I very much enjoyed this lovely tale set during and after World War One. The settings were refreshing: a stage and a dressing room rather than the tre...moreI very much enjoyed this lovely tale set during and after World War One. The settings were refreshing: a stage and a dressing room rather than the trenches during the war; and then professional offices and various clubs in London afterwards.
The English characters were vividly evoked - as indicated by the jolly spiffing title! The era was all too sharply evoked, too. Sam wasn't only made cautious by his situation as a gay man in such a time and place, but was fearful to the point of paranoia. It takes a lot to trust someone when even a fellow gay man might be more interested in blackmail than in love. But of course if you can find a way beyond such limits, then the reward is all the greater.
A large, ambitious novel that sets the intertwined lives of a family and their friends in a detailed historical context. When focussed on the individu...moreA large, ambitious novel that sets the intertwined lives of a family and their friends in a detailed historical context. When focussed on the individual characters and their thoughts and emotions, I was intensely involved; less so when the focus widened to describe historical persons and events. However, that also felt inevitable, as the children's lives begin either idyllic and protected, or horrible and secretive, and then expand into the world and its events.
I was most impressed with the range in the large cast of characters. There were a couple of thorough-going (though very ordinary) villains, and a tumbling variety of others, no one of them entirely good. There were many characters I very much cared for. What happy endings there were, were hard-won and well-deserved.
Not everyone will care for this book, but that's inevitable. I give it 5 stars because anything less seems impertinent. But it's Byatt's Possession which remains one of my favourite ever novels that I'll revisit again and again, whereas I think I'll leave this one aside now.(less)
An excellent book that effortlessly evokes Wales in wartime, featuring a truly lovely romance between two very different and very likeable men. Every...moreAn excellent book that effortlessly evokes Wales in wartime, featuring a truly lovely romance between two very different and very likeable men. Every moment is vividly realised and pitch-perfectly written. Nicely done, Adam!(less)
My sister Bryn Hammond has now published the second volume of her novel Amgalant, titled Tribal Brawls. And it is awesome. But you knew I was going to...moreMy sister Bryn Hammond has now published the second volume of her novel Amgalant, titled Tribal Brawls. And it is awesome. But you knew I was going to say that, didn't you? Because this is My Favourite Book Ever, and I find that it just gets better and better.
To recap: Amgalant is a retelling in (eventually) three volumes of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the man we know today as Genghis Khan, but whom we meet as Temujin.
This second volume continues with all the strengths of the first. It brings to vivid life this centuries-old story, this far-away country, and these fascinating people. With deft yet deep-delving touches it evokes their lives, their beliefs, their ways of thinking. It is full of respect and affection for the tribes, and yet it does not flinch from their realities. And it is full of the most wonderful humour.
At the end of The Old Ideal, young Temujin had just been named Khan. Tribal Brawls picks up the story immediately:
The first thing Temujin did when he came out of his clan meet was send an explanation to Jamuqa.
Toghrul, the Hirai khan - not to mention Jamuqa's uncle and Yesugei's anda - publically supports Temujin in ringing terms so apt for this oral culture:
The Mongols have been twenty years without a khan. Now is he your warm coat against the winter; unwrap him not. Now is he your neck-scarf of fur; discard him not.
And of course Temujin counts on having his anda, his soul-brother Jamuqa at his side, just as his stalwart wife Borte stands by him. But all goes pear-shaped, and Temujin finds himself facing the master tactitian Jamuqa in battle.
And so it goes. As might be understood from the title, there are battles a-plenty in this volume - and frankly, they are all of great interest. Each time we are clear about who's involved, and what's at stake, the necessary detail of terrain and armaments, strengths and weaknesses. But more than that, the tale of each is told in a different style, or with a different focus. No battle is other than unique.
In between are beautifully drawn set-pieces, such as when Temujin and his crew try to mend matters with Sacha Chief and the Jorkimes. Instead, matters descend into a drunken stand-off, with the handsomest of Temujin's brothers put in charge of the giddy old Jorkimes aunts whom Temujin is holding hostage.
He was a young singer, with a pale forelock in a curl, storm-grey eyes and the most fortunate face of the brothers; he flattered them and grew roguish; the tipsy Qorijin and Qo’orchin in their tilting hats emitted screams, but not for help.
The attempt at peace-making goes pear-shaped, too, but with a great deal of laughter along the way.
And then there are the moments when a message conveyed from Jamuqa in self-exile will touch Temujin or old Toghrul to the quick. Wells of emotion are tapped with a clarity that cannot fail to move you. Meanwhile, Temujin possesses exactly the right kind of fatherly pride.
None of his sons were perfect, though roughly five of the daughters were.
The Arthurian echoes now include the love and the tensions between Temujin, Jamuqa, and Borte. Temujin loves the other two deeply and truly, and they him, but even those relationships seem impossible to get right.
One aspect of the whole that is always perfect, though, is the magnificent Hoelun, truly incredible enough to be the whetstone for Temujin, for Tchingis Khan.
Grey and gnarled, she kept the rags of beauty and that sheer force of character that Temujin had whet himself against as a youngster.
And the whole is told in the most amazing language, with echoes from Shakespeare or from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or whatever is most apt to convey to us today what these people meant then. Or simply Bryn's own wonderful choices of words.
I think that is his scouringly honest habit of mind.
Isn't 'scouringly' just exquisite...? The latter parts of this book contain the most perfectly sublime prose I have ever read.
If you think I might be even half-right and suspect that you might like Tribal Brawls, too, you can sample a fifth of it for free on Smashwords. I suspect you might find yourself wanting to devour the rest.(less)
**spoiler alert** I enjoyed reading this tale; loved significant parts of it; felt disappointed by other parts. On the whole, I'm very glad I read it,...more**spoiler alert** I enjoyed reading this tale; loved significant parts of it; felt disappointed by other parts. On the whole, I'm very glad I read it, though.
The best part of this book is the description of the Crusade, from when our heroes left home on through the disillusioning realities to the abysmal failure to acheive anything other than a whole lot of death. This is a tale of knighthood and chivalry, and somehow our hero Elisabeth remains the perfect knight despite all, but the novel doesn't shy away from the violence, the deprivation, the harsh conditions, and their effects on her and her companions. Hawthorne got all of that so very right, and included lots of details that proves she knows her stuff.
So it may seem churlish of me to add that other aspects of medieval life, I felt, weren't dealt with as cleverly. I wasn't so convinced by the attitudes early in the book to homosexuality and arranged marriages. They felt a bit too modern, a bit too easy. I would have appreciated the same insights into the medieval mind as seemed provided by the chapters on the Crusade. It must be the hardest thing to do with historical fiction, and I can't claim to manage it myself, but oh how I love it when I find it.
Similarly, I loved Elisabeth's high-flown love for the Margravina, and her rather earthier encounter with Giuliana, but felt a little disappointed by the main love story. I had faith that the fiesty Maliha with her golden lioness eyes and her adorable little son was a great match for Elisabeth - but once the initial difficulties were out of the way, their story proceeded just a little too perfectly.
Overall the novel was well-written, with a subtle engaging style. There were only a few instances of the need for better proofreading. And there was lots to love about it. Which is why I found it so frustrating that it could have been a great novel, and not just a good one.(less)
**spoiler alert** An apocalyptic battle is brewing between Good and Evil, with the latter forces led by Daemon and including Hell’s dead folk as well...more**spoiler alert** An apocalyptic battle is brewing between Good and Evil, with the latter forces led by Daemon and including Hell’s dead folk as well as Cylons. The forces of Good are a gathering of steppe peoples, led by Prester John and the seven Grail warriors. The seven include a resurrected Sun Tzu, some wonderful kick-ass women, and (my own choice of hero in this tale, being an ardent Arthurian) Uther Pendragon. Add in a cameo from the archangel Raphael, who arrives in the Twenty-Seventh Thirteenth Yurt (for our purposes, a UFO), and you know you’re in for quite a ride.
Describing Uther’s role in all this will perhaps cast a small light on the whole. He’s an old man with a turnip nose, a teller of tall tales, and for a long while seems to be rather a bumbling, creaky choice to be one of the seven. But his second death in battle involves nobility and selflessness, and is written in a simple and true way. Much of the book is great fun and romping mayhem, but when the story or the characters need to move you, they will. But even that isn’t the end of Uther’s story, as he finds himself in the afterlife once more with ‘other talented tellers of tall tales – Hesiod, Homer, and a slew of Persians who omitted lost wars’.
The tale is cunningly self-aware. Invited by Prester John to take part in the fight, one of the incidental characters declares, ‘The whole premise … is a far-fetched tale, and it behoves us not to be in it.’
Campbell is obviously well versed in a wide range of history and literature. I felt as if there were depths and in-jokes that I wasn’t getting, that other people would. But I had fun nevertheless, and you might have even more.
This is the sort of book that you will either love or hate. If you suspect you might love it, then I suspect you’ll have a rollicking good time. (less)
This is more a celebration than a review, for the author is my sister and Amgalant is My Favourite Book Ever.
Bryn knows that I wouldn't say that if I...moreThis is more a celebration than a review, for the author is my sister and Amgalant is My Favourite Book Ever.
Bryn knows that I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it in the simplest and most straightforward of ways, and the rest of you will of course make up your own minds one way or the other. But I love this book, and the second volume as well (which will be available soon), and I am eagerly anticipating the third (which has yet to be written).
Amgalant is a retelling of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the man we know today as Genghis Khan, but whom we meet as the lad Temujin. It is set, of course, some centuries ago in a country and among a people with whom most of us aren't familiar. And it brings the whole to such vivid life, it's as if it's all happening right here and now to us.
Before we meet Temujin, we meet his parents, the chivalrous Yesugei and the marvellous Hoelun. From what should have been inauspicious beginnings - he is moved to kidnap her - they come to love each other, and from that very first chapter I was in love with them, too. As I was with the novel. Bryn retells the story in ways so evocative, so full of human motivation, and always with such respect for human dignity, that we are moved to understand things that our modern world no longer condones. In this she reminds me of Patrick O'Brian and his skills in recreating ways of thinking that are in the past and rather foreign to us now - evoking them in such vividness and with such respect for all involved that we become involved, too.
Bryn recreates a whole world here, with its varied peoples and customs, beliefs and mores. It is large and vivid and whole. As detailed and as solid as today. In this she reminds me of Tolkien and his creation of an epic Middle-earth. The narrative is pungent with truth and ayrag.
(I found myself salivating to drink ayrag, by the way, even while I wondered how anyone even could. I mean, whose idea was it to first try fermented mare's milk…? How desperate could they have been? But the characters love it, and now I can't help but love it, too. From a respectful distance.)
And by no means is this novel all serious business! There is plenty of awesome humour, of the clever, quiet, wry, character-driven sort. The book had me laughing and chortling and burbling along, sometimes all at once.
Meanwhile, the story tells us about both whole peoples and the individuals who create history through their lives, their choices, their loves, their heartaches. There are Arthurian echoes, of a leader seeking to unite fractious tribes against a common enemy, endeavouring to create justice based on right rather than might, trying to deal well with both the big picture and the personal, and all the while searching for his definitive hat.
I'd love for you to give Amgalant a try! You can sample up to half of it for free on Smashwords. You might not care for Temujin and his story after all, of course - but there's also a very real chance you might come to love him like I do.(less)