Dominion, by C. J. Sansom is a compelling alternative history book that presents in detail to readers what would have happened has Britain surrendered...moreDominion, by C. J. Sansom is a compelling alternative history book that presents in detail to readers what would have happened has Britain surrendered to Germany in the 1940s, stayed out of WWII, and Lord Halifax would have been England's Prime Minister instead of Churchill! The novel begins the tale set in 1952, with a very old Hitler still very much alive and Jews still being branded by the wearing of a patch to announce themselves.
I know many readers don't like alternate histories, they like to know exactly what occurred even when they are reading fiction. It must be a comfort level thing....to never ask "what if." I can understand that in a way, as with so much history it's already difficult to weed out the accurate content. However, having earned a degree in History myself from a University that takes pride in political science and history and teaching so that it gives a foundation and clarity for our future, I still don't mind picking up an alternate history. I DO agree it should always be known as an alternative history, though, as so many people believe just about anything these days. But beyond that, I say why not push the boundaries of historical writing. I know I think all the time about history and circumstances and my brain goes in all different directions thinking about what might had happened if a certain situation hadn't taken place.
C.J. Sansom takes what I think is a common question to many when he asks what if something didn't happen or did happen to change the course of what Germany was able to do or not do during the war. I think that Sansom looks at the various TRUE history surrounding the 1930s, 40, and 50s and sets a stage for if one component was changed. It's ingenious to create a world stemming from this situation of Britain not entering WWII and being occupied by Hitler's regime, which changes even the course for Americans, who also didn't end up entering WWII. Sansom is able to research accurately and in detail the time period, using critical thinking to move the chess pieces around the invisible board in his mind, and on paper, to see where new pieces would end up if another move had been taken by an opponent (or in this case, by a country or leader). He offers a well-thought out story and a plot that made you insistent in your reading.
If you've read something from the 80s or 90s like a John Le Carre or a Robert Harris novel, you know that many great writers employ the tactic of slow-moving prose and write straight intriguing prose. Like Le Carre, Sansom employs average characters and more psychological over physical action. Many people looking for an intense thriller might need to recognize that they'll need to be prepared to slow down their reading and let it absorb them much like the London fog. It's not suspenseful if you define that with the word action, it's suspense in your head that grows and lingers and allows you to think creatively and deeply in regards to where are world was, what it went through, what it has become, and then where it COULD have been. That is the kind of thinking that many political and international strategists much calculate even today in order to keep our world as peaceful as possible.
I know that Sansom is most well-known for his Shardlake detective series set in the Tudor era; however, Dominion is a stand-alone as far as I can tell. In Dominion, Sansom as the author takes on the role of detective and lets his amazingly developed narrator set the scene and take us through the novel, weaving through a myriad of characters. There are many characters, some with more personality than others, and several surprises and various plot points that seemed mostly believable. Some of his sentences were styled differently than this writer and editor would have formulated, but they work with his pacing as they allow a more speedy and staccato read even when the plot is more mellow. It's a really long book, but if you sets your sights on it being long and read it in several sittings, it doesn't seem as long as the story is intriguing and interesting, especially as pertained to the resistance movement.
My result and recommendation is if you like alternative history, or like WWII stories and find yourself in deep thought about "what-if moments, then this book is for you. If you enjoy the style of writing that many writers from a past generation made famous, for instance John Le Carre, then this book offers a great weekend read for you!
And on a personal note, I really liked the book, but I am a huge Le Carre fan too!! Thanks to Sansom for taking on this style of writing--one with a slower pace--that includes more internal struggle rather than the physical action of most common day thrillers. He might be a true author of historical espionage suspense thrillers which is exciting, as in this changing world, where even BOND has now been "changed" for a new type of "enemy" and a tech world, I still like the old world suspense. Nothing wrong with Sansom writing an alternative history to take on this challenge and create a world of intrigue that is fresh, calculating, and thought-provoking.(less)
I love the new cover of Sylvia Nilsen's Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time! It's beautiful and reminds me of all the historical angst of people w...moreI love the new cover of Sylvia Nilsen's Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time! It's beautiful and reminds me of all the historical angst of people who were conflicted spiritually or religiously, the culture and art of the past, and the drama of the journeys-both literally and figuratively-that people of the past embarked on.
Nilsen knows a lot about the pilgrimages of not only the 11oos, but throughout many times and places of history. Today, she leads people on tourist walks through Europe following the trails of the past that led people to restore or reinvent or seal their fates. Such a historical story is center stage in her fictional work focusing on the FitzUrse family, who had recently been a part of the murder of Thomas Becket. His family must earn redemption by taking one of these trips to Spain.
The book is well-researched, has some intrigue, mystery, and drama and even a love story. The content is more of a dry type of work, as opposed to flowing and flowery. Different authors write history in different ways and this one lacks a little in beautiful imagery needed to hold readers of the historical fantasy novel genre's attention. However, it is a solid read for many historical fiction readers who are enthralled by historical fact turned to fiction.
The journey to Compestelo de Santiago of this family is interesting, yet the book needs more development in regards to emotional connections to characters. The love story brings about some mystery in regards to a gypsy's fortune-telling statement and adds a twist to the book, yet it didn't make me pull out the tissues. I was propelled to keep reading to find out the resolution, however.
All that said, not every book needs to rip your heart out and tear it to bits, some books can just be a good, solid historical read. I'd say this was Pilgrims Footprints on the Sands of Time for me. I really liked the subject matter, as I haven't read much about it and am not an expert in the pilgrimages or their surrounding political and religious motivations. I'd like to read more both non-fiction and fiction on the subject and Nilsen's book certainly confirmed this.
Nilsen writes a historically detailed book of a vast trip to save the souls of a family and creates a solid foundation for a story which informs and entertains us, yet lacks thrills and emotional connection that makes you burn through pages. As previously stated, both types of historical fiction may be enjoyed, depending on your taste at the moment.(less)
Brandy Purdy is always a difficult author in which to write proper reviews for in regards to her books and the readers I may be talking to in giving o...moreBrandy Purdy is always a difficult author in which to write proper reviews for in regards to her books and the readers I may be talking to in giving one. All authors and readers are different. What one might like, one might not, so I will do my best to give an accurate review so that no matter what your reading likes are, you'll understand if it is for you or not. I like Purdy's books, but I know some don't, so take my review and make your own decisions.
That said, Purdy's newest book in her string of Tudor era novels published by Kensington books, is The Boleyn Bride. She always has gorgeous coves and those pull readers of regency and Tudor era fiction quickly in. As well, the content of this book is enticing as it tells a story through the young Elizabeth Howard (cousin to the family of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII), who as a teen marries Thomas Boleyn, and takes us on their journey as they eventually win the King's favor and their daughter, the infamous Anne Boleyn becomes the second wife of Henry VIII. The book completes Elizabeth's life from start to end, so it captures Anne and her brother and sister as they were growing up and of course through Anne and George's deaths as well.
But when I read Purdy, I go in knowing that it probably isn't based on hours of research to garner innumerable facts in which to educate readers on history. There is nothing wrong with her writing fantastical historical fiction though, you just have to put your mind to it when reading the book. If you want it spot on in regards to learning true history, you aren't going to get that. And that's fine, read it for a few hours of spoiled pleasure in which you immerse yourself in a made-up story based on real life scandals and scoundrels and women who make strange choices in the name of power and wealth.
As stated, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, mother of George, Mary, and Anne Boleyn is the title and main character to the story. There aren't a great amount of novels written surrounding her. Purdy is always very good about writing characters who are left behind from the Tudor realm and bring them to our attention. Her books always seem to make everyone, including me, want to search for more information surrounding her main characters and that is sometimes where her review troubles begin, since depending where they look they find her information inaccurate. Remember, readers, she is providing an entertaining story, not writing a textbook. The positive point here is that she does incite us to learn more, no matter what that more may be.
Though Elizabeth isn't the greatest person, Purdy writes these types best. She lets us appreciate the horrid and vile nature that some of the women in history had. The mothers or the third cousins or the third daughter, or whatever the case, she brings this disgruntled person to our mind. This makes her novels sometimes melancholy, sad, and dark. But we all know we WANT to read about these characters. We want to know what makes their children or family tick and that includes their surrounding family members. We all like gossip and drama and Purdy provides this yet again in The Boleyn Bride.
Her writing style is unique; it's dry yet it moves you to read it. It's heavy, as her sentences are lengthy with description and sometimes redundancies. Sometimes they can be run-ons, but they have so much meaning and imagery sometimes, I don't care. Her humor is sometimes strange for an average reader. However, we are sometimes swept away by her details and her sentences can be savored for their detail. She offers emotion in her books and we can feel the loss, remorse, anger, hatred, and all those raw feelings that must be attributed to this time period when women were treated so poorly and they became bitter. Her portrayal of Elizabeth was as quite a hateful person yet she made Anne's character a bit better than most portray her. That was interesting to me.
She writes as I feel the letters or journals of these historical characters would write during their time periods. This novel is supposed to be Elizabeth's memoir to her daughter, Mary. I feel as if I have stepped inside history and can feel her pain and regret within this book. She writes of the dark emotions of this dramatic period, without having to turn it supernatural or eerie, and takes on depth with her characters creating an atmosphere of brooding realities. She's brave to write in such a way. But the book is a juicy, dark, and intense read that I'd recommend for anyone who has always wanted to peek into the damp corners of the historical nobility. I'd highly recommend this for readers who like Philippa Gregory's plots and writing style and want a new character within the Howard/Boleyn family to brood over.
I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.(less)
Wow!!! Shea is an amazing talent. Each time he writes he impresses me further. I could picture it all in my head and would make a great paranormal mov...moreWow!!! Shea is an amazing talent. Each time he writes he impresses me further. I could picture it all in my head and would make a great paranormal movie. Scared crapless right now. Review to come.(less)
The Debt of Tamar, by Nicole Dweck, was a completely beautiful and emotional journey. I quickly became lost in the story and was taken through a gamut...moreThe Debt of Tamar, by Nicole Dweck, was a completely beautiful and emotional journey. I quickly became lost in the story and was taken through a gamut of emotions as I read this gorgeous novel. Set initially in the 16th Century, a Jewish family is taken under the wing of the family and harem of the Turkish Sultan. This sets the foundation for the novel, as the Jewish child and the son of the Sultan, a future Sultan, play and grow up together and eventually form a bond. This section read like a tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights, though it was rich with real history as well. It touched the five senses through words and left me enveloped and engaged, so much so that I couldn't put the book down. I stayed up all night reading this book until I collapsed crying and spent from the emotional impact of the story.
Dweck's novel is her debut, but she writes like a seasoned writer. Of course, she is a writer in degree and work as well. But it's hard to cross over to fiction all the same and Dweck does it with amazing storytelling ability. As she intertwines the lives of the descendants of both lineages down through the decades, she writes with such purpose and with such seamless accuracy that I was never lost. Not only did I always feel connected to the story and the characters, no matter which religion or country the character was from of living in, but I also felt connected to a theory of fantastical nature that is our fates align with others and are destined, that people are put into our paths, that life takes on history's mysteries and unresolved turmoils in order to be remembered or to fix.
And I love stories of the Middle East, the history, the intertwining of faiths. She shows us how the cultures, countries, and faiths changed with each century, decade, and major historical time markers like WWII to the modern age. I was especially grateful, as a Christian, in her showing how for those who are Jewish it's a calling, a destiny to follow and yet how for Muslims in history have been humanitarians and hold a strong bond to their faith as well. In many ways this book shows that love, whether a mothers, a brothers, or a romantic interest, knows no bounds of faith, culture, time, position, or tradition.
I never give any spoilers, but Dweck's gentle wordswomanship in relation to dying and death, to redemption and faith, to restoration of the soul is outstanding. This book is one that will be a lasting memory for me and I hope to read much more from Dweck in the future. It wasn't just reading a book, it was an experience.
*I was sent a copy of this book in return for an honest opinion.(less)
Stillwater, by Nicole Helget, is a literary work that delves into the most vile places in people, yet also into the most compassionate places all at t...moreStillwater, by Nicole Helget, is a literary work that delves into the most vile places in people, yet also into the most compassionate places all at the same time. Her light staccato prose rich with deep accents and personalities and characters with pain and emptiness, all searching for connections, to someone who cares for them, during such volatile times that were the late 1800s in small pioneer towns such as this one located in Minnesota.
Set during the times of The Civil War, I didn't know exactly what to expect of the novel, but it really doesn't at all focus on anything about the Civil War. People located Minnesota were fairly far removed from it, being so far up North, except for some of the soldiers from the North who "deserted" the war often fled far and bounty hunters were looking for quick cash. The book really focused on a pair of twins from Stillwater, who were separated from an orphanage when they were just young, the girl Angel going to a rich family in the town and the boy, Clement, being left at the orphanage with the nun and the Native American woman who lived there with her and helped her to care for the children. Not to give spoilers, but she became his mother he never appreciated throughout his life and Angel's mother tried to be rid of her after adopting her. Because of their bond as twins, even living in different worlds, they found each other and connected in eerie ways.
The novel has a very gothic feel, a dark undertone revealing the sad parts of human nature. The carnal desires, the crude ways of people who fight to survive in the most dire of circumstances as was the frontier. In this time and place of the river town of Stillwater, where nature still fought its own battles against human conquering, Helget intertwines French fur traders, poverty-stricken whites, Native Americans, white Christians, runaway slaves, rich people (making money off logging industry) and all the orphaned and lost children of so many cultures. The real first generations to start mixing cultures and being lost to society.
Her novel is authentic and gritty and raw in a way that mirrors some of America's best literary Southern gothic prose. Women with mental illnesses, sent mad over loss, and undercurrents of witchcraft, supernatural occurences, murder, death, and horrible human elements are all to be found. Helget is attune to the thoughts, actions, and feelings of so many bizarre personalities she creates in her characters and all while being true to the nature (and the actual nature--i.e environmental surroundings) of small town Minnesota.
And yet, she also shows us that life is so fragile. Clement saving a baby bird prematurely hatched from the river, a Native American woman loving an orphan boy with every ounce of herself, a runaway slave doing anything to save her son. A nun who always wanted children ending up having so many to care for in her refuge. Moments of pure human emotion that is almost haunting to the reader.
Helget gives us a writing style that is poetic and deep, with depth of content and original, unique sentence structure and word choice. Character driven though it is, the imagery is a propelling force. Her content is compelling and absorbing as if the reader is pulled into the river, and the town, themselves.
As dark, deep, and engaging as it was, it took me only a few hours to read due to her sentence structure and the fast-moving story line that swept me away like a river's rushing current. A very thought-provoking read, I'll think I'll be pondering about this book awhile longer as the layers unfold in my mind and the connections to the characters peel away exposing all their beauty.(less)
The Grip of God, by Rebecca Hazell, is a full-length novel featuring the story of Princess Sofia, a young teen of privilege who was close with her fat...moreThe Grip of God, by Rebecca Hazell, is a full-length novel featuring the story of Princess Sofia, a young teen of privilege who was close with her father, the monarch of the ancient 9th-12th century Kievan Rus (the 'land of Rus'). Since you may not have come across much fiction surrounding this area during the time period, Kievan Rus was the precursor to the areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia with the center being Kiev. Their Slavic dynasty fell to the Mongols in the 1240s, which is primarily where The Grip of God begins.
Princess Sofia, who is independent and strong even at a young age from her many travels with her father (her mother had died), and though still a child by our standards at an age then in which most noble women were beginning to be sought after for political marriages, her father had yet to choose a suitor for his prized daughter. Once a threat was appearing in Kiev, he sent her away for protection, but she was quickly captured by the barbaric Mongols. She is appalled at their actions, their brutality, she is raped (losing her innocence), and doesn't understand a word anyone is saying. Through her strange ordeal, she battles her emotions over this strange band of people, learns to understand who the servants are, the other women, and pieces together her situation. As she learns that she has been taken by one of the premiere young men who adores her long red hair, and is pranced (or thrown) around in front of the Khan as they figure out she is a Princess, she is kept by the man who initially found and raped her.
The novel had at first started slow for me, written in first person and without much dialogue until almost 100 pages in when she begins to try to communicate with people of her new surroundings, a traveling camp of Mongols who are moving and conquering those all around them by massacring, murdering, pillaging, and dominating with force. In this situation, she begins communicating with some of the other women and servants, who try to care and protect her and teach her to view the ways of the others and what motivates them. She meets people who are thrown together and surround each other, but who have various thoughts, opinions, religions. She learns that all people are generally motivated by many of the same things and that most have faith, even if not always in the same way. She "comes of age" by learning compassion for all those around her--the sick, the poverty stricken, the mourners, the captive, those serving, and those being served.
Halfway in, I started to appreciate the social message within the book and became invested in Sofia's emotional process as she grows into a woman and learns about herself as she learns about others. Though she grew up with slaves at her side in Kiev, she always had a heart for the peasants that served her father. Her compassionate and open heart serves her well as being at first abhorred by the brutality of the Mongols, she learns to understand how they operate and she finds compassion for those around her as well as for her captor who becomes her Master. Though, of course, never for some of the acts that they do, which Hazell sometimes portrays in overly graphic detail. I found it curious in fact that she shared the disgusting details of their murders and customs, yet didn't go farther during any rape other than to say it happened and leaving Sofia sad and confused. I would have liked the rape scenes to be portrayed as awful acts as well, though maybe it's a given.
Sofia knows she is lucky that he actually tries to please her and he does love her, even if outside the tent he is still a Mongol and a murderer. She does begin to gradually teach him that some of his acts are inhumane and he begins to show some mercy, even if Khan dictates that they should not show mercy. He begins to care a little more for captives and to show compassion for villagers in areas they overtake. Though sometimes he can't and it shocks Sophia as she grapples with the question, "have a I changed his heart or not?"
Sofia struggles also with understanding Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, Paganism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism and how they all operate separately and together in the world. She begins to sense that all these people believe in something bigger than themselves, like God, but in different ways. She compares them all in her head throughout the novel, which shows us as a reader how all are connected. Most all people want to believe in something. Yes, we are connected by our heart and love. Having something to believe in gets people through the horrors of life that was so harsh during those medieval time periods when so much war and illness dictated life. People either clung to the faith of their ancestors, or chose to believe personally in something due to a method I like to think of as "trial and error," you know....they used an amulet or prayed to an idol and something happened, therefore, they keep doing it and calling on it in times of need. This book really sought to speak to how all these religions were connected to each other by a common factor (when practiced correctly and not used for politics) and that people of different religions could get along in peace and harmony by exhibiting one some thing--compassion. She showed this through all of Sofia's relationships with captives and servants in the camps. Her notions of other religions. Sophia is Orthodox Christian, but most people in her home area had been pagans prior to Christianity spreading through her region during the reign of her family and many were still pagan, or held on to some of the old traditions, mixing paganism with Christianity. She learns as she is captive that people of another religion can also have true, honest, compassionate hearts. They can depend and trust each other. There is room in the world for various religions and cultures and Sofia realizes that people should not be treated poorly for believing in different things. She learns that there are good and bad people within all cultures and religions, but this doesn't equate with entire races or people of a certain faith being the same. Some people have no compassion and others have much, no matter what you believe in. Sofia struggles to know what she believes about her Christian faith, about God, about how to practice religion. She calls upon her teachings of "love your enemy" and tries to grow and survive by understanding her captors and her Master, who essentially she then allows herself to understand and grows to love as he loves her and devotes to her. His actions aren't always just, but she grows to understand his culture and how much he is dictated by it.
Of course, being a reader myself who also loves Norse myths and legends, I could see from the start Sofia's underlying struggle to also understand if any of her visions or occurrences were coincidence, from trauma or illness, or actual magic. I don't think by the end of the book we ever really are given an answer, but that is probably because in actual history there isn't an answer either. Her ancestors would have been Norse and with that comes the Norse Gods legends (you know the big one, Thor). Possibly her red hair and beauty and tall stature led her Mongol Master, at the time of her capture and then throughout their relationship) to believe she may have had supernatural powers that would bring him luck and fortune and she became his goddess in this way. For instance, in her making him a silk shirt, he felt the shirt saved his life on the battlefield. The ending of the book really brought the sentiment of her being otherworldly to life by Sofia's act and with the ending we are plunged into Solomon's parable and left hanging and ready for the second book.
I can't say that the writing was lyrical or poetic, it didn't sing to me or have enough dialogue and the dialogue it did have was sometimes childish or stilted for me, BUT Hazell's historical research, her elaborate details, and her social message far outweighed all this and I'm glad that I continued to finish the book rather than give up on the start. It was well-written, but it read as more of a journal, a personal struggle, rather than being pure fantastical storytelling. Her details of the environment, the dress, the food, even the horrific details were graphic and visual and I delighted in learning about all their customs and culture. I could envision all her description, from the scents to the colors.
I don't want to give the ending away, but I can tell book two will begin with Sofia on to her next adventure and more interaction with those of varying faiths and cultures. I'm excited to read book two and see where it leads her. I'm thrilled that an author chose to write a book about this time period and also feel very justified in my own thoughts, as I can tell the author's own beliefs in the struggles that religion brings inside one's own head and heart are the same as my own. I can see that she believes as I do that all varying religions and cultures could live in harmony if only we'd take the time understand and treat each other with dignity and respect. I applaud her for taking on this issue through her character of Sofia and using the time period in which, in reality, it all really began to come to a head and is still shaping our societal struggles today.
I also was really excited to see a book of fiction that showed historical detail of the Mongol life as they paraded throughout central Asia trying to take over the world. A view into a people, through the narrator Rus Princess Sofia, teaches us more about their culture beyond our normal stereotypes of the war-monger male soldiers. The book also gives us a glimpse of their women, those of their culture or captive, and how they lived among them.
If you like historical novels filled with compassion, culture, and rich details, this book will allow you to read as if you are in the journal of a Princess of captivity. Seeped in legend, religion, and how cultures intersect, The Grip of God is a journey that will have you looking into your own soul.(less)