a bit of romance, intrigue, a conspiracy or two, and interesting locations where all this takes place. The problem is, I can't get behind the story Ennis has created or the motivations and characterizations he's given the players, especially after some new research and reading which throws the regurgitated history of the Borgia family right out the window, and (I think) deservedly so. Even without this new information, I still couldn't get behind Ennis's take on Cesare/Valentino's motivations or mental processes, and his depiction of Machiavelli as some sort of love-sick puppy dog who's only motivation seems to be following Damiata around the country so he can crawl back into her bed is grating and a disservice to the real Machiavelli. Even Leonardo da Vinci occasionally came off as more of a caricature: though he's portrayed as eerily prescient about certain technologies and obsessed about discovering the workings of the natural world, which fits in with historical record, there were times when instead he came off more like Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movie franchise. Damiata was the only reasonable, sympathetic voice of the novel and we lose her a third of the way in; the novel starts out with her narrating events in a letter to her son, who is being held captive by Pope Alexander VI until she finds out who murdered Alexander's son, Juan, Duke of Gandia. She ends the letter, believing herself to be near death, and lets Machiavelli pick up the narration, (view spoiler)[yet she manages to survive all the events of the novel. (hide spoiler)] So my question has to be, why? Why get rid of her as a narrator and use Machiavelli in her place? I understand that Machiavelli is close to both da Vinci and Valentino in the story and, as such, can provide us some insight, I guess, but if it were me, I would've found a way for Damiata to have had a similar closeness in order to keep her as narrator; through her, the story flowed with more action, more intimacy, and more immediacy.
In the end, while I appreciate all the work Ennis put into the novel and can honestly say he's a skilled writer, I just can't agree with the story he put together. Perhaps someone with less knowledge of the Borgias or less interest in a truthful representation of historical figures might, but that's not me.
One minor note: Though others have complained about the Italian sprinkled throughout the book and the lack of translation (which isn't quite accurate as Ennis usually writes the English translation right after the Italian), I didn't have a problem with it. It's not that I speak Italian, and not to be smug, but I took Latin in high school, so it was easy for me to extrapolate what the words meant from their Latin bases.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It took me a while for my attention to get drawn into this novel. Mainly because I discovered, only after I'd started reading the thing, that3.5 stars
It took me a while for my attention to get drawn into this novel. Mainly because I discovered, only after I'd started reading the thing, that it's actually the fourth novel in Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest series. Now, other people may have no problem picking up and reading a book from the middle of a series, but me? Um, yeah, that doesn't work for me. For better of worse, I tend to be rather OCD about book series: I hate reading books from the middle of one, and the idea of skipping around, reading the books out of order, positively drives me bonkers, giving me an eye twitch and the beginnings of a foamy mouth. So when I found out 1356 was number four in a series, I nearly screamed.* I also nearly stopped reading. However, I have such a backlog of ARCs I need to read and review that the notion of me trying to plow through the first three books (and that's only if I were able to find them at my local, woefully lacking, library in the first place) while still keeping up with my other ARCs just so I could be comfortable reading 1356 nearly gave me the same eye twitch as the one I was trying to develop due to reading 1356 in the first place. (Damn, that was an exhausting sentence!) So I took myself in hand (which is an idiom I've always found vaguely naughty, most likely because of my brain's permanent dwelling place in a nice and comfy gutter), gave myself a stern talking to, and soldiered on with 1356, suffering only the occasional eye spasm in the process.
I also had a rough beginning with this book as for the longest time I couldn't identify with or be sympathetic to any of the characters. It took some time for them to mean anything to me, even the main character, Sir Thomas Hookton, aka le Bâtard, leader of the Hellequin, a band of mercenaries working in France while serving under the aegis of the Earl of Northampton. Eventually, though, I warmed up to Thomas and his band, especially Brother Michael and the Irishman, Keane (the latter mainly due to his adoption of a couple of wolfhounds away from the Frenchmen who were hunting down him and Thomas; as an animal lover, it was a particularly satisfying scene).
The story itself is interesting yet oddly forgettable. Revolving around a mythical sword said to be the sword of Saint Peter, a sword said to grant whoever bears it certain victory over his foes, both the French and English army have sent scouts to find it in order to aid their endeavors. (If the year of the book's title doesn't hold any significance for you, it was in that year the Battle of Poitiers took place, which was the second major engagement of the Hundred Years' War. Edward, also known as the Black Prince—for what reason is still debated among historians—the son of King Edward III, had raided France that year, his second chevauchée [a destructive raid designed to inflict severe economic disaster on the enemy] through that war-torn country, spurring King Jean II of France to pursue him. The two ultimately met at Poitiers, and even though the English army was outnumbered, road-weary, thirsty, and exhausted, and though the battle was long, the English came out on top, capturing around 2,000 members of the French aristocracy, including King Jean himself, whose ransom alone—six million gold écus—was equivalent to about a third of France's GNP.) So each side believes they are in the right and that this sword, la Malice, will bring God's wrath down upon their enemies. In between battle scenes and personal dramas revolving around Thomas and his band we watch as this sword gets shuffled around from place to place and from person to person as it falls into the hands of those who would hide it and those who would abuse it. Eventually it finds itself in the possession of Sculley, a wild Scotsman marginally under the control of the Lord of Douglas, on the side of King Jean. After a brief but bloody sword fight between Sculley and Thomas, the fate of la Malice was something of an anticlimax. Maybe that was the point, but it just seemed rather disappointing. And that was the overall sensation I took away from my reading experience. It just felt as though the book was missing something, as though I was only getting part of the story. Perhaps it's due to the fact that it is number four in a series. Perhaps it's better read as part of a whole, when all the pieces fit together into a larger, more detailed picture.
I also have to disagree with the blurb on the cover from George R.R. Martin in which he states “Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I've ever read, past or present.” Well, I'm very sorry George, but the author who writes the best battle scenes is still, to my mind, Conn Iggulden. Cornwell writes vivid, bloody, stirring scenes, to be sure, but they're nowhere near as atmospheric and breath-taking as Iggulden's. That's not to say Cornwell's writing is flawed. I've read his Warlord Chronicles, which tackled the story of King Arthur, and like those books, 1356 is a cracking good read. The dialogue is fast-paced, accessible without being overly-anachronistic, the story moves along and keeps your attention, doling out information in just the right amount without slowing down the action, and he allows the characters to develop as the story moves along so that by the end, though they may not be complex creatures, they're far from cardboard cutouts. At least for his “good guys”; Cornwell's bad guys in this novel tend to suffer slightly from the Black Hat Syndrome in that they're after one thing or one person, their motives for going after that thing or person are narrowly drawn (i.e. revenge or greed or simply because they're a black-hearted knave who loves being bad), and as such become near-caricatures of people. Basically, they're villains because they're villains and nothing more. Thomas is the most three-dimensional character of all; he's obviously one of the good 'uns, yet he does shady, even downright criminal things, he has conflicting emotions between what he's doing and what he should be doing—basically he behaves like a human being, especially one who's often placed between a rock and a hard place and must choose the lesser of two evils in order to move. (Two clichés in one sentence, woo hoo!) That said, I suppose the goal of most writers is for you, as the reader, to empathize with the good guys and Cornwell certainly accomplishes that. Or at least for me he did. Every time one of the characters found themselves in a perilous situation, I suffered along with them, heart beating rapidly, palms sweating, lips gnawed raw as my eyes zoomed across the page, reading as fast as I could in the hope that the character would soon find an escape.
So, yeah, despite some flaws and a slow start, in the end I would recommend this book as a good read. However, I do believe it would've been even better had I gotten to it after first reading the three books that came before it.
*It doesn't help that this brought up one of my biggest pet-peeves about book publishing: Why can't publishers identify a book that's part of a series? How difficult would it be to put a small number somewhere on the spine, or place, in small typeset, a sentence somewhere on the front cover informing potential readers that the book they're holding is #__ in a series? Or, at the very least, place a page at the front of the book listing the titles, in chronological order, that belong to a particular series, allowing the person holding said book to exclaim, “Hey, this is book #4 in the series! I need to read these other books first!” Really, would it put such a huge dent in their bottom line? I think not. In fact, doing so would encourage more sales, in my not-so-humble opinion: First of all, people wouldn't get pissed off about picking up a book in the middle of a series, and secondly, in my experience, people like to buy in bulk, so when they find the first (clearly labeled) book in a series, they tend to pick up the second one at the same time....more
From the blurb: England's Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritanc3.5 stars
From the blurb: England's Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane's younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small room in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.
First off, I have to say, I'm a bit peeved at this book. According to the blurb, the impression that I got was that the stories were supposed to be told from the viewpoints of Katherine Grey and Katherine Plantagenet (which they were), and the two princes in the tower. Of course, I didn't know how those two princes, Edward and Richard, would be able to tell their story. Through hidden letters perhaps? A secret diary or journal? Who knew, but whatever the case, it would've been a most interesting tale. So, naturally, I was disappointed when I realized the book was only told from the viewpoints of the two women as they worked to solve the disappearance of the two princes.
Anyway, to these two women: The first is Katherine Grey, the prettier, more vivacious sister to Lady Jane Grey, the doomed and ill-used Nine Days Queen. Katherine's story is told in the first-person, in her voice, and while her life story is laid out according to historical sources, Weir slips in imagined instances where Katherine discovers information and artifacts linked to the princes in the tower, which creates a fascination in her to try and solve the mystery of their disappearance. The other Katherine in the book is Katherine Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Gloucester, future King Richard III. Her story is told in the third-person, and because the princes disappeared during her father's reign, her part in the novel has more urgency to it. In fact, she's quite frantic about solving the mystery because, ever the dutiful daughter, as Richard rises to power and as she's exposed to the stories of his behavior, Katherine refuses to believe that her father could've behaved in such dastardly ways and steadfastly tries to prove all his critics wrong.
Though the novel is touted as being one of historical suspense, revolving around the princes in the tower, it didn't feel that way to me. Yes, each Kate tries to solve the mystery in her own way, but that particular "mystery solving" plot device didn't seem to be driving the novel, at least not as much with the Katherine Grey storyline. And with the Katherine Plantagenet storyline, solving the mystery was less about, you know, solving it than it was about a slightly naive daughter trying to clear her father's name. Instead, it was each Kate's life propelling the plot, especially their romantic entanglements, with the only suspense coming when events finally catch up to the girls and they find themselves incarcerated in the Tower of London. Frankly, while I enjoyed the book, I'm not quite sure what the point of it was. After all, Weir has explored the mystery of the princes in the tower in her non-fiction book on the subject (The Princes in the Tower), and if she wanted to explore the lives of the two Kates, she could've written a non-fiction book or books about them as well.
I will say this: Weir did a good job of presenting a fair portrait of Richard III. She drew Katherine Plantagenet as basically a mouthpiece for for the Friends of King Richard Society, those dedicated people who believe that everything written about Richard was a lie and he was actually a very good, downright saintly man. As this mouthpiece, Katherine refuses to accept the evidence coming to her of Richard's actions, searching (in vain) to find alternate explanations and trying to reconcile what she knows about her father with what she's hearing about him. The resulting image is what I believe to be the fairest picture of Richard. It's the image of a man who was ruthless, who wanted power, who (yes) had his nephews murdered, but a man who was also devout, a family man, a man who truly grieved when his brother, Edward IV, died. Basically, a man who was no more evil than any other man (and woman) who came to power and did ruthless things on the way or while there, but who was painted as the blackest of villains because it was expedient to do. A man who was not Shakespeare's deformed hunchback, but a man with a slight deformity who became beaten down by his enemies and history. So while Richard's Friends might not like the resulting picture, I think it's one which will satisfy all but the most obdurate on the subject.
Speaking of representing an historical personage accurately, Weir portrayed Frances Grey, and to some extent Henry Grey, as the abusive parents they've long become accepted as, a view which has come under fire in the past few years. Some researchers and historians are now saying that that image has been overblown and colored by personal animosity, either on the part of Jane herself or her tutor, Roger Ascham. Weir addresses this issue in her (detailed) author's note; she explains that she questions the theory that there has been a deliberate attempt to blacken Frances' name down the centuries, and that new research suggests that the traditional view of the Suffolks in indeed correct, though "it is conceivable that a chastened Frances mellowed after Jane's execution, as portrayed in this novel, and that Katherine and Mary never suffered the rigor and expectations that their parents imposed on Jane." There has been some discussion over Weir's ability as an historian, with some seeing her as lax or sloppy, or pandering to public popularity, but I think this author's note shows her dedication to her research and to seeking out the best, most logical explanation for disputed issues.
In the end, A Dangerous Inheritance was entertaining reading (though the quick back-and-forth between the two Kates got a bit dizzying at times, especially since Kate Plantagenet's interludes were often rather short), but rather pointless, unless you've never heard of or read anything about the two princes in the tower. If that's the case, then you should read this book as it presents an interesting and logical solution to the centuries-old mystery within a fictional framework, making for an easy and well-written read....more
This is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing onThis is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing on Kublai Khan as he transitions from scholar to warrior to Great Khan of the Mongol empire.
You know, as much as I loved this book and the series, the thing I most took away from the story arc is the confirmation that men are pigs. No, dogs. No, pig-dogs. And I don't mean men as in “the human race.” I mean men as in the gender. Men are the ones who revel in war, who drive their armies across the land because the land they've got isn't good enough. Men are the ones who destroy cities, melting down precious artifacts so they can stare at the bars of pure gold and silver in glee, who set fire to libraries because they don't contain any knowledge they need, destroying generations worth of learning. Men are the ones who kill the men and children in enemy villages/towns, who kill the women but not before passing them around and raping them several times over, keeping them around to act as slaves for a few years before the women finally give out from the abuse. Men are responsible for all the misery in the world.
Anyway, to proceed to the actual review and step off my soapbox: I hate to categorize novels along gender lines, but I have to admit that there are historical fiction novels with storylines aimed more towards men (having more action, war, bloodshed, violence, etc. and less “mushy” stuff) and women (having more romance, personal conflict, drama, basically lots of “mushy” stuff). Iggulden's Genghis series is most definitely a masculine historical fiction series: heavy on the violence, light on romance. However, that's not to imply that characters are cardboard cutouts and no time is spent on character development. Far from it. As with all of Iggulden's previous books in this series, each character is imbued with humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly, the saintly. No one character is ever mixed up with another due to vague descriptors or similar voices.
Speaking of characters, though there are many others in the novel, it's Kublai who takes center stage (naturally). The evolution of his character, from a sheltered scholar to canny general to visionary leader of the Mongol nation, is fascinating to watch. Iggulden lets us peer into the mind of this legendary man, lets us see his fears, his machinations, his strategies and battle plans; only with Genghis did we see this kind of intimacy, their outer strengths as well as their inner fears and doubts. And I believe Iggulden did this on purpose, to forge a link between grandfather and grandson, creator of the Mongol nation and its savior.
For the first time, I actually have a nitpick about one of Iggulden's books, and it concerns the character of Guyuk, who seems to undergo a 180 degree shift in personality. While, admittedly, we didn't see a lot of him in the previous novel, what we did see of Guyuk seemed to imply that he was somewhat happy-go-lucky, willing to go where others led, and not much inclined to put up a fuss if plans seemed to go awry. Suddenly, though, in Conqueror, Guyuk has become a narcissistic psychopath: Things must go his way or else people begin to die. Perhaps it was the delay in him being named Khan that brought about this change in personality, but when he does, finally, become Khan, he remains a bloodthirsty (beyond even Mongol standards) tyrant, so that when his death comes, it's a welcome relief, both to the Mongol nation and to the reader. Perhaps that kind of personality shift is completely natural under such stressful circumstances, but it was still jarring.
Aside from the minor point, once again I was blown away by Conqueror. The power of Iggulden's writing is damn near awe-inspiring and it makes me quite eager to pick up his other series concerning Julius Caesar....more
With this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried tWith this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried to avoid the, as he called it, “Russian novel syndrom” by introducing a new character on every single page, there are still enough new faces to keep things interesting. And even though the occasional character disappears and seems to have been forgotten, don't worry, you won't miss them for long, once you find yourself swept away by the action and drama of the other storylines.
I remember in World History, when we briefly learned about the “Mongol horde,” seeing those maps that had a big red splotch over the central Asian continent which tapered down to an arrow and that arrow swept over eastern Europe, pointing directly at western Europe. The teacher (and the textbook) droned on about how the Mongols thundered out of Asia and took Russia by surprise, knocking that country and its armies flat before going on to rape, pillage, and destroy cities in Romania, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Eastern Prussia, and Croatia. Just as the horde was ready to invade Italy, the Mongols returned home, leaving only smoldering rubble and dazed but lucky survivors in its wake. Yet that information never really penetrated my imagination. I could see how close the Mongols came to taking over the known world, but I never comprehended the actual meaning behind that close-call. Not until I read this novel and saw this campaign of destruction through the vivid writing of Iggulden. This army of warriors, with their never-before-seen tactics and mobile units, if they hadn't returned to Asia, could have taken over the world. Think about that for a moment. No renaissance, not as we know it; no Tudor dynasty, no Elizabethan era; no Ferdinand and Isabella. The ships that traveled to America might not have been headed by Christopher Columbus. We could conceivably be speaking Mongolian or Chinese right now rather than English. The Mongols were that successful. Empire of Silver brings that success to life in the most sensory, dramatic, and terrifying way.
The novel begins three years after Genghis's death and his son, Ogedai, is the heir to the empire Genghis built. But he's not Khan, not yet. He's put off the coronation ceremony in order to build his capital city, Karakorum, an achievement of which his father would've never even conceived and a project which many see as pure foolishness. Unfortunately, Ogedai's delay makes his ambitious brother, Chagatai, bold. His challenge to Ogedai's position reveals a terrible secret Ogedai has been carrying for years: his heart is fatally weak and has been for years. He suffers silently through the twinges and pains in his chest, medicating himself with gallons of wine and the dangerous powder of the foxglove. This revelation adds an air of desperation to the actions of all the brothers, none more so than Ogedai as he broadens the reach of Genghis's legacy by sending out armies into southern China and across the vast expanse of Russia's landscape to the formerly impenetrable heart of Europe.
As with all of Iggulden's novels in the Genghis series, this one is no less action-packed, no less dramatic, no less heart-pounding or pulse-racing. More than any other historical fiction novelist I've read, Iggulden excels at placing us right in the midst of battlefield action. The movements and tactics of the armies, the speed and immediacy of battles, the mud and sweat, fear and blood, the reality of war and death is expressed on the page with such breathtaking skill the reader feels his heart rate quicken and his palms moisten. I cannot stress just how amazing this ability is, both from a reading and a writing standpoint. Yet this kind of kinetic writing doesn't come at a sacrifice to the rest. Far from it. Iggulden has the ability to place the reader into the minds of his characters, allowing us to see their motivations and urges, from the dramatic and sinister, to the quiet moments of family interactions or the wandering thoughts of someone who is bored. Even something as simple as a character suffering from saddle sores is conveyed in an almost poetic manner.
Bottom line, this series started at the top and has maintained its stellar qualities through each succeeding entry. There's been no sophomore slump, no weak link in the chain. Each novel is stellar and if they could be read as stand-alones, I'd recommend picking this one up today. But you'd be missing out on so much, so, please, start at the beginning; pick up Genghis: Birth of an Empire, continue on through Genghis: Lords of the Bow and Genghis: Bones of the Hills before picking up Khan: Empire of Silver (so you can finish with Conqueror). Read them. Savor them. Once you start, I promise you won't want to stop. As the Yorkshire Evening Post put it: “Empire of Silver serves as confirmation that Iggulden's majestic series has developed into an historical fiction master class.” Amen....more
Okay, I'll admit it, I've never read the original Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have seen the movies starring Johnny Weismulller an3.5 stars
Okay, I'll admit it, I've never read the original Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have seen the movies starring Johnny Weismulller and Maureen O'Sullivan. I know, not the best way to be introduced to the series considering how much the books were changed from page to screen, I'd imagine, but you've got to admit, Weismuller's Tarzan created quite an impression in the cultural consciousness. So, since I haven't read the books, I don't know how Burroughs portrayed Jane, but I would imagine in not the most flattering of ways--a lot of cowering, crying, and “Oh, Tarzan, help me!” So it was rather exciting to see a book about Jane which both told the Tarzan story from her perspective and was also written by a woman. Even better, the novel is authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, meaning the author couldn't just slap something together and call it a story of Jane.
In 1905, intelligent, headstrong, adventurous Jane Porter is a fish out of water at the University of Cambridge, not to mention an unabashed 'old maid'. Happiest when she's at her father's side, studying anatomy and dissecting corpses, she's the only female student at Cambridge's medical program as well as a budding paleoanthropologist. She idolizes female explorers such as Mary Kingsley and yearns to one day prove Darwin's theory that the human race came out of Africa. So when an American adventurer named Ral Conrath invites her and her father to join his expedition to West Africa, she naturally jumps at the chance. When they reach that 'Dark Continent' and begin their trek into its interior, it's just as marvelous and exotic as Jane had imagined. Mother Africa's jungles also hide dark secrets... and so does Ral Conrath. When Jane and her father find themselves in peril, Jane discovers the one thing which will turn her entire world upside-down: Tarzan of the Apes.
This is not an adventure novel. This is a romance novel with some adventure sprinkled in and those adventures, except for the last act, come in between a lot of discourse: Jane reminiscing about her life in England, Jane narrating her travels in Africa, Jane and Tarzan discovering Tarzan's past. It's only in the last third of the book that we stop reflecting on the past and concentrate on "here and now" actions. The amount of reminiscent narration might be difficult for some, especially those who are anticipating a pure adventure novel mirroring the original Tarzan novels. However, I found the background stories just as interesting as the main one and didn't have a problem with the lack of “non-stop” action.
What I did have a problem with was the third act reveal, the big denouement that all the previous archaeological and anthropological discoveries had been leading up to. I'll be honest, when I saw a YouTube video of Maxwell speaking about this book and her inclusion of the “Missing Link”as a plot point, I rolled my eyes. Then, as I read, I discovered it actually worked; after all, it's not like the story of Tarzan is super-realistic, so why not included a living missing link? I eventually got on board with it. But I could not swallow the finale. (view spoiler)[Basically, Maxwell writes about an ancient Egyptian wonder, buried within the depths of a volcano, accessible through a crude yet abundant gold mine. This wonder, a three-thousand-room ancient Egyptian labyrinth, was supposedly visited by Herodotus and written about in his Histories. As they move through the cave, they see frescoes and murals of amazing complexity, of celestial bodies, the moon in its phases, the planets of the solar system, of geological features both native to Africa and foreign such as arctic wastes and snowy peaks, not to mention a map which looks amazingly modern. That alone is, well, laughable; the Egyptians were an amazing race of people, able to create and do many, many things. But arctic explorers? Diviners of celestial phenomenon thousands of years before we had the ability to see that far into space? Um... no. But that's not all; this “New Egypt” in West Africa also contains a library which equals, if not excels, the library at Alexandria. Oh, yeah, and a dissection laboratory, with knives and probes, and an image painted on the wall of a Caucasian man, his skin flayed, his torso opened, with his muscles and organs depicted perfectly. Good grief! Did they also discover penicillin and the DNA sequence and the cure for polio and mumps as well? (hide spoiler)] It was just too ridiculous, too over-the-top. It was as if Maxwell suddenly channeled H. Rider Haggard for the last act, which would've been fine, actually, and quite in the spirit of Burrough's original novels. But it wasn't in the spirit or tone of the novel Maxwell had written up to that point. Up 'til then, Jane was quite grounded, relatively speaking, giving a nice reality to the story and character of Jane Porter. To me, the third act just felt like a huge stumble.
Until that stumble, I was quite impressed with Maxwell's writing. When I got the book, I opened it up to the first page, just to glance at it before putting the book down to be read at a later date. I never put it down; instead, I kept on reading... and reading. The writing caught my attention immediately. Jane Porter is a fun and interesting character; yes, she's a modern woman, which may ordinarily be out of place in an historical romance, but here it's just fine. The early 20th century was all about the modern woman, so Jane's ambitions and character traits aren't at all unusual. The prose is dynamic, with action and drama scenes both having a real sense of depth and emotion; the dialogue is compelling, though it does tend to get a bit overdone in Ral Conrath's case, as if to really point up the fact that, when he does show himself to be the villain of the novel, we know absolutely that he's “The Villain.” I think what Maxwell did best was show the evolution of Jane; even though she considered herself an independent woman, out in the jungle she realized just how sheltered she'd been. Watching her grow in both physical and mental strength, seeing her conquer her fears and doubts, not to mention those prejudices and assumptions which had been ingrained in her was, I think, the true force of the novel. Yeah, the romance which developed between her and Tarzan was compelling, but not as much as Jane's maturation as a person.
It may sound weird, but I really enjoyed the part of the story when Jane, who is injured when she first meets Tarzan and is rescued by him, questions how her bodily functions were taken care of during her unconsciousness, and recognizes how Tarzan took care of them while caring for her. It's kind of a gross subject, sure, but one that's nearly always glossed over in fiction, even though it's a normal human behavior. That Maxwell included it is rather brave of her, I thought.
The story is book-ended by the appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. When we first see Jane, it's through Edgar's eyes as he watches her give a lecture on the missing link she found during her African adventure. When he, rather fan-boy-like, introduces himself to her and asks to hear her story, Jane begins to tell it both to him and to us. At the end of the story, we come back to Edgar as he ponders what he heard. Jane gives him permission to tell her story in whatever way he sees fit, giving Maxwell the out she needed in order to have “her” Jane do things differently from “Edgar's” Jane. As the novel wraps up, Edgar is already reweaving Jane's tale into the Tarzan books with which history is familiar, which ties both versions together neatly.
In the end, up until the last act, I truly enjoyed the novel. I felt it kept the spirit of the original (as far as I could tell) while infusing it with a breath of fresh air. If that climax just hadn't been quite so eye-rolling....["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm sorry, but I just have to throw in the towel. I gave it the ol' college try (which is a phrase I've used before, but this time is apt as I'm actuaI'm sorry, but I just have to throw in the towel. I gave it the ol' college try (which is a phrase I've used before, but this time is apt as I'm actually going to college; part-time, true, but it counts and... I'm babbling, so I'll be moving on). I gave myself until 150 pages for the story to finally get good and capture my attention/imagination, but it never happened. One hundred and fifty pages in, I put the book down and almost sobbed with happiness because I didn't have to keep trying anymore.
The author obviously did her research. There's a great deal of historical detail: cultural, military, religious, geographical. And it's done in a way which doesn't beat you over the head in a "look at me and all the research I did!" sort of way. Yet, for all that, it didn't capture me or immerse me in either the setting, the story, or the characters. Writing about a culture completely foreign to me, the author failed to connect me to the story even on a basic human level--it started foreign and it stayed foreign. As I read, I couldn't help but keep thinking about Conn Iggulden's masterful Genghis series and compare his writing to Lapierre's. Both stories deal with cultures completely foreign to Western lifestyles and mores, Iggulden's with the Mongol empire of the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Lapierre's with the Muslim tribes of early 19th century Chechnya; both stories are well researched. Yet Iggulden's, even with its foreign subject and the sometimes off-putting actions from the characters, actions which go against Western standards of appropriate behavior, pulled me in to such a degree that I barely noticed the differences between his characters and myself; I felt what they felt, I ached when they ached, I exulted when they exulted. I was in the story. Not so with Lapierre's novel. Her characters were simply names on a page; their actions frustrated, disgusted, and baffled me and I didn't understand their motivations at all. They remained decidedly and defiantly foreign.
But what really pissed me off about Lapierre's book was the fact that, even 150 pages in (one-third of the book), we hadn't even started on the main story. Supposedly the novel is about the real-life story of Jamal Eddin, the son of Imam Shamil, who was provided as a hostage to the Russian empire in order to seal a truce of peace between the two warring nations. Jamal, a young boy when he's "adopted" by Czar Nicholas I, grows up in the glittering imperial court and though he maintains his Muslim faith, he becomes an accomplished courtier. However, his faith becomes a problem when he falls in love with Elizaveta Petrovna Olenina, a beautiful Russian aristocrat; in order to marry her, he must convert to Christianity, a move he's willing to make. Until he's called back to his homeland, to his Muslim faith and rightful place as leader, and he must decide: Love or Honor. (Hence the title, see?) Sounds fabulously dramatic and romantic, yet at 150 pages in, we've only just gotten to the point where Jamal's father decides to give in to Russia's demands and send Jamal to them as a hostage. That's one-third of the book gone and we haven't even gotten to Russia yet? As Charlie Brown would say, Good grief! That certainly doesn't leave a lot of time to watch Jamal grow up in the imperial court, which should account for several years, not to mention the development of the romance between Jamal and Elizaveta or the final act to their story. Now, I can see spending some time in Jamal's childhood, setting his character up; I could totally get on board with that treatment. If only that had occurred. Instead, during all the time spent in Jamal's childhood, we really only see his father, Imam Shamil, and his father's actions: Shamil's quest to become the holiest of holy men, Shamil in his holy war to cleanse the world of every single Russian, Shamil as he rids the tribes of all traitors by systematically slaughtering all those who push for peace between Chechnya and Russia, even if that means eliminating entire villages, women and children included. Hell, the man even has his elderly mother whipped for acting as mediator in a push for compromise, because "Allah" told him so. Jerk-off. Not a character to inspire any kind of sympathy in me. So, anyway, it's all Shamil with just a little bit of Jamal sprinkled in. It's very frustrating, not to mention a very questionable move on the author's part. If it were me, I'd show Jamal's childhood from his P.O.V. and only a little bit at that; just enough to set up the situation and his abduction to Russia. Later, as an adult, during dramatic moments, Jamal could flashback to his childhood memories and use them to follow his father's example or avoid his father's mistakes.
Stylistic choices aside, this novel, what I read of it, bored me to tears and didn't inspire me to invest any emotions in either the characters or story. Which is a shame because I heard such great things about Alexandra Lapierre and was really looking forward to immersing myself in what promised to be an exciting and romantic novel. A promise which went unfulfilled....more
You're telling me I went through all that and at the end, Wallis and Edward have only just met? Excuse me? I thought this was "A Novel of Wal2.5 stars
You're telling me I went through all that and at the end, Wallis and Edward have only just met? Excuse me? I thought this was "A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor," not "The First Novel of How Wallis Simpson Grew Up, Married and Divorced, and Then, Two or Three Books Down the Road, Became the Duchess of Windsor." Grrr. Yes, I am disappointed. I figured the book would focus a little bit on Wally's childhood, devote a bit more to her first two marriages, but spend the bulk of the book on the courtship and romance between her and Edward. Instead I find myself slogging through pages and pages of Wallis's life without really getting to know her as a character, beyond the fact she was proud of her lineage and struggled throughout her life with poverty (stuff I knew from already from biographies). And when I reached the end of the novel, I find that Wallis has only just met the prince and, thanks to reports by other reviewers, that their story will continue in a sequel. Talk about bait and switch!
Don't get me wrong, the writing is well done: it keeps you involved in the story, the characters are well-drawn, and the dialogue is realistic. What annoyed me was how the characters were drawn, in particular Wallis. I get it: This is a historical fiction novel written by a romance novelist, but this was not the Wallis I expected. I was looking for a warmer side to the “cold fish” represented in history; I was not expecting a perpetual victim, a woman who resignedly accepts the abuse heaped upon her as being her due because she wasn't a “real” woman (according to the set up provided by Dean, which I'll get into later). I was not expecting, nor did it seem realistic, a Wallis who was simply looking for her Prince Charming and sighed with unhappiness every time someone else found their perfect man. Ick.
There are other issues with the novel. The first is Dean's habit of repetition, which can take a few different forms. The first is in her descriptions of Wallis: “her greyhound sleek body,” “her trim, athletic frame,” “her lithe body,” “her boyish, small breasted figure.” Alright, enough already, we get that she looks like a boy! Although it does go a long way towards explaining why the gay Prince Edward was attracted to her. Not only does he get a woman who looks very little like a woman, because of her sexual deformities (at least according to Dean), he doesn't have to deal with her nasty female nether regions, the thought or sight of which terrifies gay men. For that matter, vaginae terrify many straight men as well. What's up with that? Ooh, I think I'm digressing.... Back on point: Dean's repetition. She also has a tendency to use the “As you know, Bob” method (see the wonderful blog entry by Susan Higginbotham for an explanation: http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog...). Or, should I say, overuse; it seemed like every time I turned around, I was being introduced to information I was already well aware of. It's not as if the novel is that long or that convoluted, and while I admit readily that my memory is horrible, I think I can keep up with the fact that Corinne is married to a man named Henry Mustin or Pamela's friend Lily sculpted a bronze bust of Edward and was allowed to call him David. And I'm pretty sure other readers can do the same.
Lastly, and once again I realize this is a historical fiction novel, which means liberties can be taken with the historical record (as long those changes are pointed out/explained by the author at some point), but it just seems that what's left out or changed is... silly. Especially when it comes to the later parts of the book, where meetings or interactions have been left out. Why? Wouldn't they add to the story? I mean, Wallis and Thelma Furness became friends in 1930, before the dinner party Thelma and Prince Edward attended where Wallis met the prince for the first time, yet Dean has Wallis angling to become Thelma's friend after said party. Again I have to ask why; wouldn't them knowing each other beforehand deepen the connection Dean's trying to set up? And Dean left out completely Wallis's court presentation. Once again, why? After all, Wallis struggled and stressed over that as she tried to get the paperwork from her divorce in order in time and only managing to do so in the nick of time (and that only because she played fast and loose with the law). Wouldn't that whole scene have added to the Wallis character Dean has created, showing just how eager she was to meet the prince and possibly dance with him? Then again, I can see why other bits have been left out, those about Wallis and her many lovers, because they don't mesh with the vision Dean has created of Wallis, that of a frustrated virginal woman, who's simply looking for true love; a victim of poor choices and poor lovers/husbands. Not to mention a Wallis who, instead of being frigid as she was called by her contemporaries, had a legitimate reason for not engaging in typical sexual intercourse. According to Dean, Wallis suffered from a medical condition called a DSD (disorder of sex development) which would explain her rather masculine features and the hints she supposedly gave about her sexual activities, or lack thereof, with Win Spencer and Ernest Simpson. Now, Dean herself said that this was only a theory of hers, based on her research, but that, if it were true, it would explain a lot about Wallis. I don't have a problem with this; it's theoretically possible, though it doesn't jive with what I've read about Wallis. But it's certainly a unique diagnosis.
Bottom line? Like the blurb on the back cover states, the novel mixes fact with fiction (with more emphasis on fiction, I believe) to create an engaging novel, and although the book is technically well-written, even with its faults, I just can't rate it any higher, for the mere fact that I was sold a bill of goods upon which the book didn't deliver. Nowhere did the novel state that this was only the first book in the tale of Wallis and I feel rather ripped-off that, if I wish to continue with the tale Dean has created, I have to wait until the sequel comes out. That's not what I signed up for when I got this book....more
*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author and given a copy of the e-book in return for an honest review. I've never met or corresponded with4.5 stars
*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author and given a copy of the e-book in return for an honest review. I've never met or corresponded with the author previously, nor have I read any of his other books. No compensation for this review, monetary or otherwise, was received by me.*
I have to admit, what first drew me to this novel was not its subject matter, although I am a huge fan of the Regency period. No, it was the description of the hardbound book Goodreads had on offer as part of their First Reads program. From the brief given: “This is a limited edition hardback, very very high spec, and designed along the lines of the travel books of two centuries ago. It weighs 2 kilos (almost 4.5 lbs), has fabulous marbled endpapers, a silk bookmark, a pouch at the rear with inserts, and six huge fold-out maps. The paper is wood-free, and the cover embossed with raised gold type.” Who could resist that? Lust bloomed in my heart and I desperately wanted to win a copy... which I didn't. So I had to settle for being contacted by the author and given an e-copy (which isn't too bad a deal considering I was thrilled by the offer; yes, I am still geeky enough and silly enough to become giddy when an author contacts little ol' me, a reviewer and blogger of very minor importance). Yet even without the fancy wrappings of the special edition hardback, I fell in love with the book: It hooked me immediately.
Tahir Shah has taken the story of Robert Adams, an illiterate American sailor who spent years in the desert of Northern Africa and saw the fabled city of Timbuctoo, and fleshed it out with fictional elements, expertly marrying the two until it's difficult to tell what's fact and what's fiction. Which is perfect because the result is compelling and immensely readable. The tale of Robert Adams is a true one: He was an American sailor who was shipwrecked off the west coast of Africa. He, along with the rest of the crew, found themselves surrounded by Moors, who stripped the men naked and imprisoned them. Adams spent the next three years as a slave, passed from owner to owner until he was ransomed by Joseph Dupuis, the British Consul at Mogador. At one point, Adams and another white man, a Portuguese fellow, found themselves guests of the king of Timbuctoo, who treated them as oddities and allowed them to roam about the city. After his release, Adams became stranded in London, where he had to survive as a beggar before he was eventually found, half-naked and starving. His tale was dictated to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, yet it was widely decried as being untrue due to the fact that Europe was in the midst of Timbuctoo mania. The city had become the center of many a tale concerning its riches, specifically gold. It was the new El Dorado, with streets and houses said to be constructed from the warm yellow metal, and many men had set out over the years in order to find it, men most of whom never returned home. Adams was the first to not only reach Timbuctoo but to also come back and recount what he'd seen, and his description of it as being a simple place, with no gold in sight, was not what those men pinning their hopes on the city's riches wished to hear. Adams, after finally returning to America, disappeared from historical record, allowing his detractors to continue in their quest to discredit Adams' achievement, even though his tale had been reviewed and corroborated by the British Consul in Morocco.
This, all on its own, makes for a harrowing and dramatic tale, yet Shah has managed to infuse it with additional, albeit fictional, details, thereby deepening the pathos the reader feels for Adams, who throughout the novel, simply wishes to return home, in Shah's narration because of the woman he left behind, Adams' wife and the love of his life. Timbuctoo also revolves around the characters with whom Adams interacts, from the secretary of the Company to whom Adams is dictating his tale, Simon Cochran, who first acts as Adams' guide and minder but who eventually becomes a friend and confidante to the American, to Sir Geoffrey Caldecott, director of the Company and a man with a very slippery character, even to the Prince Regent himself, portrayed in all his frippery and buffoonery and empty-headed excess. Not to mention a few luminaries of the period, such as Lord Byron and Caroline Lamb. As a result, the novel is multi-layered, introducing many characters, major and minor, along the way, each with their own tale to tell or angle to add to the main story line.
Make no mistake: Though this is a Regency novel, in the strictest of definitions, it's completely different from those commonly known as “Regencies.” There's romance here, yes, but so much more. There's a depth of detail and magnetic storytelling which truly sets this novel apart. As Adams narrates his tale, we are thrust into the sere and unforgiving heat of the Sahara; we can feel the sand burrowing into our skins, the sun raising blisters on our naked backs and unprotected heads, feels our mouths turning to dust as our saliva dries up. Yet, equally, when we navigate Regency London alongside Adams and the others, we are just as much enveloped in the sights and sounds and smells of that era. When reading those London scenes, what really struck me was Shah's ability to convey the casual, almost off-hand cruelty of that period, the dismissive attitude towards those who were poor or diseased or in any way “other” to those who were more fortunate, not to mention the appalling ignorance towards basic information, whether it be scientific or geographical or medical, which today we take for granted. For those of us who admire the era and become caught up in its fripperies, it's a stark reminder that there was a dark side to the Regency period, an underbelly easily ignored in the face of the wonderful fashions and literature and romance which typically take center stage.
It's a near-perfect novel, yet I had a couple of issues with it, minor, yes, but ones which still affected my reading. The first was how the novel was set up: The chapters were exceedingly short, sometimes only a page long. In a way those short chapters worked when it came to the multiple characters, as they helped keep them all straight and gave a sense of immediacy and animation to those scenes where two or more persons' actions took place at the same time. Yet, conversely, those short chapters often had an abortive effect on the action: Just as things were building up, getting me involved in what was being described, the chapter ended, bringing me out of the story with a jolt and making the reading of the book similar to being in stop-and-go traffic. For those scenes where such movement and action wasn't required, I would've preferred having longer chapters which would've allowed me to sink into the story and really savor it. My other nitpick is truly trivial: Shah interspersed letters written by two of the characters in between some of the narration, which I loved; however, the language used wasn't “flowery” enough, didn't seem “Regency” enough. I know, I know, it's such a tiny, insignificant point, not even worthy of being included. And yet I did. Let the excoriating begin.
In the end, I don't think I can recommend this book highly enough. It's a brilliant imagining of one of the most dramatic real-life adventures in history, creating a wonderfully layered, complex, action- and drama-packed novel. Thank you, Mr. Shah, for giving me the chance to read it.
Update as of 9/17/2012: I've since received the lavish hardcover copy of this novel. Actually, this update is a couple of month overdue--forgive me. Anyway, to the hardcover edition, it is just as beautiful and beautifully-designed as I'd imagined. The marble end papers are simply marble-ous *groan* (I had to do it!), the inserts and maps are fascinating, and the book has such a wonderful heft to it, enhancing the story being read. Just as I had imagined it would....more
I have found a new favorite author. It's obvious Simon Brett has a deep and abiding love for P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie and their ilk, but thaI have found a new favorite author. It's obvious Simon Brett has a deep and abiding love for P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie and their ilk, but that hasn't stopped him from taking the staples of the English-country-set cozy mystery and skewered them one by one with a red-hot cricket bat. From the amateur sleuth who's always on-scene and can find the answer to any conundrum just by licking the backside of a dust bunny, in this case Twinks, aka Lady Honoria Lyminster: [regarding two pieces of carpet fibre, one plucked from the victim's shoe, the other a sample from the victim's room] "Both pieces, as you can see, are from the same carpet. It's a Turkish fine-weave, probably manufactured in the workshop of the Hassan brothers in the village of Akgurglu just to the north of Izmir, and almost definitely originally bought from the emporium of their cousin Mustapha Khalid on the Golden Alley of the main Istanbul souk. Not that any of that's important. The important thing is that both samples came from the same carpet." to the bumbling, stumbling, plodding, thick-headed police force that's always being shown up by said amateur sleuth, in this case taking the form of Chief Inspector Trumbull and Sergeant Knatchbull: "Chief Inspector Trumbull had not been at the front of the queue when the intellect was handed out. Indeed, he appeared not to have been in the same county. But that did not prevent him from rising through the ranks of his chosen profession. Indeed, in those days for anyone in that profession to have shown intelligence or originality would have been a positive disqualification. The role of the police was to do a lot of boring legwork and paperwork, to trail up investigatory cul-de-sacs, to be constantly baffled, and dutifully amazed when an amateur sleuth revealed the solution to a murder mystery." In between are the battle-axe of a mother, the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced "Taster," everyone knows that): "She was constructed on the lines of a transatlantic steamer and it was comparably difficult to make her change her course once she was under way." as well as various scions and breeders of the ruling class, ridiculous nicknames included, as with Twinks's brother, the Right Honourable Devereux Lyminster, who was known by one and all as Blotto: "His nickname certainly did not derive from his drinking habits. Amongst people of his class it was thought bad form for nicknames to have logical explanations; they were items to be scattered about with random largesse, like small donations to a charity."
The story here is pretty much incidental. The entertainment comes from the characters and Brett's assassination of the genre in which he's writing. By parodying the situations, the characters, the language and lingo, he's creating a pitch-perfect yet exaggerated English-country-set story along the lines of P.G. Wodehouse (most especially Wodehouse's classic Jeeves & Wooster tales), with a pinch of cozy mystery thrown in a la Agatha Christie (reminiscent of the interfering and prescient Miss Marple) though the mystery isn't nearly as mysterious as Christie's. But, again, that doesn't matter. What matters is the experiences you encounter as the story sweeps you up and gallops away, with you hanging on to the tail for dear life. Every time Blotto grows confused about a situation (which is nearly always as "Blotto's thoughts rarely ran deep enough to dampen the soles of his handmade brogues."); every time Twinks comes to his rescue (which is nearly always, with Blotto responding to her brilliance with a "Toad-in-the-hole, Twinks, you are absolutely the lark's larynx."); basically at every harebrained scheme come up by Twinks and gamely put into place by Blotto, you know Brett is skewering the genre and poking fun at the stereotypes, yet he does it so well, with such marvelous turns of phrases and side-splitting, original descriptions, that you don't care--you just keep reading... and laughing your ass off.
This is a book which doesn't require much brain power to enjoy and can be gotten through quickly. (I breezed through it in two days.) The only thing is does require is your willingness to suspend higher thinking for a while and enjoy the ride.
Okay, there's no way I can be objective about this series. I first read these books as an impressionable child (I can't even remember how old I was, bOkay, there's no way I can be objective about this series. I first read these books as an impressionable child (I can't even remember how old I was, but using the publication date as a guide, as well as the ragged state of the paperboard slipcover encasing the books, I'm guessing I was around 10 years old). From the very first moment, I wanted to be Anne, to have that red hair of hers, to stand on the porch of Green Gables and look out over the rolling green fields, to wiggle my toes into the wind-swept dunes of Prince Edward Island. Over the years, I never relinquished my childish fantasy; in fact, I only reinforced it through repeated readings of the novels. And I still imagine that one day, I will travel to P.E.I. I will visit Green Gables and stand on that porch; I will see those dunes and feel the salty sea air in my now-red hair (thank you Clairol).
It's true that not all the books in the series are equal in quality. The first three, I'd say, are the strongest, when Anne is still discovering her world and her place in it. Subsequent books became more prone to flights of fancy and romance, yet, despite that, Anne never lost her power to enthrall and inspire, and although her temper certainly mellowed, she never lost her fire. Frankly, I can't imagine a better role model for a young girl. Anne stood by me on those days when I felt sick, depressed, just downright awful about myself and the world. My first stirrings of romance and how love should be formed around Anne and Gilbert's "courting," even down to their very first moments when she cracked her slate over his head because he called her "Carrots." (After reading that scene, I realized the boy knocking me down in the playground wasn't actually being mean to me, but was expressing that he liked me. Silly boys.) Most importantly, I learned from Anne the importance of being oneself, even if doing so makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Disclaimer: I was asked by the author, Ben Lokey, to read and write a fair and honest review of this book. No monies or other favors were promised orDisclaimer: I was asked by the author, Ben Lokey, to read and write a fair and honest review of this book. No monies or other favors were promised or exchanged by either party in return for this review and I had never had previous contact with said author.
At first glance, Beauty Possessed seems to be your typical, self-published historical fiction novel. Enthusiastic, but rough, a good, solid story buried beneath multiple editing errors. However, upon completing the book, I realized Beauty Possessed has less merit and more errors than I imagined it would. Going in, I was all prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the book and had high hopes for it. After all, as a fellow writer, I understand the blood, sweat, and tears which go into producing a novel. That said, I think Lokey needs to bleed, sweat, and cry a bit more.
Lets talk about the editing. The book as it stands now is approximately one step up from a rough draft. It needed to go through at least two more rounds of editing to clean up the formatting issues and story inconsistencies, not to mention the biggest boo-boo of all: the flip-flopping P.O.V.s. The novel starts out in the 1st person from Evelyn's P.O.V., which worked, as it created a lovely, intimate feeling to the story, but then it switches to 3rd person omniscient. Not to mention, when the story is being told in the 1st person, it occasionally becomes an omniscient P.O.V., with Evelyn knowing what other people are doing after she's left the scene. For example, on pg. 72, Evelyn, in her 1st person P.O.V., relates “I found Stan's cab waiting for me. Edna and Nell came out just in time to see me get into the cab and pull away. They were not happy. Apart from the crowd, standing in the shadows, was the man with the handlebar mustache. As the crowds dispersed, he stayed, lit a pipe and waited. A moment later, the cab came around the corner and stopped in front of my apartment across the street. I hopped out and ran up the stairs and through the door, and the cab pulled away. The man wrote something down in a small notebook, then walked off.” Okay, how did Evelyn know what the man did with his notebook after she'd entered her apartment building? Did she have X-ray vision or ESP? This kind of awareness of hers occurs many times throughout the book. Even if Evelyn were writing in hindsight, she would still only be able to narrate those actions she witnessed, with the occasional "I was told later" type of addition. Pick a P.O.V. and stick with it. If you want to use the 1st person narrative yet have other views of the story, use the 1st person with Stanford and Thaw and switch viewpoints chapter by chapter. Alternately, stick with the 3rd person omniscient; that way you can show actions your character wouldn't know about if you were using the 1st person. Frankly, the first couple of chapters really set up the book well, before things got sloppy, and I really enjoyed the 1st person viewpoint using Evelyn's voice. It felt as though I were interviewing an older Evelyn, in some nursing home sitting room, a more settled and more wrinkled version of herself, and as she related her story chapter by chapter, gradually the old twinkle returned to her rheumy eyes and some of that sexually charged flirtatiousness returned to her movements.
The formatting is sloppy. Lines often run together and you can tell line at the rear was supposed to start a new paragraph, but for some reason it didn't, probably because space(s) were left at the end of the previous line. Also, when Lokey's trying to convey separate events happening at the same time, in a sort of mosaic scene, he runs the paragraphs describing those events together. Each paragraph, each viewpoint, should be separated by either a soft hiatus or set of lines or an asterisk. Not only would it make who's doing what clearer, it would also add drama and a sense of tension to the overall scene he's trying to create.
The story inconsistencies are truly troubling. Lokey writes about events out of order, which is strange as he has Evelyn's own autobiography to act as a timeline, not to mention several reputable non-fiction books out there detailing the lives of Evelyn, Stanford White, and Harry K. Thaw. For instance, when Evelyn loses her hair after her appendectomy, Lokey writes that this happened when they were in Europe and that Thaw took Evelyn to a wig shop where her head was shaved. However, Evelyn's hair loss took place immediately after the operation, while she was still recuperating in the private sanitarium. Evelyn's mother held her up in the bed while Harry's valet, Bedford, did the shearing. She was never bald, but instead was given a crew cut. Also, Lokey describes Evelyn as describing herself as being all of 4' 10” tall, yet all the sources I've read place Evelyn at 5' 3” tall. Those sources also say she was born in 1884, not 1885. (Yes, there are some questions about that due to Mrs. Nesbit lying so many times to fit Evelyn's age to whatever the situation required; however, it's usually safe to assume a starlet is older than what she'd like people to believe, not to mention we have Mrs. Nesbit's recollection that Evelyn was born in an even year.) Lokey mentions the infamous incident with the “girl in the pie” as taking place shortly after Stanford White met Evelyn, yet that event occurred before Evelyn was in NY, according to her own autobiography and other sources, taking place in 1895, and the girl popping out of the pie was not naked, as written by Lokey, but clad in transparent black chiffon. What was truly strange was when Evelyn makes her first trip to one of Stanford White's apartments (or love nests), the one on West 24th Street. Lokey has her describing it as an ordinary building with a toy store for a front. Um, that toy store happened to be FAO Schwartz, only the most famous toy store in the world. True, in her autobiography Evelyn herself describes it as only a “toy store,” yet we know it's FAO Schwartz, so why not describe it that way?
The most disturbing part of the novel is the psychology of the characters, especially Evelyn. Why she tolerates and eventually marries Thaw is never fully explored or explained, which, I assumed, was the whole point of this novel being written. Yes, Evelyn herself is immature and essentially still a child, which works well with Thaw's infantile mindset, but that doesn't explain why, after being exposed to Thaw's dark side, she would continue to associate with the man. Greed and the desire for lots of pretty things can only go so far. Basically, I'm not given a hint as to motivations for any of the characters. I had hoped to discover some reason, albeit fictional, for the personages involved in this spectacle to have behaved the way they did. That was lacking. It seems to me Lokey was simply perpetuating the image of Evelyn as a gold-digger, a whore, a woman who was only after what she could get and deserved every bit of horror perpetrated upon her, instead of illustrating Eveylyn as a girl of 16, 17, who was at the mercy of the world, having an incompetent mother to (vaguely) supervise her and no idea of how to cope with the situations in which she was placed. I mean, this was a girl who was trapped between the powerful and persuasive White and the deranged and persistent Thaw, with no one to rely on for support. No wonder she ended up the way she did. Lokey also perpetrates the rumor that when Evelyn had her attack of appendicitis, it was actually a cover for an illegal abortion, a story based on rumor and supposition by the yellow press and vehemently denied on the stand by both Evelyn and John Barrymore.
The actual writing, the technicality of it, was serviceable, but not brilliant. The dialogue was, on the whole, well done and the narration could occasionally be engaging and colorful. However, it moved too fast, rushing the reader through events and scenes without giving the reader a chance to absorb the atmosphere. This was especially noticeable in those scenes where Evelyn was meeting the big names of the day: Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, among others. I will say one thing, this quick pace made the book a fast read; there certainly were no slow, boggy sections to drag the novel out. The other good point about the novel is Lokey didn't info dump; relevant information was given in just the right way to illuminate the scene without detracting from it.
There are some good bones to this novel. It just needs a lot of cosmetic work (and some structural work) before it should be presented to the public.
I honestly don't know what to make of this book. On the one hand, it's well-written (in some ways) and well-researched. On the other hand, it2.5 stars
I honestly don't know what to make of this book. On the one hand, it's well-written (in some ways) and well-researched. On the other hand, it's structurally unsound, with an abrupt, "Where the heck did the rest of the book go?" finish.
The story revolves around three young ladies, all named Elizabeth and identified by nicknames--Eliza, Beth, and Zabby--as they make their way to the newly restored court of Britain's King Charles II. Eliza, identified as big-boned (which only seems to mean she's rather tall and sturdy and not obese as the term is used today), raised by a Puritanical father, secretly wants to be a playwright instead of the propitiously married-off wife her father wants and so under the excuse that being at court will increase her chances of finding an ideal suitor becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine (or as in this book, Catherine) of Braganza. Beth is horribly poor and thoroughly cowed by her harridan of a mother, but she's a beauty and it's that asset her pox- and pustule-covered mother uses to advance their family with an advantageous marriage. Beth catches the eye of the queen, who sees beyond Beth's shabby clothing and whore-like makeup, and gives her a place at her side. However, Beth's other asset is her virtue, something her insane mother protects fiercely with constant vigilance, threats and, when necessary, beatings which leave Beth bloody...but only in places where the scars won't matter. None of that matters to Beth as she's fallen in love, with a most inappropriate man, and will do anything to escape her insane mother and fulfill her romantic fantasy, even if that includes treason. Zabby has recently returned to England from a very provincial and free life in Barbados. Fascinated by her scientific studies, she happens to be in the right place and have the right knowledge to save the king's life. In return, he brings her to court, where everyone assumes she's the latest of his long line of mistresses, for if they knew the truth, that the king is mortal and barely escaped death, Charles, with the echoes of the mob who howled for his father's head still haunting his dreams, fears a lessening of his power and stature. Because of this and their shared love of science, Zabby and Charles spend many hours closeted together in his elaboratory and as Zabby comes to know the man behind the crown, she also comes to discover her own feelings about him.
First of all, I'm not sure why this is marketed as a YA novel. Just because the protagonists are young girls and the cover art makes the novel look like a 17th century version of Gossip Girl doesn't mean that a YA categorization is appropriate. After all, until the mid-twentieth century, there was no such thing as a teenager or the term young adult; you were a child and then, once you reached a certain age--if you were a boy--or you began menstruating, you were considered an adult, capable of being married, having children, keeping your own house. So these girls in the novel are technically adults. As such, most of the issues dealt with in the novel are more adult-oriented; that's not to say young people don't know about sex, prostitution, and whatnot--this is the age of sexting, after all--but wrapped up in the larger context of a royal court, with its intricate politicking, it just doesn't seem like an ideal YA novel. Never mind that the language used, while historically accurate and wonderfully colorful, would confuse many an adult, let alone younger people. Words like 'troth', 'cozening', 'swive' and 'daggle-tailed slut', among others, are completely unfamiliar to a modern audience; perhaps I'm underestimating today's young people, but I can only see their eyes glazing over when they start running into these words and phrases. Don't get me wrong, I'm not being a prude; in fact, I loved seeing all the flamboyant euphemisms flying about in the midst of scathing remarks and flippant wit. Once again, though, except for those rare few teenagers who love such detailed historical fiction, this just doesn't seem the right kind of book to compete for attention against The Awakening and The Struggle or Twilight (although, personally, I'd rather see more intelligent and adult books such as Ladies in Waiting being directed towards young adults than dreck such as Twilight and its ilk).
In regards to the actual writing, the characters were well-portrayed. Beth, the sappiest of them all, still had enough spirit to her that I never felt unduly annoyed by her behavior. Eliza was wonderfully spunky and outlandish and I loved how she spoke, her dialogue liberally dusted with historical colloquialisms and blazing wit. Charles was appropriately magnetic, giving the reader a plausible idea of how women of all stations could so easily fall in love with him, and yet equally repellent with his callow attitude towards Catherine and his imperious personality. Zabby was the only one with whom I didn't really connect. Her supposedly scientific mind wasn't always on display and oftentimes she behaved more like the typical love-sick teenager, meaning she could be moody, irrational, and petty. The novel's greatest strength was the language I mentioned above. Beyond its vividness and lively tone, there was never a moment when a modern phrase sneaked in and jolted me out of the 17th century (that I can remember). As far as pacing, while the novel had a flow to it, it wasn't always a steady flow. At times the story felt rather wobbly; the action wouldn't exactly stop, it would sort of plateau out and just kind of...sit there while another scene was built.
However, while I enjoyed the novel (even though some of the plot points were rather ridiculous), while it is descriptively written and compelling to read, I have one big problem with it: there was absolutely no ending. Nothing. Nada. Just a bunch of loose threads left dangling without even the slightest attempt to bring them together. The story just stops without giving us any idea of how these three girls ended up. The one achieves an ending, of sorts, as she accomplishes what she set out to do and we're told, in a couple of brief sentences, what happens next, but it's not the full closure her story deserves. The other girl suffers a horrible fate and while, on the one hand, the ending is realistic--after all, there is no happily ever after in life, so why shouldn't a fictional character also have a crappy ending?--and so I applaud the author for avoiding a saccharine cliche, I was equally annoyed by the author's lack of closure. We see the girl being driven away in her new husband's coach and we've got some idea of the horrible life she's going to have, but an actual description of what does happen to her would be nice. And the third character just goes back to doing what she was doing all along--really, that's it? Where's her character's growth? What has changed in her personality? I went through 328 pages of story for what? I just felt greatly unsatisfied when I turned the last page, by the lack of a proper ending, by the lack of character growth. No, unsatisfied isn't the right word, I felt cheated. I quite literally yelled out, when I reached the end and discovered this lack of closure, "What the hell kind of story is this? Where's a proper ending?" I'm all for the kind of "leave it to your imagination," "The Lady and the Tiger" type of tale, but not in this context. Really, I can't properly express the indignation and frustration I felt when I finished the last page; it was like I'd run into a brick wall.
Unless this is the beginning of a new trilogy, which I doubt because, had it been, the book's cover would've been plastered with all sorts of exclamatory remarks advertising that fact, this is a rather disappointing stand-alone novel. Honestly, I can't understand how it's getting published in such an unfinished state....more
In the final installment to Gedge’s Lords of the Two Lands trilogy, the story of the Tao’s family attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Setiu invaders reaIn the final installment to Gedge’s Lords of the Two Lands trilogy, the story of the Tao’s family attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Setiu invaders reaches a thrilling and riveting climax. I can’t say it’s the best book of the trilogy (deciding that would be something of a Sophie’s Choice), but I can say it’s a wonderfully written, compulsively readable finale.
Ahmose Tao, Prince of Weset and self-proclaimed pharaoh now that both his father, Seqenenra, and brother, Kamose, have both died at the hands of those who claimed to be loyal yet ultimately betrayed them, has successfully reclaimed the entire land of Egypt. The last bastion of Setiu rule is their capital city, Het-Uart, a thickly walled repository of Setiu troops and scared citizens. Those impassable walls also held Ahmose’s sister, Tani, Apepa’s hostage these many years, as well as the physical symbols of Egypt’s divinity, the Horus throne, the double crown, the Crook of Mercy and the Flail of Justice. During the long months away from Weset, while Ahmose continues to lay siege to Het-Uart and finish the reclamation of his beloved country, a new center of Egyptian administration is taking shape under the capable hands of Ahmose’s wife Aahmes-nefertari and his mother Aahotep in Weset, both of whom effectively keep Egypt running by organizing and supervising the many small details required to keep a country working. Yet there’s a distance between Ahmose and Aahmes-nefertari which has nothing to do with their physical separation and as Het-Uart finally falls and a final betrayal to Ahmose’s reign comes to light, engineered by Apepa and orchestrated by Tani, Ahmose must decide if seeking reparation for such a awesome treachery is worth the price: the loss of his marriage and love of Aahmes-nefertari
As with the other books, the battle scenes are the poorest part of the novel, suffering from a lack of dynamism as the writing itself remains adroit. The only exception were the scenes describing the sieging of Het-Uart and, later, the Rethennu fortress of Sharuhen, which, perhaps because they were so much more intimate than the other large battle scenes, seemed to have a greater sense of urgency and were infused with a more authentic sense of the chaos which would surround such close-quarters fighting. Where Gedge really shines is in the complex interplay of her characters and their very human reactions and emotions. We see the fragility of Aahmes-nefertari as she tries bring together a nation in her husband’s absence while dealing with the trauma of childbirth and infant mortality; the desperation of Ramose as he attempts to rescue Tani, his idealized love; the cutting-to-the-quick of both Ramose and Ahmose as Tani reveals how she’s changed from the free-spirited girl they both knew years ago. Towards the end of the novel, these full-developed relationships intertwine to create a heartbreaking resolution of the story. That's said, Tani’s story is the most engrossing and the one which is the most vexatious. (view spoiler)[When we finally meet her after being closeted away by Apepa’s side for so many years, we see that she’s no longer Egyptian, but has adopted Setiu manners, to the point of even changing her name to Tautha. Her excuse? She was so long with Apepa, frightened and alone, missing her family, sure that Apepa would execute her for her family’s actions, but instead Apepa treated her with kindness and consideration. Soon she fell in love with him and consented to marry him. So that when Het-Uart finally falls and Egypt is free, she refuses to go home with Ahmose, instead holding fast to her marriage vows and claiming that her duty lies with her husband, Apepa and choosing the people of her husband over her own family. This sort of betrayal and cowardly behavior is so upsetting and abhorrent, it made me agree with Ahmose when he tells her “My only regret is that Ramose did no strangle you when he saw what you had become.” I mean, she even demanded an Egyptian burial for Apepa, using her status as a princess of royal blood to blackmail Ahmose into complying. (hide spoiler)]My horror at Tani’s behavior equaled that of Ahmose’s.
In the end, The Horus Road is a rousing, nail-biting, undeniably satisfactory ending to a trilogy of books which comprise just about some of the best ancient Egyptian historical fiction out there. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Ah, now this is much better! With The Oasis, Pauline Gedge has hit her stride with this story arc in general and her characters in particular. The strAh, now this is much better! With The Oasis, Pauline Gedge has hit her stride with this story arc in general and her characters in particular. The strengths of The Oasis only serve to highlight the weaknesses of The Hippopotamus Marsh.
I mentioned in my review of The Hippopotamus Marsh how the characters seemed to suffer from a lack of realism and I think part of the problem is that that first book of Lords of the Two Lands Trilogy is a set-up book. We meet Seqenenra, the instigator of the story's plot and about whom the main action revolves, at the beginning of the book. However, before we can fully know and understand him and his motivations, he's killed and his active participation in the story is over with, about midway through the book. Then we find ourselves involved with the brothers Si-Amun, Kamose and Ahmose; nominally it's Si-Amun who leads the story line, but then he goes away and Kamose takes his place. Basically, there's so much going on and so many people weaving in and out of the main plot line, it's hard to get a grasp on who these characters really are, what drives them, what they're hiding behind their smiles. However, with The Oasis the focus pretty much stays on Kamose and to a lesser extent Ahmose. Finally we get to see more of these two characters; we get to delve into their fears and hidden talents and discover what makes them tick. Finally we get an idea of who they really are. This discovery also extends to the Tao women. We get to see beyond Tetisheri's imperious facade and see her fears and her weaknesses. Aahotep and Aahmes-Nefertari step out of the shadows and become deeper and richer, more than just mother and widow, wife and sister. Now I can see these people. Now they have become real.
Once again, though, the battle scenes are still weak and underdeveloped. The action is briefly described and hastily done with. However, the tension has been ratcheted up by several notches and there are many scenes which caused me to hold my breath as betrayals and shocking revelations threatened to derail Kamose's attempts to retake Egypt and remove the Setiu stench from his country. Several times throughout the book, I ached with him and felt as exhausted as he when events overwhelmed him. And that is the one constancy between The Hippopotamus Marsh and The Oasis: Gedge's masterful use of language and imagery. She skillfully weaves the ancient history and traditions of Egypt into the story, engaging all the senses and immersing the reader totally. As I noted before, Gedge manages to keep the reader's attention focused in that ancient period by using appropriate language without alienating the modern mindset with stuffy or awkward turns of phrase. Which is why I was quite surprised to find a slip-up. Towards the end of the book, (view spoiler)[ when a few of the princes rise up in rebellion (hide spoiler)], Prince Iasen cries out, in regards to General Hor-Aha, "We are tired of kowtowing to him." (Italics are mine.) Kowtow is from the Chinese ketou which is a combination of the syllables ke knock + tou head. I realize the ancient Egyptians were in trade with many other ancient societies at the time, but would they have used such a word? Even if they would, which I doubt highly, the use of it in the text brought me temporarily out of the story--it jarred me. I think it a better choice would've been the more neutral genuflect or prostrate. I mean, Gedge might as well have written salaam. However, that is the first and so far only error I've found in her novels.
Which is why, in the end, I'm sticking with my initial judgment which placed Gedge head and shoulders above nearly all other ancient Egyptian historical fiction authors.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Let me state, right off the bat, this is an excellent book. It is truly the standard by which all ancient Egyptian historical fiction novels4.5 stars
Let me state, right off the bat, this is an excellent book. It is truly the standard by which all ancient Egyptian historical fiction novels should be measured...for the most part (I'll explain in a moment). The research is impeccable, thorough without being overwhelming and used appropriately (meaning that Gedge knows when to hold back and let the story take over and when to use her research to enhance/explain a scene). No info dumps here! The story itself moves along a brisk pace, the tension and action nicely balanced with more introspective, character-centered moments--it neither drags nor wears the reader out with never-ending action. The language is where Gedge truly shows her talent: the dialogue is beautiful, neither anachronistically modern (thus jarring the reader out of the book's ancient setting) nor so archaically formal that the reader is forced into multiple re-reads in order to decipher what was said; the narrative truly immerses the reader in the sights, sounds, and textures of ancient Egypt, to the point where I felt I could reach out and stroke the sweat-slicked flesh of the characters as they sat under Ra's implacable eye or smell the intoxicating scents of perfumed oil cones as they melted, the oil soaking the gauzy linen sheaths and kilts of the banqueters as they feasted in a stuffy, noisy dining hall. Certain hist. fiction authors who are currently the darlings of the publishing world, whom shall remain nameless here (although I will give out the initials P.G. and M.M.), should take note of Gedge's creative writing ability and follow her most excellent example.
Now to explain the "for the most part" bit from earlier. Bear with me as my one criticism- no, that's the wrong word. How about I say 'problem' instead? My one problem with the book is rather nebulous and difficult to explain. While all of what I've said in the previous paragraph is true, while Gedge brings to life these ancient peoples and places and personages to a degree that is to be envied and admired, the characters themselves, most especially those who are responsible for driving the story, still don't feel as fully fleshed as they could be, as though they're missing whatever it is that would make them jump off the pages and become real human beings. To contrast, Conn Iggulden, whose Genghis series I'm currently reading, has to deal with some of the same issues as Gedge in bringing his characters to life, i.e. taking an historical personage about whom more myth than reality is written/known and creating a real human being from the scraps of truth to be found in such myths and legends. Yet Conn's Temujin/Genghis doesn't just leap off the page, he smashes his way through the flimsy wood pulp and weak ink letters which hold him captive. And the same dynamism is true of all the other characters in Genghis's life: some are weak, some are cunning, some are utterly depraved and despicable, and some are brave, noble, conflicted, innocent, dependable--in other words they are human, with human foibles and human drives. With the characters in The Hippopotamus Marsh I don't get that same sense of reality. Yes, we are shown the motivations of Seqenenra and his son Kamose, their pride and sense of honor, as they chafe under the rule of the Setiu/Hyksos king Apepa; the conflicted outrage of Kamose's twin brother Si-Amun as he traps himself in a no-way-out situation; the wise resignation of Seqenenra's wife Aahotep, the haughty grandeur of Tetisheri, the matriarch of the family, and the lesser motivations of the rest of the family. Yet I never really got a sense of each character's depth beyond those surface impressions. And this is where the nebulousness comes in, as the depth of personality for each of these characters (which I'm sure will deepen as the series progresses) is perfectly adequate (and in comparison to some hist. fiction downright marvelous). Taken in combination with the rest of the elements of Gedge's writing, The Hippopotamus Marsh becomes a work of fiction which is quite astonishing and absolutely amazing to read. So why am I complaining? I guess because I want to go deeper, I want to know more about these characters--Kamose, Seqenenra, Tani, Ramose, Aahmes-Nefertari and the rest--I want them to break free of history's cobwebs, leap off the page and stand before me as they tell me their story, through Gedge's words, much as Conn Iggulden's Genghis Khan did. They seemed too tame, too calm, too remote for such dynamic history taking place around them.
One other quibble I have with the book, which ties in with the issue I pointed out above, is the action, compelling as it was, could've been more dynamic and more compelling to read. Once again, I need to refer to Iggulden as I've been spoiled by him and his depictions of battle, of blood and death, defeat and victory, depictions which are at once gruesome and engrossing. If I can smell the flood waters of the Nile, feel its life-giving mud slither through my fingers and the grit of the desert sand, then I should also be able to see the sweat and fear pouring off a soldier's face, hear the clashing of swords, the crash of shields, the twang of bowstrings, the hiss of blood as it sinks into the baking earth. Yet that never occurred. As with the personalities of the book's characters, the action is surface-level only: I saw the clash, I saw the tactics, the hope and fatigue of the soldiers, the humiliation of defeat, but I never felt the reality of the action taking place. Maybe it's simply due to a contrast in styles between a male and female author (and, god, I hate myself for even thinking that, let alone writing it, as I'm well aware of many female authors who can write kinetic and enthralling action scenes as well as, if not better than, male authors). Or perhaps it's simply that Gedge has so much territory to cover, she didn't feel the need to dwell on the battle scenes. Who knows?
What I do know is the issues I have with the novel are minor in comparison to The Hippopotamus Marsh's overall scope and readability. There may be a few (a very few) books out there which are better (and we all know "better" and "worse" are highly subjective adjectives), but there are certainly a great deal too many books which are worse--pieces of dreck which would have to climb onto extension ladders just to get close enough to reach out and aspire to Gedge's level of artistry....more