Karla's Reviews > Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
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Feb 08, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: historical-fiction, monarchs-plantagenets, did-not-finish
Recommended for: history geeks who wouldn't be caught dead reading about elves & goblins

There's probably a connection between why I read 3 Sharon Kay Penman books with such ease back in the early to mid 2000s and yet couldn't finish one in 2012. At the same time (ye olde 2000s) I was going through a high fantasy phase and huge doorstoppers with a cast of thousands riding around to villages and other countries talking about quests and prophecies, surrounded by a zillion details, fit in quite well with Penman's style of having a cast of thousands riding around to taverns and castles talking about battles and intrigues, surrounded by a zillion historical facts.

Except I no longer read high fantasy. I got tired of the bloated excess and almost OCDness of the author to leave no day unwritten about, no step of a journey unremarked upon, no situation or conversation that we couldn't hear about in at least two different scenes, etc. And now I've reached the same point with Penman. A brownie point to high fantasy, though, for actually having action scenes. Penman's are few and far between, and they don't really get the adrenaline pumping. She's more of a talky, expository novelist.

Penman even did the extra step of taking a historical drama with 100 real-life players and wedging in a couple fictional ones, Ranulf and Rhiannon, two people who have done little to enchance this story from the beginning (but have padded it unmercifully) and whose existence has always confused me. What was the point of them? Honestly.

Her research is impeccable, but this time around I found it absurdly intrusive into the dramatic aspect of the story. Momentum would come to a grinding halt as a laundry list of sieges was trotted out in dialogue or blood ties that the people in conversation would know about were recited again and again. And why go through the trouble of having people in a scene who say nothing? So what if they were probably there in real-life because of their station/relation/whatever. It's extraneous and should be looked at with an editor's detached eye.

In short, I thought she needed to find a better balance between the historical and the fictional. There were many parts in the 185 pages I read that felt like they were lifted from history books with dialogue sprinkled in. It's the same carp I have about the driest and blandest of Jean Plaidy's novels. Biographies with dialogue.

I'm really grateful to a reviewer for one of her other books who notes that Penman's scene structure has a format: People are standing around talking about the current political situation, then someone rushes in to give news about a far-off battle or siege or other turn of events. Then everyone either rushes off or sticks around to contemplate the ramifications of these new developments. Once I was clued in to that, it was obvious that it happens a LOT and finally let me put my finger on why there was a sameness about everything, no matter how far I read. The pacing wasn't stagnant or moribund, but it wasn't exactly kicking either. So thank you, Reviewer!

I'll also add that she has a motif of having her male characters wrap or lay their lovers' hair around their throat while lolling about in post-coital delight. That's been in every Penman I've read and I always thought it sounded a little weird, as well as repetitious. So many Plantagenet men have the same quirky little bed habits, spanning centuries! Bizarre! Or one might conclude the author merely has little imagination when it comes to the sex lives of these real people.

Anyway, there had to be a reason why, despite thinking her books were great back then, whenever I grabbed a chunkster off my shelf to read these past 6 years, it wasn't ever one of hers. My subconscious was trying to tell me something, and I'm glad I've realized what it probably was. My tastes have changed so that I appreciate dramatic license and the condensing and tweaking of fact into a narrative that flows better. She's a stolid and "safe" writer. No historical boats will get rocked in her vicinity, and you're guaranteed of every i and t getting their dots and crosses. But this time around I found her style decidedly lacking in snap and dramatic primacy, and I put more importance on that than if Character A was in the historically correct place at the historically correct time.

This was the one book in the trilogy that I really wanted to read, dating back to those ye olde early 2000s, but by the time this was finally published, I'm afraid that my tastes had already outgrown Penman's stodgy stylings. So I'll content myself with another re-watch of The Lion in Winter.

And a big sloppy kiss to the hack-n-slash movie Ironclad for making me so impatient with the non-action in this book that I decided to bail and save my time and sanity. Smooches!
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Reading Progress

02/06/2012 page 34
5.0% "Operation Get Some Friggin' Chunksters Off My Shelf & Out Of The House commences..." 12 comments
02/06/2012 page 50
7.0% "Anytime you want to shift the story into a higher gear, Sharon..." 3 comments
02/07/2012 page 132
17.0% "I don't know if it's Penman's flat writing or if I'm sick of these Plantagenets. Probably 2/3 of one and 1/3 of the other. Wish she'd gotten to this portion of the story sooner and hadn't dragged it out over 3 books. Now that I'm finally here, I'm bored." 8 comments
02/07/2012 page 143
19.0% "And now for today's episode of "As You Know, Bob"...

02/07/2012 page 175
23.0% "I don't think I did myself any favors by watching "Ironclad." Now I want to see people get their medieval asses kicked with lots of bloodspray. I think this is the wrong book for that. :P"

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Kerrie (new) - added it

Kerrie I'll still give these a shot... :P

I saw that reviewer's observation about the sameness of scenes while I was reading WCaHSS, and yeah, it did start standing out, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book considering the Maud/Stephen episode wasn't something I knew much about. However being way more familiar with the Henry/Eleanor period of history, I'll no doubt feel boredom too.

I guess for some interesting Plantagenet scenes/dialogue I should tackle this one instead? :D
The Rain Maiden by Jill M. Phillips

Karla That one will definitely not make you bored. :D

Christ/Saints tended to slow down more once Henry & Eleanor showed up. Yeah, it was a case of already knowing the history so seeing it lightly dramatized like that was more dull than not.

message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Yeah, I'm curious about that Rain Maiden book as well. :D You think I'd like? My historical knowledge of that period is gaping at best, so I wouldn't be concerned with accuracy. Heh.

Karla If you don't mind taboo-ridden trash, it's great! I loved it and it's never leaving my keeper shelf. Evar.

message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I got on waitlist at PBS. :D Only 3 people in front of me, bwaha.

message 6: by Karla (last edited Feb 08, 2012 04:31PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Karla If you haven't ever seen The Lion in Winter (O'Toole/Hepburn version), I suggest watching that before you read it. The James Goldman version of this family greatly enhances the way Phillips writes them. :D

ETA: Heh, upon re-reading my review for The Rain Maiden I think I made some unconscious pointed digs at styles like Penman's. Whoops. Guess this was simmering for some time. :P Or maybe I was then-annoyed by nitpicky historical fact bean counters. I've really evolved into a "Who gives a shit about 100% accuracy? Entertain me, dammit!" type of reader. If I want to get an in-depth history lesson, I'll go to Wiki and vanish into the library stacks.

message 7: by Kellyann (new)

Kellyann Thank you for confirming what I have always suspected about those novels. Now I will never again feel tempted to take one off the library shelves.

Karla I'm now in the miniscule minority regarding this author (trying to find critical reviews is only slightly easier than finding unicorns), but I'm glad my gripes might have helped you make a decision.

I had several of her books hanging around way too long, even after I started having a re-think about my initial reaction to her writing way back when. This one pushed me to make the final choice of getting rid of the shelf hogs. :P Life's too short for ponderous doorstoppers.

message 9: by Kellyann (new)

Kellyann "Life's too short for ponderous doorstoppers."


message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "I'm now in the miniscule minority regarding this author (trying to find critical reviews is only slightly easier than finding unicorns)"

I noticed that when I clicked on the full info page. o_O Yikes.

message 11: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Walton Grant Reviews like this one remind me how seriously smart you are. :)

Karla Tammy wrote: "Reviews like this one remind me how seriously smart you are. :)"

Well that's very nice of you to say. :D

message 13: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Walton Grant Now, go read something trashy. ;D

Karla How's this?

Fires of Winter (Viking #1) by Johanna Lindsey

I'm hoping to get my Viking pervyness on, even if it is Johanna Lindsey. :D

Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~* How about Ravished by a Viking by Delilah Devlinor Master My Viking by Angel Lynnshould be on kindle..looks good and pervy to me:D

Karla I think I have the first one, but I'll check out the 2nd one. I'll read any Viking book as long as it's NOT Sandra Hill.

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