Ms. Mantel has been in the press quite a bit lately thanks to the critical success of her latest, Wolf Hall: A Novel. Almost...moreRating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Ms. Mantel has been in the press quite a bit lately thanks to the critical success of her latest, Wolf Hall: A Novel. Almost every review I've read mentions the unusual writing style she uses, so when I received this book for Christmas, I was curious. Her style is different, though not difficult as I had feared. She jumps around to different tenses and points of view; from omniscient to third to first, some scenes are in the present tense, some feature a character addressing the reader, some are written as screenplay with stage directions...it sounds like a big mess, but oddly enough, it works in this context and seems to enhance rather than detract from the story. To me, the style seemed to mirror and reinforce the frenetic, tumultuous and paranoid culture that was the French Revolution.
The story focuses on three of the most recognizable and controversial participants of the Revolution, beginning with childhood and following each of them through education and early careers to the point where they come together to help shape the beginnings of the Revolution.
It took me a week to get around to writing my review for this novel because I needed some time to digest it and decide how I wanted to rate it. There's no question this is an extremely well-written book, meticulously researched and peppered with excerpts from newspapers, diaries and letters; full of zippy, witty dialogue and poetic narrative. The scope of the book is huge but the author does a great job of bringing it into focus. It was a slow read for me because it is a dense book, each page packed with words and each word not to be missed for fear of misunderstanding, but I really enjoyed it, though I was rather depressed afterwards. It left me feeling a bit resentful towards the population of France during the Revolution, and with a sense of mourning for humanity's loss. It's not the type of book I could read over and over again.
The French Revolution was far different from its American counterpart. The French people were not united against one common foe, but divided into violent factions, each opposing a different foe and always opposing each other. Add to that the fact that the rest of the European powers decided it was a great time to take advantage of a weakened France and invade and you've got a recipe for a time of terror and confusion, where virtually the entire ruling class was executed along with many of the brightest and most capable minds of the time, and where there was, in fact, no place of greater safety.(less)
In this version of the King Arthur story, Arthur is a dark hero. He is young, selfish, ambitious and callous. He makes decisions based on his own desi...moreIn this version of the King Arthur story, Arthur is a dark hero. He is young, selfish, ambitious and callous. He makes decisions based on his own desires with little thought to future consequences, making enemies left and right. Yet Ms. Hollick does a fabulous job of letting the reader glimpse just enough of his fears and vulnerabilities to keep him from being unlikeable, and to sway the reader to root for his success. Although there were instances where my reactions to his behavior were so strong I wanted to throw the book across the room, I had to keep reading, dying to find out what would happen next!
I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of Gwenhwyfar as the young, strong, independent princess of Gwynedd, forced to grow up all too quickly amidst the heartbreak and harsh realities of a chain of events beyond her control; her life on a course so different from that which she'd dreamed of. She is a worthy heroine in this story, and my favorite character in the book.
Though it may not be for the faint of heart - abuse against women, rape, murder and gore abound - this is a raw, gritty, realistic telling of the tale as it could have been. Ms. Hollick has done her research on the time period and it comes to life effortlessly within the pages of her first novel. She's also done extensive research on the various versions of the Arthurian legend and has used historical figures and settings to make her story and characters plausible; there are no wizards or knights in shining armor. The Dark Ages in Britain were a time of religious and cultural upheaval as Christianity and other foreign invaders settled on the island and this provides a rich backdrop for the story.
Full of heartpounding action, troubled heroes, wicked villains, violence, betrayal and, of course, true love, this well-written book is an intense read and a real page-turner. I look forward to reading the remaining two books in the trilogy.