I have a soft spot for historical females figures whom receive negative attention. Perhaps it is my feminist qualities coming out to play. Whatever thI have a soft spot for historical females figures whom receive negative attention. Perhaps it is my feminist qualities coming out to play. Whatever the nature of my interest, I have read several books on Queen Isabella. Being that Alison Weir is one of my favorite authors, this was a double whammy for me.
With names running through my head (Piers Gaveston, the Despensers, Roger Mortimer), I began reading to a much detailed beginning of the book. In fact, at times it was too detailed and lost my attention. In the beginning, Weir stresses that that not too much is known about Isabella's early life so what does she really have to write about? Resources were limited. Weir goes on to descibe that Isabella's exact birth year is unknown but "Document X said this and Person Y said that, so her age must be Z...". It was a bit too much in the beginning. You know what I heard in my head? The Peanuts teacher, "Wa wa wa waa wa wa". Further, this over-detail was evident when describing state rooms and palaces. I understand setting the scene but excessive descriptions on the rooms and additions to castles and manors isn't necessary and loses my attention.
Despite the early over-detail, smaller storylines were mentioned which to some may be considered tangents but to me were interesting (such as the adultery of Isabella's sisters-in-law to her brothers and the rumors that Edward II was a changeling per John of Powderham). Do I smell tpoics for historical fiction books?
The first major revealing piece of information is the false cry of historian Agnes Strickland that Isabella began an affair with Mortimer in 1321. This is false because he clearly opposed the King and Despensers while Isabella supported her husband. This claim of Strickland's is based on the false date of Princess Joan's birth. What does all this mean? That Weir successfully debates claims made by comtemporary sources which added to the negative perceptions of Isabella. Weir disputes traditional claims against Isabella citing that certain accusations against her were never brought against her during her time and thus, were a creation of biographers and propagandists. These arguments of Weir's could have been slightly stronger but were still convincing.
What people need to understand about Isabella and her actions was that due to the Despensers, Isabella's incomes were drastically cut which is an insult to her royal person and even her household was cut back merely because of Hugh's thirst for power and fear that Isabella would join forces with her brother (King of France) against Edward II. She was treated like a mere pensioner and of course wasn't going to accept that! When she was sent to France (let us stress that since Edward was the initial securer of her passage); she wasn't alone. She was surrounded by disenfranchised English lords and exiles but she is made out to be singular in rebellion like it was a personal battle with Edward, her husband. Does anyone stop to think that Edward II was merely siding with the Despensers? It doesn't matter if he didn't thing Hugh was wrong or not, significant others would always pick the wife first. People may ill-conceive Isabella but truth be told, most of England supported her and when the King would order gates to be shut to her, cities would open them. Hers was a supported and bloodless coup, aside from the 6 deaths of Despenser and some of his followers. She was not as bloodthirsty as portrayed.
Weir also debunked rumors that Isabella fled to France with Roger Mortimer because there is no proof which asserts her having any relations with him until after December 1325, at which point they were both already in France individually. The books presents many letters in whole which add to the argumentative properties. Surprisingly, the book wasn't overly biased and allowed you to make your own mind up regarding whether Isabella was driven to actions or was an evil woman.
Method claims were also disputed that Edward II's murder from sources, dates, errors in continuity, etc. For example, if a plot was believed that he was suffocated and tortured, screaming; how could he scream in agony if chroniclers claim he was suffocated with heavy pillows? Plus, modern medicine says it would have taken 5 days for him to die under such duress versus immediately as claimed. Basically, Weir does a terrific job looking at the situation with a investigative eye versus just bias or rumor. She also mentioned the rumors that Edward II escaped and that Edward III later met with him.
Weir also detailed Lady Mortimer, daughter Eleanor who married Reginald II, and the creation of the Order of the Garter. These were interesting details that certainly deserve books of their own.
Overall, this was a terrific book which investigatively presents the truth behind Isabella and seeks to help rehabilitate her. It does take some time to pick up speed and at the end, you may find herself "done with it" but it is certainly a strong piece. Perhaps not as strong as Weir's "Lady in the Tower" or "Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder fo Lord Darnley" but still worth a read for royal history lovers. I think it could have been slightly stronger in Isabella's field though. Weir may have tried to too hard to be unbiased and thus lost some "oomph".
If you are seeking a historical fiction novel about the beautiful, artistic, and sometimes scandalous world of illuminators in the fourteenth centuryIf you are seeking a historical fiction novel about the beautiful, artistic, and sometimes scandalous world of illuminators in the fourteenth century with rich and vivid images…then, sadly, The Illuminator is NOT what you are looking for. I learned this the hard way.
The Illuminator introduces the story with a lovely text style which easy to understand and in-line with the historical period but the story somehow still seems subdued and restricted. This may be a result of the absent setting and background descriptions which tend to be the highlight of most other historical fiction novels. Plain and simply: something was missing. The events described are emotionless and bland. Brenda Rickman Vantrease describes these without much effort and uses prose which is “by the book” meaning: “this is how it SHOULD be written, so this is how I will write it” (appears to be her motto). This formula completely kills any opportunity for the book to be unique and creative on its own merit which is disappointing because the topic and plot garner interest.
None of the characters in The Illuminator are “sticky” enough to tie a close bond with the reader. Each (Finn, Finn’s daughter, Lady Kathryn) only follow their own pre-determined roles and character descriptions without stepping outside these boundaries. This causes the novel to be much too predictable with the story progression moving at a snail’s pace. One can read 30 pages and the same discussions are occurring amongst the characters with no event evolution.
The biggest downfall of the novel is the failure to encompass the heavy themes mentioned in the novel blurbs (heresy, courtly themes involving King Richard and John of Gaunt, impending church reformations, etc) to their full potential and instead focusing more on a soap opera of superficial and ego-centric subject matter involving the characters’ crossed-loves and bastard babies. The Illuminator is more of a historical romance, in that respect. So many other topics could have been explored, but sadly, Vantrease didn’t “give-in” to the rich imagery of the surrounding themes and historical times.
Bottom line: The Illuminator is not even really about illuminating or similar topics (such as the church—although it is does have a small part) and is more about the personal drama surrounding the illuminator’s (Finn) personal life. This novel is scan-worthy, at best.
Imagine yourself on a cross-country road trip picking up hitch-hikers at various stops. This adventure would involve danger, suspense, fear, and maybeImagine yourself on a cross-country road trip picking up hitch-hikers at various stops. This adventure would involve danger, suspense, fear, and maybe even growth (emotionally). Adapt this to the 14th century with wanderers on foot attempting to escape the pestilence and you have Karen Maitland’s “Company of Liars”.
Maitland’s novel is a juicy concoction of a medieval historical fiction novel mixed with spiritualism, magic, and mystery dumped into a pot of a fairy tale/fable core served to adults versus the Disney crowd (fear not: it is not a fantasy novel and more on the historical fiction end). “Company of Liars” transports the reader to a dark, rainy, medieval forest on foot with the many characters of the story despite if the sun is shining outside your own window. One can almost hear the thunder clap. “Company of Liars” has a simple plot (various travelers come together by twists of fate passing through England); and yet the novel is gripping and quite entertaining with strong visuals and emotional threads.
“Company of Liars” features a variety of characters (Camelot, Zophiel, Rodrigo, Jofre, Pleasance, Narigorm, Osmond, Adela, etc); each with his/her own personality and quirks. The characters feel real and accessible both in a medieval and modern sense. Maitland retains a level of history but with a readable prose and interpretation.
Undeniably, “Company of Liars” has a fairy tale foundation with recognizable elements (trolls, witches, wolves) but on an adult level (for example: robbers living under bridges that collect tolls --- clear a troll). Again though, don’t expect a fantasy novel as “Company of Liars” is certainly not that; but there are subtle hints of childhood tales from the dark side.
Despite some of these familiar undertones; Maitland’s text is not predictable or overly foreshadowed. Therein lays a healthy amount of drama with the need to know what happens next. However, there are some much too dramatized and unbelievable moments. These aren’t too excessive but when they are apparent, they sadly take a bit away from the story.
A major issue with “Company of Liars” is the unnatural ease with which the characters accept each other and their mysteries. Yes, there are arguments and disagreements but overall, the loyalties of the strangers to each other are a bit difficult to digest. On the other hand, this adds to the foggy, mysterious allure of “Company of Liars”.
Although minor, there are some errors with the text such as a character leaving the scene and then is said to have spoken but it was clearly meant to be another character. I am not sure if that made sense, but the point is that there are some errors which the editor appears to have missed.
Maitland’s strength of presenting the facts of medieval life in a subtle manner is quite evident in the novel. Readers learn about the time period in a natural and amusing way. Maitland obviously conducted research for “Company of Liars” instead of taking a pure fictional route.
Unfortunately, “Company of Liars” becomes tedious as the story progresses with the plot being repetitive. This is the premise of the tale and therefore must be accepted but readers searching for a more detailed and multidimensional narrative may find themselves to be disappointed.
The final chapters of “Company of Liars” are weak and a bit too far-fetched like a bad horror movie. This picks up again in the last chapter which reverts back to the fairy tale form and dives into the depths of the plot’s morals. However, this then again nose dives – big time—with the concluding lines which will literally have the reader let out a groan accompanied by a, “Come one!” to say the least. Basically, the ending is a let down and takes away from the novel drastically.
Although the conclusion may be unsavory; Maitland’s after word describing the historical merits and liberties of her novel plus a glossary of terms is well-received and notable.
“Company of Liars” is a unique fairy tale-esque novel which will satisfy both HF and medieval mystery readers (except for perhaps the ending). Although Maitland’s piece isn’t perfect, the story is compelling and certainly sweeps the reader away as all good books should do. “Company of Liars” is strongly recommended and much enjoyed. ...more
Most of us who read history or historical fiction set in Medieval (or even Tudor) England, can agree on one thing: we can’t understand the ways of lifMost of us who read history or historical fiction set in Medieval (or even Tudor) England, can agree on one thing: we can’t understand the ways of life “back then” properly because we tend to apply modern morals and standards to history. However, with the “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England”, readers can finally understand Medieval times. I guarantee you will never look at a history book the same again…
Divided into main sections such as the landscape, people, medieval character, what to eat/drink, etc; Ian Mortimer dives deep into medieval life. His depth of information is staggering (but never boring or overwhelming) and allows the reader to fully understand medieval life which extends beyond knights and jousts. Consider it a ‘Medieval Times 101’ crash course, as Mortimer focuses on the macro view of life versus individual kings or events (although he does touch upon specifics) as we are used to reading. Although academic in topic, Mortimer’s writing style is anything but; as it is easy to understand, descriptive, and witty.
The Time Traveler’s Guide cleared up so much information in my mind which has been swimming around from the countless history books I have figuratively consumed. The ranks of clergy, description of the privy seal (and other seals), and even “fun” factoids such as the inception of “acres”, the defining term “o’clock”, and even surnames (John Ilbertson used to be John, son of Ilbert) are included and explained in a clear and rational way. The reader truly feels like he or she is visiting the past (sort of like Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past), observing life and almost being apart of it. Mortimer is rich, colorful, and very informative. There ARE some moments of overwhelming presentations, but that is due to the lack of standardization in England during that time and not due to Mortimer’s writing style or expertise. My favorite realization? I FINALLY understood the differences between pennies, shillings, marks, and pounds. In the past, my eyes have always glazed over during money talks in other history books.
One qualm was the constant references to Chaucer and “The Canterbury Tales”. Although Mortimer used a medium amount of sources for the book; Chaucer is readily quoted and referred to. If Chaucer was a brand and this book was a TV show, it would scream, “product placement”. Also, the chapter regarding laws and court systems was confusing, but admittedly, I’m not even interested in those topics in modern times so perhaps it just wasn’t my cup of tea, personally.
Overall, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England is an absolutely terrific book: one of those works which you are sad to see end. The crux of it all is Mortimer’s passion for history. There is no escaping it and it bleeds through his work. More importantly, he views history in a different manner than the average person passing this ardor onto the reader, who will never view history or Medieval England the same again. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England should be used as the sourcebook for every subsequent medieval-themed historical fiction book, play, TV show, commercial, etc. Where was this book over 15 years ago when I was a school child partaking in our school’s “Medieval Faire”? Perhaps, I should travel back into that time... ...more
Could you imagine the news reports now-a-days if a rather well-connected/ well-known author disappeared without a trace? No will, no official death reCould you imagine the news reports now-a-days if a rather well-connected/ well-known author disappeared without a trace? No will, no official death report, nothing? That is exactly the mystery surrounding the death of Chaucer. Being a right-hand man to Richard II and opposed by Henry IV’s own right-hand man, Thomas Arundel, due to Chaucer’s reformist views; one can begin to speculate about his death. Accident? Illness? Murder? Allow Terry Jones et al and “Who Murdered Chaucer?” to investigate.
The conception of “Who Murdered Chaucer?” was the subsequent project of an academic research of a “coroner’s inquest” on Chaucer’s death amongst the authors. This led to the production of a book with research divided between the authors and compiled into a final novel.
Upon first glance, “Who Murdered Chaucer?” is eye-striking based on its glossy pages and colorful illumination-like illustrations. The text begins with a background look at Richard II’s court in a cultural and literary respect (Chaucer was a courtier and held positions under Richard). Although the book clearly has bias and pro-bias toward Richard II; the text does not focus on the reign politically (at least, not too much), and instead more on how Richard II embraced books, literature, poetry, letters, etc. This background is necessary to understand Chaucer’s role in court life. Thus, a well-detailed look into medieval and court life results.
Although not too difficult to read language-wise, Who Murdered Chaucer can become a bit dry and over-scholarly at points which can cause dissonance amongst some average readers. Furthermore, the flow is a bit choppy as it is noticeable that the book is a compilation of the various authors’ essays (and they all clearly have a different writing style). This also leads to the annoying habit of repetition in information-giving. Basically, the text can certainly be described as “heavy” and “lengthy” with much of the book focusing on Richard II and Henry IV rather than on Chaucer’s death. Although this is pleasing to the reader interested in Richard, it can be interpreted as off-course and slow to those who are more interested in Chaucer’s death. Simply put: depending on your interest, there are skimmable portions.
Despite this, the wealth of knowledge is impressive and annotated and provides a look into the realities behind Richard II and the Lancastrian propaganda which tried to deflate him. Who Murdered Chaucer provides a rather intimate look at the relationship between Richard II and Henry IV, the events leading up to Henry’s usurpation (and why Richard wasn’t as unpopular as we are meant to be believed), and Henry’s actions as Thomas Arundel’s puppet against Richard. Proof is offered that Henry didn’t have the support of the French to the extreme which are familiar with.
Terry Jones’s sections are most entertaining and well-written. It is obvious which are his due to his humor. The book would have been better, had it been wholly his. Sadly, it took about 200 pages before The Canterbury Tales and its implications (which possibly effects Chaucer’s disappearance) to be discussed. Although the tie-ins to Chaucer are thusly explored, they are somewhat far-fetched and merely are speculation. The conclusion of the text’s formal accusation is somewhat weak and predictable much, much earlier in the book.
Overall, Who Murdered Chaucer isn’t bad, but I did find myself often bored and wondering when the text would “get to the point”. The last 100 or so pages rush to emphasize the connection of events to Chaucer while not heavily convincing that he was murdered or was disposed of (although there is certainly a mystery surrounding his death which does raise debate). Simply, not an enthralling mystery-history book but well researched and scholarly....more
The drama of the Hundred Years War is not easily forgotten. Neither are the royal cast of characters from France’s mad King Charles VI, his wife and QThe drama of the Hundred Years War is not easily forgotten. Neither are the royal cast of characters from France’s mad King Charles VI, his wife and Queen Isabeau, his brother Louis, his nephew Charles d’ Orleans to England’s Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. These are just the beginning of the characters Hella Haasse brings to life in her novel, “In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages”.
It has been oft-noted in other reviews that Haasse’s almost 100-age prologue deters many readers from continuing onwards with the novel. Indeed, the prologue can feel slightly slow and somewhat tedious as it more so supplies background information (and often in an, “As you know, Bob”-style) than following a novel-like narrative with anything actually ‘happening’. Yet, those readers who enjoy historical fiction novels heavier on the history than the fiction (which I personally do); will find no issues with this prologue as it is vibrant, bright, and alive.
Once past the prologue, Haasse’s novel jumps off the pages even more and the pace picks up noticeably. Haasse’s prose is brilliant combining a beautiful, classical language with a literary tongue. The text is historically accurate and the imagery envelops the reader sweeping him/her away. “In a Dark Wood Wandering” pulls the reader so strongly that one oftentimes is shocked to realize that it is the modern times and not the setting of the novel. It is simply incredible how detailed and glowing Haasse’s writing is; making the novel feel like a first-hand account.
Each character within “In a Dark Wood Wandering” is unique, thorough, and well-developed; jumping out at the reader with individualistic viewpoints that are strong and memorable. Thus, the plot is well-fleshed out and allows the reader to feel that something extraordinary will happen and so it is a ‘must’ to read on.
The historical accuracy of the novel is high with the liberties taken making sense and being seemingly real. Haasse can not be accused of writing fluff. In fact, “In a Dark Wood Wandering” is slightly heavy; not necessarily making it suitable for everyone. Haasse’s passion and research shines through which may overwhelm some readers.
A striking feature of the novel is its blatant psychological pull. Haasse is symbolic, metaphorical, and thrilling in her presentation of life’s forces and emotions which entertain the reader but are also easily relatable. Therefore, “In a Dark Wood Wondering” informs of historical events but truly breaks down their possible causes and effects on a human-conscious level.
“In a Dark Wood Wandering” is truly remarkable in that it has many mini-climaxes versus just one. These arouse all the senses and heighten emotion in every way: one can almost hear the voices, feel the physical pulls, taste the flavors, etc. It is like watching a film and is so moving that a break from reading is required to take it all in (the novel doesn’t feature any chapters and is instead broken into sections).
Complaints toward Haasse and “In a Dark Wood Wandering” only begin to occur around the last 150 or so pages. The novel makes a noticeable weaker turn during Charles d’ Orleans’s exile in England with a slower pace and a somewhat scattered story. This is revived with small bursts of energy such as full quotes from actual poetry written by Orleans and letters dictated to him; and also by the almost psychological explanation of the appearance in history of Joan of Arc. Sadly though, “In a Dark Wood Wandering” weakens again during the last quarter of the novel which is very dragged out and somewhat eventless more in the ‘talking’ versus ‘happening’ stream of things.
The conclusion of “In a Dark Wood Wandering” is anticlimactic and even “cheesy” in an overly-spiritual way. Luckily, this doesn’t hinder the novel and neither does it make it not “worth it”. The novel is strong enough that a poor ending doesn’t take it down a dark path (no pun intended).
Haasse doesn’t include an author’s note explaining any historical liberties or any resources used which isn’t surprising as older HF novels did not tend do so. Despite this, “In a Dark Wood Wandering” encourages further reading and exploration of the characters presented: especially of Charles d’ Orleans whose personality and life sticks with the reader and begs to be further journeyed on.
Even in lieu of minor flaws; “In a Dark Wood Wandering” is an exquisite work of HF with a lively plot, depth, historical merit, and beautiful prose. It is simply wonderful and a terrific read. Haasse’s novel is recommended for all readers interested in this historic time frame and especially those who prefer a strong focus on history versus fictional fluff. ...more
Discovered in the history section of the library (and thinking it was a coffee table book); I unknowingly stumbled upon a YA history book by Ruth DeanDiscovered in the history section of the library (and thinking it was a coffee table book); I unknowingly stumbled upon a YA history book by Ruth Dean and Melissa Thomason entitled, “Women of the Middle Ages”. Alright, I thought; I’ll give it a chance anyway.
“Women of the Middle Ages” begins with an introductory overview of the Middle Ages in Europe (the coverage isn’t limited to English studies as most seem to be). The overview is brief, simplified, and written in a style best suited for a middle school-level individual. Even the annotations/quotes are that of a child writing a history report. Even more saddening are the authors’ habit of quoting the same (approximately) three historians throughout which provides a very confined scope of the information.
Another disappointment is that although Dean and Thomason provide a splendid amount of beautiful illustrations, they are in black and white which takes away from the impact they could have had.
On a more positive note, “Women of the Middle Ages” DOES dive into women’s studies and does so in an easy to understand and clear way beginning with the life of peasant wives and moving up the social ladder. Although none of the information is groundbreaking to those familiar to the topic; there are some very interesting coverage articles. It can be argued that the information is dated (as the book is published in 2003 and the sources used date to the late 90s); however, the information is such an overview that it is not negatively affected by the time stamps. Plus, “Women of the Middle Ages” is presented in a way which would certainly interest the target market (younger readers) and induce further reading on the Middle Ages versus bore and cause yawns.
Despite the juvenile-reading level, “Women of the Middle Ages” covers a large range of information including: everyday life, home life, professions, religion, marriages, administrative duties, myths, arts, etc. This is also accompanied with smaller highlights of both well-known figures (example: Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine), and of those whom a reader may not be familiar with (but should be). Again, Dean and Thomason encourage further exploring. Sadly, at times the information is repetitive.
Although “Women of the Middle Ages” reads like a children’s history book; it surprisingly is even-paced, entertaining, and crisp. Even as an adult reader with extensive material knowledge; I did not find myself bored. Thus, “Women of the Middle Ages” is a quick, well-witted book for younger readers as an introductory course to the time period. ...more