This is a very dark story with a protagonist who should be completely unsympathetic. Marcus is the torturer and executioner for a small Bavarian town,...moreThis is a very dark story with a protagonist who should be completely unsympathetic. Marcus is the torturer and executioner for a small Bavarian town, a man without much in the way of feelings or conscience. His existence is that of a shunned outcast, and the people who share his miserable home are outcasts by virtue of being associated with him. When the plague arrives, he's the sole survivor, and sets out in search of his daughter, who'd run away earlier on discovering their relationship.
The story pulls no punches about the gruesome life of an executioner, nor about the effects of the plague. There is no sentimentality, nothing that most readers would expect redemption to look like. It's rather like trying to find a way for a stone to find redemption for having been an agent of death in someone's hands. Marcus is neither a hero nor an anti-hero. He's the product of a violent, superstitious culture who somehow manages, through suffering and the trust of one person, to become something different than his fate decreed.
This is a short, spare novel, written with great skill. I was spellbound from beginning to end.(less)
If you love historical fiction, you need to acquaint yourself with Richard Herley. His novels are not only rich in detail, they're beautifully written...moreIf you love historical fiction, you need to acquaint yourself with Richard Herley. His novels are not only rich in detail, they're beautifully written. Nature is always an important part of his books. His descriptions draw you in with the sounds, scents, and views of an often wild and unfriendly, but beautiful world. His nature isn't a passive thing that you merely look at. It's active and engaging, and always very much a part of the story. When he writes about a flock of seabirds swooping over the water, you can see and hear them.
Manual skills and handcrafts, often of another time and place are thorougly convincing. I think his knowledge must be based as much on his own skills as on research.
The heart of The Tide Mill is about the intersection of the lives of serfs, free men, and nobles. Characters defy their ordained destinies, suffer the consequences, or reap the rewards. Nothing about this life is easy, even for the highborn, who have to balance the opposing demands of their king and the church. The characters struggle against each other, and against nature, mostly in the form of the sea that edges the village. Most of all, they struggle against themselves. Two threads wind through the story, the forbidden love of two people from different social classes, and the construction of a new kind of mill that attracts the attention of the church.(less)
Three and a half stars. Interesting enough to keep me going until the end, even though the plot is pretty standard. Helped by the feeling of authentic...moreThree and a half stars. Interesting enough to keep me going until the end, even though the plot is pretty standard. Helped by the feeling of authenticity, which was boosted by the author's research notes. On the whole, well-written, though there were occasional hitches in word usage, the most persistent and annoying one being the use of alright instead of all right.
There are books that tend to get downgraded because there doesn't seem to be enough "hotness" between the male protagonists. I saw a similar complaint about this one. I think such readers often fail to take different cultures into account, as well as ignoring the protagonists' personalities. It isn't that rare for books to be judged by what the reader expects and prefers to be there, instead of what's actually there. You might just as well tell the author that they should have written it *this* way instead of *that* way.(less)
On the whole, this is a well-written and enjoyable piece of historical fiction. There were several instances of homophones used incorrectly such as "s...moreOn the whole, this is a well-written and enjoyable piece of historical fiction. There were several instances of homophones used incorrectly such as "site", when "sight" was meant. Otherwise, the book was fairly free of typos. More jarring was the sudden switch, close to the end, from the first-person view of the slave, Alexandros, to the omniscient view. The slave explains that it's a reconstruction of what undoubtedly happened, patched together from what he knew directly, but it didn't work for me. The overall mood of the book was that of a rather cool observer. To have it broken into just that one time to get into the heads and emotions of the observed seemed a poor choice. (less)
An Unfettered Mind is one of those books that suck you into a fascinating world with a strong female character, and then spits you out, disappointed,...moreAn Unfettered Mind is one of those books that suck you into a fascinating world with a strong female character, and then spits you out, disappointed, and feeling cheated. Banks creates an intelligent, courageous woman who is more highly educated than the average woman of her time, and whose status as a slave hasn't erased her desire for knowledge. Nadira suffers through kidnappings and abuse as the center of a convoluted plot, only to win through, not by the use of her intelligence, but by psychic powers brought out by her ingestion of an elixir.
What a letdown! We're led to appreciate Nadira's mind, then treated to what amounts almost to a deus ex machina in the form of her visions of distant people and events. But this isn't the only problem with the book. The whole last quarter or so, in which the paranormal element is dragged in, reads as if the author was in a rush to get the whole thing over with. Continuity problems, which I'd noted here and there, started cropping up with more frequency.
Overall, this was an "almost wonderful" first novel. If the author can dispense with so much telling instead of showing in her next novel, and provide us with characters who feel as well as talk and act, it will be something to look forward to.(less)
There can’t be too many subjects more difficult to write about than child prostitution. How much more difficult to write about a young man who survive...moreThere can’t be too many subjects more difficult to write about than child prostitution. How much more difficult to write about a young man who survived being forced into prostitution when young, and grew up to become the part-owner and master of... a male whorehouse. For Michael, so badly damaged that his emotions are all but non-existent, his house is a way to protect boys who would otherwise wind up either in the most brutal whorehouses or dead in the streets. In a time and place where love between adult males is a crime, but purchased sex with male children is condoned, Michael’s House is the closest thing to a refuge for at least a few boys with no other choices.
Without Janus’s support, the house couldn’t exist, and with it, they still have to struggle to keep the boys clothed and fed, and operate the house within a set of rules that protects the boys from abuse by their clients. The friendship between Michael and Janus, the pampered nephew of the prime minister, tests Janus’s sense of propriety and morality, yet he throws his income into Michael’s project and his reputation into the gutter for associating openly with the former prostitute.
Peterson leaves us in no doubt what life is like for poor and unwanted children in his fictional world, but he does it without resorting to graphic descriptions. “Delicate” may seem like an odd word to use for such a story, but it’s written with a delicacy that reveals the humanity of its characters rather than exploiting them. Whipster is a deeply moving story about survival in the underbelly of a culture that despises the people it uses and casts them off like so much garbage. (less)
Eagle was an enjoyable read, and sometimes exciting, thanks to Sutcliff's descriptive powers. If it's typical of her work, and if her books had been a...moreEagle was an enjoyable read, and sometimes exciting, thanks to Sutcliff's descriptive powers. If it's typical of her work, and if her books had been around during my childhood, I probably would have devoured them. I only learned about Sutcliff very recently, and was struck by how often it's stated that she wrote for children. Maybe the British include what we today consider young adults in that category, because there's nothing in The Eagle that would appeal to the average child today. The vocabulary would be too difficult and the concepts too complex. But this is a great read for young adults and even adult adults.
If there is a weakness in the story, it's that it's primarily description--of action, of the countryside, all superbly done. But there's much less dialogue and character development than we generally expect in novels. Maybe Sutcliff felt that this aspect would be less interesting to young people. At any rate, it's still an engaging read.(less)
This volume contains an excerpt and two complete stories. The True Master is one of my favorite stories from this author, so I'm somewhat prejudiced i...moreThis volume contains an excerpt and two complete stories. The True Master is one of my favorite stories from this author, so I'm somewhat prejudiced in advance of reading the Omnibus. Unmarked takes place at a much later date (centuries) and is set in a boys boarding school. The underlying theme of the stories is inherited power relationships, the effect on individuals of being unable to fit into the established hierarchies, and the wisdom of learning from those below you. Unmarked is, on the surface, a typical boarding school story, complete with fagging and footer (football). The hierarchy of master/slave that was at the core of The True Master is now master/liegeman, but the conflicts remain much the same.
Male/male sex is taken for granted, but handled very discretely, and is focused on hurt/comfort rather than hot man on man action.
Cry to Heaven takes us deep into the world of the 18th century Italian castrati. Tonio Treschi's exquisite voice becomes his curse and his salvation w...moreCry to Heaven takes us deep into the world of the 18th century Italian castrati. Tonio Treschi's exquisite voice becomes his curse and his salvation when a family struggle for power horrifyingly banishes him forever from the elite of Venice. (less)