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mogdred
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      18.01.2011 21:45
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      A novel about a struggling French colony in America

      "Savage Lands" by Clare Clark is set in Louisiana in 1704 and follows the precarious fate of the French colony in the New World. The French are holding onto their new territory by their fingertips as they are weakened by disease, lack of supplies and hostile nations on all sides.

      As readers, we enter the new colony with a group of young women sent from France, intended to be brides for the settlers there. The young women have no idea what to expect from their new environment or the men they are supposed to marry but are certainly shocked when they arrive in the struggling settlement of Mobile.

      One of these prospective brides is Elisabeth Savaret, who is one of two protagonists of the book, but probably the most central one. Elisabeth is shown to be different from the other women from the start and holds herself aloof from them. She is often described as brave and independent which is what draws her future husband to her.

      Elisabeth marries Jean-Claude Babelon, a soldier, but we are never really sure how they come to be married. Elisabeth does think back to first seeing and meeting him but it's all brushed over very quickly which is a bit strange. Elisabeth is shown to be infatuated with her husband and subjugates herself to him completely. Babelon is a selfish man who is out for himself and in his role as a soldier he moves throughout the colony wheeling and dealing with the friendly Indian tribes.

      Clark also introduces us to Auguste, a ship's boy who has come over to the New World in search of opportunity. Auguste is left by the governor of the colony among a local tribe of Indians in order for him to watch them and learn their language. Auguste too, is a character who holds himself apart from others and so is vulnerable to Babelon's charm when he visits the camp.

      Clark follows Babelon through the eyes of the two people who love him - Elisabeth and Auguste, until his selfishness causes disaster. Although Elisabeth is shown to be an intelligent woman she never seems to see the type of man that her husband is and does terrible things to keep him happy.

      I found this a difficult book to read as it just didn't draw me in. The synopsis sounded very interesting and the description was often well written but there seemed to be a vacuum at the centre of the book. Although Elisabeth is the main character I never really felt as a reader that I understood her or any of her actions. She was often an unlikeable character and although she suffered terribly it was hard to have any sympathy for her.

      I did like Auguste a bit more, as his terrible loneliness and feeling of being different as a child was well written. He was a much more sympathetic character than Elisabeth and his motivations seemed a bit clearer than Elisabeth's where Babelon was concerned - although he loved him, he also saw him as he was.

      Central events in the book were often swept over and remained vague until a brief recollection from a character would recall it some time later. I found this quite difficult and found that the novel struggled to retain my interest. Clark did recount some of the difficulties of the small colony and their struggle for survival but much of the dialogue between the French women was them moaning and making digs at Elisabeth which soon got boring.

      The larger events happening around the colony were referred to now and again, as the English tried to bribe the Indian tribes friendly with the French to become their allies instead. However, not much timFe was spent on these instances and they were merely used by Clark as catalysts to move forward the awkward Elisabeth/Babelon/Auguste trinity amongst their fellow colonists.

      The novel is split into two parts - before and after - but the pace of the novel doesn't pick up in the second part and I found my old frustrations coming back again. Even with a new character, the same vagueness was evident (aaargh!) and we were soon back to Elisabeth and Auguste. I was really forcing myself to finish the book by this point as I thoroughly disliked the way it was written and still disliked the main character Elisabeth.

      I wouldn't recommend this book as I found it so frustrating to read, it was well written but in a way I disliked immensely and couldn't get to grips with. The story seemed quite vague and didn't draw me in or keep me interested. The characters seemed very distant most of the time, if not downright unlikeable. There was no real look at the wider picture, just parts of the lives of the colonists and not even very interesting parts!

      In short, the novel doesn't live up to its promise for me, which is a shame as I think it could have been an interesting read in many respects.

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      05.12.2010 19:57
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      A book about the history of a book

      I picked up "People of the Book" in the library after reading and enjoying Brooks' previous novel "March". I wasn't overly hopeful when I saw the cover of the book as it looked a bit girly, however the synopsis sounded interesting.

      "People of the Book" follows a book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah on its journey through the ages - why it was made and by whom, and how it survived when many of its protectors did not. This journey starts at its end however and works its way back to the creation of the haggadah in Moorish Spain in the 15th century.

      The novel was written in 2008 and is classed as historical fiction although the Sarajevo Haggadah is a real book and is one of the oldest surviving illuminated Jewish texts. Brooks has taken this important text and created a fictional past for it, showing the many conflicts it managed to survive, almost miraculously.

      Brooks' protagonist is Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator who is given the opportunity to restore the haggadah in Sarajevo in 1996. The book has just come to light again after being saved from the bombardment of Sarajevo by a Muslim librarian. As Hanna works on the book she finds several clues as to where it may have been throughout its existence, such as an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals and a small white hair.

      The novel intertwines Hanna's life and her work tracing these clues with the real history of the book. In this way Brooks moves from Sarajevo in WWII to 19th Century Austria to the Inquisition in Venice and its ghetto in the 17th Century to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the 15th Century and finally to the book's creation in Moorish Spain. The intertwining of these interesting episodes with Hanna's modern day search for answers - both in her life and her work - mean that the novel stays varied and absorbing.

      Hanna herself never discovers the full history of the haggadah but her small discoveries are more realistic anyway. In her search for answers in her professional life she also comes across answers in her personal life which begin to change her.

      Hanna can come across as a bit irritating and self-absorbed but otherwise is a likeable enough protagonist. The difficult relationship with her mother is well portrayed, although her mother does seem to be a bit of a pantomime villain after a while.

      Again, I didn't enjoy the romance element and didn't really see a need for it. Ozren, the Muslim librarian who saved the haggadah most recently is mostly used as a vehicle by Brooks to show the suffering of the Bosnian Muslims and Sarajevo as a whole and the romance just seemed unlikely at best.

      I found the explanations of the processes and methods Hanna uses to restore the book quite interesting. Brooks has explained book restoration/conserving in a way that is easy to understand and without being dull.

      I thought that the last part of the book involving Hanna was a bit ridiculous and again, not really necessary as my main interest was in the book's past and origins. Hanna's storyline does seem a bit surplus to requirements at times and in the main just acts as a unifying force, tying the different episodes of the haggadah together in a small way.

      I enjoyed the strong historical element to this novel and Brooks' obvious devotion to the subject is shown through her thorough research of each time period. I would recommend this book if historical fiction is something you enjoy as it also gives a broad overview of Jewish persecution through the ages.

      This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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        03.10.2010 22:47
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        An interesting, if cliched, alternative history.

        "One Thousand White Women" by Jim Fergus was a book I picked up on one of my many visits to the library. I found the title intriguing but was a bit put off by the pastel front cover which made it look a bit like a mawkish romance set amongst the American Indians.

        However, I thought that the premise sounded interesting, a story about white women going into the Wild West of America in 1875 as part of a government scheme named "Brides for Indians"- which was a measure proposed by the Cheyenne Indians as a way of melding their two cultures.

        Now, the blurb explains that this is based on an actual historical event but is told through fictional diaries. I found this a bit ambiguous and wasn't sure what the actual historical event that the book was based on actually was. For a while I was ambling through the book wondering how I had never heard about the American government secretly sending white women out to marry Indians in order to pacify them!

        Obviously this is the fictional part and the actual historical event was the proposal that Chief Little Wolf of the Cheyenne tribe made to President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874 - that the American government exchange one thousand white women for one thousand horses in order for the two cultures to begin to understand each other and begin to co-exist peacefully. This scene was played out in the prologue of the book, so maybe I wasn't paying sufficient attention to realise that this was the historical event - even though it was also the title of the book! (I think I was a bit slow on the uptake there!).

        So, the story is told through the letters and diary entries of the central character, May Dodd, and follows her adventures with her fellow "Indian Brides" as they travel to their future husbands and their lives within the tribe.

        The women involved in the programme have signed up for various reasons - May signs up for the "Indian Brides" programme as a way of escaping her unfair incarceration in a mental asylum. Now, the attitude with which May writes is just not very authentic for a 19th century woman and the behaviour which led to her incarceration is equally ridiculous for a woman of her time and class. May tells us that she has been well brought up in a rich middle-class family in Chicago and has been relegated to the asylum by her family due to what they term her promiscuity.

        Fergus has his main character asserting her passionate nature and that she felt no need for marriage even when she bore two children to a man of lower class. He portrays her as independent, wilful and unmindful of society - all of which is very admirable but not very realistic for a rich middle-class girl in 19th century America. May's method of ensuring she is accepted for the programme is equally unrealistic in my opinion. Of course, this book is an alternative history so of course some parts are going to be less realistic but for the main character to be so out of place for her time is a bit much.

        However, Fergus does do a good job of describing the mindless horrors and indeed torture of the women deemed insane and left to rot in mental asylums in the 19th century - usually by their own families.

        The other "Indian Brides" are portrayed as fleeing jail, loss of money and social standing, no prospects of marriage and there is even an ex-slave thrown in for good measure. The characters of the other brides are lively and interesting (although sometimes clichéd) and allow Fergus to show the strata of American society. I did enjoy May's interaction with the other women, particularly once they were immersed in the completely alien Native American way of life.

        May has two love interests in the book - the army Captain who escorts the brides to the fort where they will be exchanged and her Indian husband. The romance between May and the Captain is quite cringe worthy and it's all very predictable. May's relationship with her Indian husband, Little Wolf, is more interesting as we are exploring the Cheyenne way of life through their marriage. May of course cannot speak Cheyenne and the ways in which the women learn to communicate with their husbands and the rest of the tribe are quite intriguing.

        The character of May is where this book came a bit unstuck for me - the idea is very interesting and the Native American way of life that is described is well researched - but May is a bit trite and not very realistic. This wasn't ideal as she was the narrator of much of the story. The romantic elements were also not particularly well written and just felt a bit embarrassing at times.

        I did enjoy this book for the insight into the way the Cheyenne people lived and the horrific way in which the white Americans exploited and then annihilated the Native American way of life. This is a subject that I've found an increasing interest in and I did enjoy the more historical parts of the book for this reason. Fergus does try to balance the book by showing the atrocities that the Cheyennes themselves are willing to commit against other tribes.

        Overall I did enjoy this book and kept reading to find out what would happen to May and her fellow brides, already knowing, of course, how disastrously it all turned out for the Native Americans in the end. It has encouraged me to look into the history of that era as it was well researched in that respect.

        I would recommend this as a good read but only if May's strange out-of-place character won't annoy you and you are prepared for the romance element.

        This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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          20.08.2010 21:10
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          Ancient myths and legends are brought back to life in modern Britain

          "The Age of Misrule" is a modern fantasy series set in Britain, written by Mark Chadbourn. Chadbourn has subsequently written various other series' based on the same world as that established in "The Age of Misrule" but with a variety of different characters. Apparently these series' do link back to the characters in "The Age of Misrule" but are not a direct follow-on to it.

          "The Age of Misrule" is in fact an omnibus of three novels which make up a trilogy; "World's End", "Darkest Hour" and "Always Forever". I didn't realise this when I picked the book up but it did explain why the book was so thick!

          The trilogy begins with "World's End" which opens onto a modern day Britain where nothing is out of the ordinary. However, technology begins to fail and the old Gods of Celtic mythology are returning to Britain, bringing with them such creatures as dragons and various other mythical beasts.

          Throughout the tumult and disbelief we are slowly introduced to the protagonists of the trilogy - the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons. The first Brother and Sister we meet are Jack Churchill (known as Church for most of the series) and Ruth Gallagher, two strangers who witness a bizarre murder and inexplicably black out.

          "World's End" follows their progress as they try to discover what happened and what it means. They are soon joined by Tom, a mysterious man who claims to know what is going on but always tells them less than he knows...

          They soon discover that the rules of the modern day world don't apply and that magic is real. Earth is the battlefield between two powerful races - the Formorii and the Tuatha de Danaan, the Dark and the Light - the basis of myths and folklore. The Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are needed to save humanity from the threat they present.

          Church and Ruth soon come across the other Brothers and Sisters of Dragons - Laura DuSantiago, Shavi and Ryan Veitch. They are a group of strangers confronted by circumstances that they find difficult to believe and are told that they have to find the ancient treasures of Britain in order to have a chance of saving their world.

          The second book in the series, "Darkest Hour" carries on from "World's End" with the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons carrying on their fight for the survival of humanity. The loss of technology is becoming more and more apparent and Chadbourn shows the effects of this on Britain as the group travel around. The group frequently stop at villages/towns and save them or solve a problem for them. In this respect the series can seem a bit formulaic - they always have a main goal but carry out minor tasks along the way whilst growing into their own potential.

          One thing that I found by the second book was the fact that Chadbourn really seems to like the word "gorge" - I don't know how many times the characters "felt their gorge rise" in the first book ( a lot!) but it was still happening in the second. I was getting really sick of it by then myself!

          The ending of "Darkest Hour" was pretty good as Chadbourn kept it tense and as a reader you're not sure how he is going to achieve an ending where everyone survives - and this is not to say that everyone does...


          The third and final book in the series is "Always Forever" and it ties up the trilogy pretty tidily by answering many questions which were posed throughout the series. The Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are preparing for the final battle to stop the Formorii but all of them are needed and some are missing. Again the group need to journey to find the things they need/allies in order to defeat humanity's enemies. I did enjoy this book and thought it was actually the strongest of the trilogy as as a reader I knew all of the background and had some long-standing questions answered.

          The ending of "Always Forever" did feel a bit predictable in some ways but in others it was quite inventive. I liked what Chadbourn did with Church at the very end and it explained quite a few things in a nice way.

          The action is pretty much non-stop throughout the trilogy as the group travel up and down Britain, searching for the objects they need. The protagonists are introduced to many myths and legends by Tom, who explains the significance of the stories and acts as a teacher to them. I found the storylines quite interesting and in that respect it was engaging as I enjoyed learning about the different aspects of the myths and legends of Britain and the significance of different sites.

          Chadbourn takes the group all over Britain and also to the Otherworld, known in the myths as Fairyland. The Otherworld is the home of the Tuatha de Danaan and is a mysterious and dangerous place where very different rules apply. The characters have various meetings with friendly and unfriendly gods and various other creatures.

          The characters themselves were quite well drawn but the group dynamics were quite irritating. Church is set up as the group leader and both women want to be with him, whilst the other men respect him. It does seem to be a bit nauseating to be honest as he is presented as being so wonderful. The set-up and dragging on of the will they/won't they, who will sleep with who in the group was getting a bit annoying by the final book.

          Church is generally moody and withdrawn due to grief whilst Ruth is a pragmatic solicitor who begins to blossom within the new world. Laura is presented as a spiky and unlikeable character who has been emotionally damaged and Shavi is presented as her opposite, very likeable, open and friendly with everyone. Ryan is the outsider of the group, brought up in a rough London family and previously living a criminal life but with yearnings to be a better person.

          Tom is frequently mistrusted by the group but he is the only one who has any idea of what is going on and so they have to rely on him. Chadbourn does build on Tom's character and he becomes more sympathetic as the series continues.

          I did enjoy this series but felt that reading it as an omnibus was probably not the best way to approach it. Reading each book one after another meant that they merged together a bit and all felt quite similar. The series also felt quite formulaic in the main quest storyline, the group splitting up into various smaller groups and carrying out minor tasks rescuing people/villages etc. I think the books would have felt formulaic due to this even if I had read them with a longer time period between each book.

          However, the main premise of the series was very different and I enjoyed reading about the myths and legends of Britain. Chadbourn's tendency to have the group running all over Britain was quite good as they were never in one set place which kept it interesting. I did have some niggles with the characters as they could be irritating as a group but overall I enjoyed this omnibus. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy but is also interested in myths and legends.

          This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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            27.06.2010 19:00
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            A very different take on the Merlin myth

            "Celtika" is the first book in a trilogy named the Merlin Codex by Robert Holdstock. Holdstock received three BSFA awards (British Science Fiction Association) and won the World Fantasy Award for the best novel in 1985. He died in 2009 and the Merlin Codex was written from 2001 - 2007.

            I didn't recognise the author's name when I picked this book up from the library and only picked it up as I'm interested in books about the Merlin and/or Arthur myths. I was quite perturbed when I read the blurb on the back of the book as the story involves Jason and the Argonauts. Thinking that this was pretty odd I decided to read the book and see how the author managed to link Merlin to the mythical Ancient Greek heroes.

            Merlin, of course, is the protagonist in this odd story, which begins with him setting out to raise Jason and the Argo from the Screaming Lake in Northern Europe. Merlin believes that the murder of Jason's sons by their mother, Medea, was an enchantment and wants to raise Jason from his almost-death in order for him to find them. These details aren't a spoiler as they are all found in the blurb. When he has raised Jason, they begin to find new Argonauts to help sail the ship and search for Jason's sons.

            Holdstock presents Merlin as being immortal and therefore present on the first journey of the Argo with Jason - the quest for the Golden fleece. The time in which Merlin raises Jason again is several hundred years later and they are joined by various men from different tribes and countries looking to get home from the dark North. The various Argonauts all have their own stories and the Argo sails in pursuit of them.

            I found this a very odd book and quite difficult to get into - it wasn't an easy read. The link between Merlin and Jason was a bit too tenuous for me and not very gripping. Merlin is somewhat of a cold and selfish character who often refuses to use his magic to aid others. His magic is described as "charm" which is carved into his bones and using it ages him.

            Holdstock uses myths and legends from Northern Europe, the Celts and Ancient Greece and it all feels a bit mish-mash and odd. It was quite interesting in some parts but as a whole I wasn't convinced by it. The character of Jason is quite arrogant and not very likeable as he is so obsessive. I felt that there were too many characters and too much going on at some points, plus some of the names were difficult or too similar and it was often hard to keep track of characters.

            I did enjoy the storyline following Urtha and the hint that he is linked to Arthur, who is still to come. The character of Niiv, the shaman woman from the North who follows Merlin is quite irritating and I didn't really enjoy reading about her.

            I'm actually finding it quite difficult to explain this book as it was so strange and difficult for me to read. On the strength of this book I certainly wouldn't be rushing out to read the second book in the trilogy. I just didn't enjoy reading this and although parts were interesting, the idea of the story seemed to be more interesting than the novel actually was.

            From reading some reviews on Amazon, fans of Holdstock seem to be recommending that you read his earlier work before attempting "Celtika" as it links to his previous books in some ways. I can't comment on that though as I've never read anything by Holstock before.

            In short, I wouldn't recommend this book as it didn't draw me in and I found it a difficult read. It was interesting but not interesting enough to entice me to read the full trilogy.

            This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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              08.06.2010 13:16
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              An enjoyable fantasy by the author of "The Dresden Files"

              "Furies of Calderon" is the first book in The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher and is a fantasy novel set in the land of Alera. The Codex Alera series totals six books in all. I picked up this book as I had read "The Dresden Files" series also by Jim Butcher and had really enjoyed them. "Furies of Calderon" is more traditional fantasy as it is set in another world but, like "The Dresden Files" is very easy to read and become immersed in.

              The book begins with a short prologue which introduces a young man named Tavi and also with a piece of writing by the First Lord of Alera. The story then continues with a young woman, Amara, travelling with her instructor in order to spy on enemies of the Crown.

              We learn that the people of Alera have strange powers - referred to as "furies" - these powers allow them to control certain elements, i.e. earth, water, fire and air. The furies also seem to be individuals, named by the people who control them and appear to be bonded to them. Each fury will do as its person bids it and each element has particular talents.

              Tavi, one of the protagonists, is unique in Alera in that he does not possess a fury of his own. He is looked down upon as simple due to this lack and is not taken seriously by the people although his uncle is their steadholder (basically the local landowner).

              The land of Alera is threatened by traitors to the First Lord (Amara's storyline) and the help they have provided to the Marat (an ancient enemy of the Alerans) in order for them to invade and cause confusion. Tavi becomes caught up in this by accident and soon after meets Amara.

              This book was a little confusing at first as there is no explanation of what "furies" are and you are left to figure it out as you read on. There are also no maps of Alera provided and there is no real explanation of where the story is set. However these setbacks aren't too major and you soon get involved in the story.

              Butcher's characters are generally interesting and Tavi as the main protagonist is shown to be clever and resourceful even without a fury to help him. The people of Alera are shown to be somewhat lazy and complacent and rely on their furies a great deal. Tavi is regarded as handicapped without one and has to work twice as hard as others to be accepted.

              Amara is shown to be brave and loyal to the First Lord but also quite impulsive and often throws herself into danger. Several other characters are introduced - Tavi's aunt and uncle (brother and sister); the band of villains that Amara is tracking and several of the Marat - the ancient enemy of the Alerans. Some of the characters and plot developments are a bit predictable but are still enjoyable.

              Butcher has a habit of jumping from character to character and place to place in order to keep the action going and the suspense up. This can be a bit annoying when you're enjoying a particular storyline but overall it does keep the plot interesting.

              I enjoyed this book for what it was - an enjoyable fantasy romp that wasn't terribly taxing to my brain. If you enjoy a bit of light fantasy that is easy to read I would recommend having a look at this series.

              This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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              21.05.2010 16:35
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              A book about a cursed book...

              I picked up "The End of Mr Y" by Scarlett Thomas in the library as it looked interesting - the pages are black edged and the cover is red and almost occult in appearance. I really should learn my lesson about books and their covers....


              "The End of Mr Y" is another novel about a cursed book. The main character is Ariel Manto, a PhD student who is researching thought experiments in the nineteenth century. Ariel was drawn into this area of study through her interest in an obscure Victorian scientist/novelist, Thomas Lumas. "The End of Mr Y" was the last book written by Lumas - it is very rare - and rumoured to be cursed. Ariel is shocked when she finds this extremely rare book in a second hand book shop and buys it (cheaply) on the spot.


              Ariel's purchase of the book leads to things she never would have imagined and may also explain the mysterious disappearance of her PhD supervisor, Professor Burlem, whom she believed had also seen a copy of "The End of Mr Y".


              I found this a strange book in many respects but especially in the ease of reading it at some points and the difficulty at others. Thomas writes from Ariel's point of view with ease and it is easy to slip into Ariel's world from the beginning of the book. However, although the main plot - the rare book and its mysterious curse - is interesting, the author likes to go off on tangents. The plot therefore seems a bit jerky as the main action stops and starts continually.

              Thomas often has Ariel go off and do other things that appear to be random and don't really contribute to the plot. I think these small episodes - usually sexual- are an attempt to explain Ariel's behaviour and her low self-worth etc. I did find Ariel a strange main character though, as we don't really know much about her, other than what is revealed in her inner monologue. It is hinted that her second name is fictitious and that she "re-invented" herself. According to Wikipedia, Ariel Manto is an anagram of "I am not real".


              The main problem for me was the sheer intellectual slant of the book. The author has Ariel debate about philosophy, physics, the Big Bang, theology and numerous other difficult subjects with other characters. I found a lot of it mind boggling as she goes into a lot of detail and it was hurting my brain a bit I'm ashamed to say! I was enjoying the escapism and surreal quality to the main plot only to be brought up short by the complexity of the debates and explanations Thomas has her character expound.

              When these episodes appeared I just found myself wanting to get back to the main plot and the action rather than the complicated debates. I thought that these parts of the book detracted from the excitement and also stopped Thomas from exploring the other characters much.

              I did enjoy the main plot and the inclusion of chapters from "The End of Mr Y" itself as Ariel was reading it was also a nice touch. Overall I did enjoy this book but felt that the intellectual conversations and debates - although interesting to some extent - were just too heavy and involved for the story as a whole.

              I would recommend this book if you're prepared for the heavier intellectual elements - which I wasn't - and can cope with the main plot stopping and starting a lot. The main idea behind the book is very interesting in itself and I would have liked there to have been more focus on the main plot rather than the intellectual explanations.

              This review is also posted on ciao.co.uk under my username.

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                09.04.2010 19:33
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                Stay away!

                I should have known by the front cover of this book to avoid it at all costs as it was a bit too pink and girly. However despite my instincts I picked this book up as it was billed as a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" by Austen. "The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet" looked interesting as it was based on the characters from "Pride and Prejudice" twenty years on.

                Mary Bennet, as the plain and unmarried Bennet sister has been left to care for Mrs Bennet in her old age and is only freed from her duty by her mother's death. The book is based on what Mary decides to do with her "freedom" afterwards. McCullough presents Mary as plain-speaking and deaf to social niceties - she says what she thinks. Mary is also presented as being pretty in this book as her bad tooth and bad skin have been fixed. She doesn't even sing badly anymore because her nephew told her how awful she was. Basically she is not the original Mary Bennet from "Pride and Prejudice"!

                Elizabeth and Darcy are trapped in a loveless marriage; Jane and Bingley are still happy although Bingley has a mistress(!); Lydia is an embarrassment to them all and Kitty made a good marriage and is now a fashionable widow. The only parts of the characters that are recognisable are their names - McCullough has totally rewritten them and not well either.

                I found this book easy enough to read but the plot was fairly ridiculous and not enjoyable at all. Darcy has turned into an ogre who controls everyone's lives, especially the Bennet sisters, and seems to have reverted to the character he was at the start of "Pride and Prejudice", only less well written.

                Mary has suddenly become socially conscious and intelligent as well as pretty and not only that but she is a feminist too. McCullough has Mary behaving totally unrealistically for her time and situation by defying her rich brother-in-law and doing as she pleases. She lives without a female chaperone and travels about on her own apparently heedless of society and her own reputation.

                The other characters don't fare much better I'm afraid and the plot becomes more and more ridiculous with every chapter. The ending is total rubbish and evil ogre Darcy - sorry- Fitz, as McCullough has all the characters refer to him - suddenly becomes loving and warm. He performs an about-face and blames his earlier behaviour on a bad childhood - the side plot about Darcy's father is pretty funny as it's totally unbelievable. McCullough also has the same side plot involving the secret of the closeness between Darcy and another character she introduces, Ned. Well, I'm afraid it's a secret that's not a secret at all and was very easy to work out.

                I think that McCullough was trying to reinforce the fact that society was patriarchal and that Darcy would have taken over his wife and her sister's lives after the death of their father. It just wasn't well written or even thought out though. Even the happy ending is rubbish!

                The villains in the book are even worse - especially the highwayman named Captain Thunder - yes really. The main villain involving Mary is just really dull!

                It's just a totally unrealistic book and I can't really convey in a review how awful it was - the characters, plot and dialogue were all shaky at best. Any fan of the original "Pride and Prejudice" would be sorely disappointed in reading this "sequel".

                My advice would be to avoid this book at all costs - even taking the "Pride and Prejudice" element out of the equation, the plot is still terrible and the book is not well written at all. It's basically a bodice ripper disguised as a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" and not even a good bodice ripper at that!

                This review is also on ciao.co.uk under my username.

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                  31.03.2010 11:36
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                  A story about a homosexual, aristocratic soldier in 18th Century England

                  Lord John Grey is apparently a minor character who appears in Diana Gabaldon's more famous "Outlander" series. I haven't read this series and so had no idea what her work would be like or what to expect from the title character of this book, Lord John.

                  This book is set in 1758 and follows Lord John's adventures in both his private and public life. Lord John is the younger son of a Duke and is a Major in a regiment set up and run by his older brother, Hal. We follow Lord John as he tries to discover what happened to cause his father's scandalous death 17 years previously and as he fights in the Seven Years War in Prussia. The family scandal is re-awakened by his mother's decision to remarry after many years as a widow.

                  Lord John also has a dangerous personal secret - he is a homosexual in a society which abhors them as abominations and sodomy is a crime which can lead to capital punishment. Lord John nevertheless pursues a dangerous relationship with a young man he has just met and harbours deep - and unfulfilled - feelings for Jamie Fraser (of the Outlander series). Jamie Fraser is a minor character in this novel and only appears twice, although Lord John thinks of him often.

                  I found that not having read the Outlander series was not a barrier to reading and enjoying this book. Lord John's family and personal history is touched upon and then expanded throughout the novel.

                  Lord John is an easy character to warm to and his easy relationship with his young valet, Tom, is often humourous. Tom brings lightness to the scenes he is in, often scolding Lord John for ripping or dirtying his clothes and wishing that he was valet to a dandy instead of a soldier.

                  The family relationships portrayed in the book are also fairly easy to relate to: Lord John has an overprotective and worried older brother who wants to retain the family honour and a strong willed mother who will do what she has to protect her sons. John's younger cousin Olivia is living with his mother and also provides some light relief throughout the novel as she is obsessed with planning his mother's wedding and is very heavily pregnant.

                  The scenes involving Lord John and his lover are quite interesting as they have significant exchanges through glances rather than words while in society. Lord John recognises his lover Percy as a homosexual from a previous meeting at the Lavender House - a discreet meeting place for homosexual gentlemen.

                  There are a few sex scenes between the two men and this could be shocking to some, however I thought that Gabaldon dealt very well with these scenes. I thought they were powerfully written and a sensitive portrayal of sex between two men. Lord John is shown to be a very physical man and is often attracted to different men throughout the novel.

                  I found the battle scenes quite interesting but not too brutal or technical. Lord John is shown to be a good soldier and one who enjoys his position, although his rank often leads to dull tasks.

                  I thought that this was quite a varied book as it looks at 18th century society and attitudes, the battles fought abroad by the British and homosexuality amongst other things. Although Lord John's sexual preferences are a central part of the character and a big part of the story, this element does not overshadow the other parts of the plot.

                  I enjoyed this book and would happily read another Gabaldon book featuring Lord John Grey.

                  This review is also posted on Ciao under my username.

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                    16.03.2010 19:49
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                    A murder mystery in Ancient Rome

                    "Roman Blood" is the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor, revolving around the adventures of a man called Gordianus the Finder, an investigator in Ancient Rome. The series now runs to 12 books, including two collections of short stories which were written after the first four books but set between the first and second books.

                    Roma Sub Rosa literally means "Rome under the Rose" - this is explained in the front of the book under the list of titles in the series. The Rose is the symbol of confidentiality and a rose hanging over a council table meant that all attending the meeting were sworn to secrecy. Saylor explains that Sub Rosa has come to mean "that which is carried out in secret" and thus Roma Sub Rosa is the secret history of Rome seen through the eyes of Gordianus.

                    As well as this helpful explanation, a map of Rome is also included at the start of the book, showing it as it was at the time of Sulla's dictatorship in 80 B.C. Saylor has included the locations of several buildings or places relevant to the novel. Rome is also shown in relation to the surrounding countryside on a smaller section of map.

                    "Roman Blood" is based on a trial of Cicero's and his speech "In Defence of Sextus Roscius of Ameria". Gordianus is summoned by a young Cicero, preparing for his first important trial defending Sextus Roscius - a man accused of patricide. Cicero asks Gordianus to investigate the crime and discover anything that will help his case. Patricide was seen by the Romans to be an unforgivable sin and the punishment if convicted was a terrible death.

                    I found this quite an engaging read from the start and found that Gordianus as a character was quite easy to relate to. He is a principled man and uses his skills as an investigator to find the truth as that is what matters to him. The corruption of Roman society is clearly shown throughout the story - from the abuse of the power of the rich to the degradation of the poor, as well as the suffering of those even lower - slaves.

                    Gordianus has quite liberal views for a Roman and tries to treat people with respect. This is not understood as most Romans see slaves as expendable and poor people as of no consequence.

                    Gordianus has only one slave (as he cannot afford any others) named Bethesda and she very often appears to be the one in charge in his household. She is also his lover and he treats her with genuine affection, allowing her to do as she wishes and scared in case she should come to harm.

                    I thought that Saylor did well balancing the characters and plot with the very detailed descriptions of Rome. He is very good at bringing an ancient city to life and showing the reader, through Gordianus, how society worked in Rome. It is even better as he does it in a way that isn't lecturing or overly descriptive but merely interesting.

                    Gordianus often finds himself in danger in the course of his work and has little protection. Rome has no such thing as a police force, due to the dangers of corruption and their becoming a rich man's private army. Money and influence are everything in Rome, as Gordianus shows us.

                    The plot is interesting and did keep me guessing to the end, although I found some elements easy enough to work out. The presentation of the young Cicero and his slave Tiro was at times amusing. Cicero is shown to be very cunning and devious in his determination to make a name for himself but is also rather irritating. Gordianus is often irritated by Cicero and finds his constant practicing for his oration almost unbearable.

                    Saylor does well in blending fact and fiction, often bringing real historical figures into his stories and bringing real historical events to life within the events of the plots. The inclusion of real people and events doesn't stop this series from being an enjoyable read, if occasionally a bit silly. Gordianus's liberal attitudes would be unlikely at that time and in his situation but they make him an engaging character and one it's hard not to like.

                    Having read this book I then went on to read the next two in the series and have ordered the two collections of short stories to fill in the gaps. I would highly recommend this series to anyone interested in Ancient Rome.

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                      28.02.2010 13:12
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                      An interesting look at the power of religion in society

                      "The 19th Wife" is a book set in two time periods - the present day and the late 19th century. The book is concerned with Mormonism and the thorny issue of polygamous marriage.

                      The 19th century storyline concerns Ann Eliza Young, known as the "19th wife" of Brigham Young, the revered Mormon leader. Ann Eliza challenged polygamy as a Mormon way of life by writing a book and exposing the practice after publicly filing for divorce from Brigham. Ann Eliza's apostasy helped pave the way to the Mormons renouncing polygamy as an accepted practice in their society due to the public outcry throughout America.

                      The present day storyline concerns a breakaway sect of Mormons known as the Firsts who refused to renounce polygamy and still practice it in their secretive and closed society. The modern day protagonist is Jordan, a young man who was expelled from the Firsts by their Prophet aged 14. He returns when he discovers that his father has been shot and his mother (wife number 19) is in prison for his murder.

                      The 19th century storyline is presented as a mixture of Ann Eliza's own words, from her autobiography "Wife No 19" and extracts from her father's diary. I'm assuming that this part was largely fictitious as it is referred to as being a secret text held by the Mormon Church. There are also some additions to Ann Eliza's story from a modern young Mormon woman who is studying Ann Eliza as part of her degree.

                      The modern day storyline is a bit more accessible as it is focusing on Jordan and his feelings about the sect he was brought up in, his subsequent expulsion and his feelings about his parents. The description of life in the polygamous First society is horrendous and Jordan's expulsion was little short of sickening. The expulsion of young teenage boys is quite routine from this society as they are seen as competition for the young girls. The older men like to take the young girls as new wives and the girls have less choice due to the shortage of young men.

                      Jordan is investigating the murder of his father as his mother protests her innocence and claims that she did not do it. She is still firm in her belief in the Prophet, the leader of the First society and claims that God has sent Jordan to save her.

                      I found Jordan an engaging character and thought he was fleshed out well by the author. The other characters he meets in his investigation are likewise quite engaging, especially Johnny and Tom. Jordan's love for his dog Elektra is quite touching and she injects some humour into the book.

                      I found the 19th century storyline quite hard-going at times and not as engaging as Jordan's storyline, although still interesting. I didn't know much about Mormonism and polygamy before reading this book, other than the fact they were linked of course. Ann Eliza's story is quite an insight into the Mormon society of the time. Ann Eliza's scepticism is balanced out fairly well by the author's inclusion of the young Mormon woman who is studying her.

                      I thought this book was an interesting read but I found it quite difficult to get into at times and it wasn't a book I was desperate to get back to. I felt this was not a bad read but the two parts of the book didn't seem to gel well for me. It felt like two separate books at some points and I did enjoy Jordan's parts of the book more.

                      This was an interesting look at belief and the power that religion can give some unscrupulous people over the vulnerable. I would recommend this if you are interested in learning a bit more about the early days of Mormonism and the power that some sects hold even in the present day.

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                        12.02.2010 15:58
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                        An interesting look at Victorian society

                        "The Journal of Dora Damage" was a book I picked up due to the cover rather than the title which sounded a bit strange and childish. The cover is quite pretty and decorative, with a small shop sign in the middle. It's a picture of a corset and the text reads "Damages Bookbindery - bindings of any kind". This attracted me into picking it up and reading the synopsis.

                        The Dora Damage of the title is the wife of a bookbinder in Victorian London and the book is written in first person narrative. Dora struggles to be the perfect wife and mother that her husband Peter wants her to be - the Victorian ideal of "the angel in the house". Dora's troubles are infinitely worsened however, as she realises that Peter's hands have become too crippled with arthritis to work.

                        Dora decides to take over her husband's bookbindery and run it with Peter instructing her and with the help of his apprentice, Jack. Peter is very resistant to this as it's not seen to be respectable for a woman to work and would emasculate him in the eyes of society. Dora, however, is determined to save them and their young daughter from the horror of the workhouse.

                        In her pursuit of work Dora stumbles upon a moral morass and finds herself binding highly illicit pornography for a set of aristocratic patrons. She is well paid for the work but the aristocrats and their agents will do anything necessary to protect their secret.

                        I found this quite an absorbing read, although from the outset I thought a book about bookbinding in Victorian London sounded a bit dull. We have several elements going on in this book such as the place of women in the Victorian period, the repressed sexuality of society (resulting in illegal pornography), the debate going on over slavery - outlawed in Britain, still prevalent in America, and the absolute power of the aristocracy over those beneath them.

                        Dora is caught between her wealthy patron Sir Jocelyn and his equally forceful wife Sylvia and is pressured by both to keep secrets from the other. Sylvia pressures Dora into taking on a recently freed slave from America as a worker in the book bindery.

                        Sylvia is shown to have everything she could ever want materially but is described as being bred to be ornamental - she has no real power within her marriage.

                        Dora is likewise caught in her marriage to Peter in that he continually tries to bend her to his will, even when it would be detrimental to them as a family. He would rather go to the workhouse than live with the shame of his wife running his business. The neighbourhood they live in are shocked by Dora's "scandalous" behaviour in doing so.

                        Repression is a big theme in this book as Dora herself is repressed by Peter and society at large. Women have two choices in this society - wife and mother or whore - there is no middle path. Peter is disgusted by sex and disgusted by Dora's apparent interest in it. Nearly all of the characters have their own secret and are repressed by the black and white thinking of the time.

                        There is a bit of a romance angle that is unfortunately quite predictable but as I don't enjoy romance in my books I tended to speed read those parts. The ending of the book did seem a bit silly and seemed to rush towards a conclusion after moving quite sedately beforehand.

                        There are a quite a few twists in this book and I didn't always see them coming. I thought this was a very well written and thought out book. It was exciting and interesting but was always bringing out new issues to consider - the place of women in society, class differences, opium addiction and even the treatment of disease.

                        Dora is a sympathetic heroine who struggles with her own natural impulses and tries to straightjacket herself into the role society demands of her. Repressed sexuality is everywhere in this book, from Dora herself to the illegal pornography she is binding for the aristocrats.

                        I really enjoyed this book, both for the story itself but also for the depth Belinda Starling brought to it by introducing several different strands. The characters are well fleshed out and generally sympathetic whilst some are truly grim. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction set in the Victorian era.

                        Unfortunately the author Belinda Starling died shortly after completing this book, her debut novel. There is a note on the author included at the back of the book written by Starling's brother explaining the circumstances of her unexpected and untimely death.

                        This review is also posted under my name on Ciao.co.uk

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                          30.01.2010 00:16
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                          An interesting look at post-war Berlin

                          "Pavel and I" is set in Berlin in 1946 - in a city recovering from the devastation of war and occupation by enemy forces - the country carved up by the Russians, Americans and British. The Pavel of the title is an American living in Berlin, an ex GI who is half German and half Russian, brought up in America. The "I" of the title is not immediately apparent and is an outsider looking in - trying to work out who Pavel really was through the events of 1946.

                          Pavel is caught up in a dangerous situation when his friend and fellow American, Boyd, leaves a suitcase containing the dead body of a midget in his flat. Boyd asks Pavel to hide it and promises to return in a few days. Both the British and Russians are interested in the death of the midget due to the information he was going to sell. So far, so good, I thought this would be an interesting spy novel with both the British and the Russians fighting to gain the information from Pavel.

                          I found that the story lacked the pace and interest I would expect from a good spy/conspiracy type book. The jumping from character to character by the narrator made it difficult to really empathise with any of the characters and I found that I didn't much care what happened to most of them. The one exception to that was the character of Anders, a young German boy, who was living as a street urchin until he was taken in by Pavel.

                          Anders and the gang of street urchins he was living with - Paulchen's group - were the more compelling characters for me. The young boys were displaced due to the war and lived together, turning to crime to feed themselves. Anders returns to the group throughout the story and we learn more about the boys' lives together and how they ended up living on the streets alone.

                          I found this quite a difficult novel to get into as it seems quite stilted and stark, however the way it is written is reflecting the times that Pavel and his mysterious narrator are living in. Pavel is portrayed as a tragic and brooding figure who is suffering for the deeds he carried out during the war. Pavel remains an enigma throughout the book and it is never really clear what he is thinking or feeling. As a protagonist I found it hard to feel much empathy for Pavel, although his obvious love for Anders brought more humanity to his character.

                          We do not know what information the British and Russians are looking for throughout most of the story, only that they are willing to kill and maim for it. Colonel Fosko is the British officer chasing the mysterious information and he is portrayed as a cruel and cunning man.

                          The narrator, Peterson, is revealed to be a man working for Colonel Fosko who was set the task of watching Pavel. He is writing down the events of 1946 in order to work out who exactly Pavel was and why he did what he did.

                          The other dimension to the story is Sonia, Colonel Fosko's mistress and a young German woman hardened by her experiences of rape and want in occupied Berlin. She is portrayed as heartless and bitter and hates men after the several rapes she has suffered. Sonia is set by Fosko to sleep with Pavel and learn his secrets. There seems to be a budding relationship between Sonia and Pavel, but like everything else, this is seen at a distance through Peterson.

                          Peterson increasingly comes across as a man almost obsessed by the enigma that Pavel presents, he almost appears to be in love with him. I found the tone of the book quite odd and it certainly wasn't what I expected from the blurb on the back. There didn't seem to be much urgency to the situation although Pavel was being watched and pursued on all sides - by Fosko, Peterson, Sonia and the Russians.

                          The descriptions of occupied Berlin were quite interesting though and some of the incidents revealed were quite harrowing. The mass rapes following the occupation were something I had never really heard about or considered. I had never thought about the aftermath of the war for the majority of the German populace and the total devastation of the country as a whole.

                          On the whole I found this an odd book and not what I was expecting at all - I found it quite difficult to read and not all that interesting as a whole. There are some interesting parts but it doesn't seem to fit well together as a whole story.

                          The main focus of the narration was ostensibly about finding out who Pavel really was but I found myself wondering whether I really cared by the end of the story.

                          This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.

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                            16.01.2010 16:50
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                            A somewhat gory but interesting look at the battle of Agincourt.

                            After recently reading a Bernard Cornwell book for the first time, I picked up "Azincourt" the next time I was in the library. The first thing that struck me was the strange spelling of Agincourt -"Azincourt", however, is merely the French spelling.

                            This book is of course about the legendary battle of Agincourt, where a small English army, depleted by illness and lack of supplies, won an extraordinary victory over the French army many times their size. The English were led by Henry V and the victory was mainly ascribed to the use of the English longbow, as bowmen made up much of the army. Agincourt is also featured heavily in Shakespeare's play "Henry V".

                            I was intrigued at how Cornwell would retell the story of Agincourt and having only a vague idea of the battle itself, decided to read it.
                            Cornwell tells his version of the battle of Agincourt through a common archer, Nicholas Hook. Nicholas is early on in the book shown to be less than honest and not terribly reliable, however he does have some skill with a bow.

                            Nicholas is sent to London in a company of men by his Lord on command of the King and is soon involved in hanging Lollards. The Lollards are perceived as heretics and the King wants them to be exterminated. After witnessing a terrible act, Nicholas believes that he heard the voice of God. This voice drives Nicholas throughout the novel as he feels guilt at failing to heed the voice's instructions and this guilt forces him to intervene in similar circumstances.

                            The novel follows Nicholas's adventures in France as part of an English company of archers in Soissons and following this he becomes an archer in the King's army. This of course leads to the siege of Harfleur and then the battle of Agincourt itself.

                            I found Nicholas a bit wooden at some times throughout the book and didn't have a great deal of affection for him. Nicholas is quite a hard and practical character most of the time which is probably why I found it hard to sympathise with him. Strangely, however, I found myself rooting for him in the dangerous situations he faced.

                            Cornwell tends to dwell on the battle scenes and tactics, as well as the blood and gore throughout. I must admit I found this book quite heavy on the brutal scenes and it was often quite disturbing. This was probably an attempt on Cornwell's part to convey the brutality of the battles but it was a bit too much for me.

                            Cornwell's version of the battle is quite interesting in that the armour donned by the knights and the men-at-arms soon became a death trap rather than saving them. The heavy armour weighed them down as they fought in a muddy field - a disadvantage the lightly armoured archers did not face.

                            Cornwell did switch viewpoint a few times from Nicholas to his wife Melisande and then to Melisande's father - a French nobleman fighting on the opposite side. The changing viewpoints made the battle scene more tense and added a bit more interest by looking at the battle from the opposing side.

                            Religion was quite a dominant theme as Nicholas of course believed that he heard the voices of the saints he prayed to telling him what to do. Henry V believed that God wanted him to be the King of France and was very strict with his troops - anyone caught stealing from a church or harming a priest or nun would be hung.

                            I found this quite an interesting book in terms of Cornwell's version of the battle and the ways in which the weapons and armour were used. I also didn't know much of the story surrounding Agincourt and found this interesting also. Although I did take it with a pinch of salt as it is Cornwell's version of the battle and therefore will have a bit of artistic license.

                            At the end of the book was included a Historical note by Cornwell, as well as a short note about the importance of the longbow; Shakespeare's Henry V St Crispin's day speech ( Agincourt was fought on St Crispin's day 1415); the Agincourt Carol and an interview with Bernard Cornwell.

                            I found these inclusions very helpful in setting the story into context and also very interesting. I was quite astounded by the size of the longbow the archers had to carry and shoot, and also the skill and strength it took to do so. The note about the longbow includes the fact that the skeletons of English medieval archers were found to have distorted upper bones - a longbow man would have very over -developed arm, chest and back muscles.

                            I wouldn't say this book had me enthralled but it was interesting enough to keep me reading. I did find the main character a bit wooden but in the end this didn't really matter as the novel was about Agincourt rather than its characters. I thought this was an interesting look at Agincourt and I also felt that I learned a bit through reading it.

                            I would recommend this if you are interested in learning a bit more about Agincourt, as if you don't find the history interesting I'm not sure that there is enough of a plot to hold your interest. I would of course re-iterate that "Azincourt" is a fictional representation of the battle of Agincourt but I still felt that I learned something.

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                              19.12.2009 00:35
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                              An interesting look at the legend of Troy

                              "Lord of the Silver Bow" is the first book in a trilogy about Troy and was one that I had thought about reading for a while. Having finally picked it up in the library, I'm certainly glad I did. I found this a very readable book and very enjoyable. It was easy to get into despite the subject matter being based on the classic tale of the Iliad and the stuff of legend.

                              Gemmell switches between different characters and so the story is never seen from only one viewpoint. The book begins before the war and the siege of Troy by the Greek states and so acts as a scene setter - we are shown the various characters of the nations involved.

                              Troy is shown to be an ostentatious place, wealthy beyond belief and very strong in its alliances. However, Priam, the king of Troy, is not well liked among his subjects and peers and is constantly thwarting attempts on his life and throne.

                              The Mykene are shown to be war hungry and vicious, led by the ambitious Agamemnon. The other nations know that the pirate ships raiding the region are in the pay of Agamemnon, although this is publicly denied. Agamemnon is envious of Troy's wealth and power and wants it for himself.

                              The Ithakans are led by Odysseus, the wily and adventurous King who is well liked and respected by the other nations. Thanks to Odysseus, Ithaka remains largely neutral but still has to tread carefully between the Mykene and Troy.

                              Dardania is an area north of Troy, allied to it and led by its Queen, Halysia, and her stepson Helikaon, until Halysia's son Diomedes is of age to rule. Helikaon was disinherited by his father but is happy to support the rule of his younger brother.

                              There are various smaller nations such as Sparta - which is being attacked by the Mykene during the book - and Thebe under Plakos, which maintains its alliance to Troy by betrothing a Princess to the warrior Prince of Troy - Hektor.

                              "The Lord of the Silver Bow" of the title is Helikaon of Dardania, also known as Aeneas, and he is one of the main characters of the story. Helikaon is shown to be cruel but fair and is generally a likeable character. However he has a dark side and makes his enemies suffer when they cross him in any way. Helikaon is shown to be an honourable man and this is contrasted with several dishonourable characters and the acts they perpetrate.

                              We are introduced to all the main players of the Iliad, such as Odysseus, the ugly King, and the saviour of Helikaon from his troubled youth. We are introduced to Priam, the powerful and arrogant king of Troy and his forceful but slowly dying wife, Hekabe. Priam and Hekabe are both presented as quite unlikeable characters - they are cold and arrogant with most people, except their favoured children, such as Hektor.

                              Hektor's bride Andromache is also presented to us but she is not a willing bride due to several years spent as a priestess of Thera. As a priestess Andromache lived on an island without men and therefore led a life of almost complete freedom. She is only sent to Troy after the death of her sister who was originally betrothed to Hektor and chafes under the restraints she is placed under.

                              Hektor himself is built up throughout the book as a great hero and Priam's favoured son. As readers we see very little of him until the end of the book but Gemmell hints that there is some secret surrounding him. Many of the characters assert that Hektor hates war and would rather breed horses than fight; however his name is legendary in battle.

                              There are several small sidelines such as Helikaon's search for his father's assassin and the mystery surrounding who ordered his death. The character of Gershom is also a sideline in the reasons for his escaping Egypt and why the Royal guards are searching for him. Another few episodes involve a young boy named Xander and his adventures on Helikaon's ship.

                              Another important character is Argurios, a legendary Mykene warrior sent on a mission by Agamemnon to Troy. He ends up travelling with Helikaon despite their mutual dislike of each other and at first comes across as an unlikeable character. When Gemmell switches to Argurios' point of view his rigid character is soon explained. He lives by a very clear moral code and has not endeared himself to his king with his truthfulness.

                              The action of the book is well balanced by the smaller storylines of Gershom and Xander but they all still tie up together well. The various threads of the book could be confusing but I felt that Gemmell did a good job of differentiating the characters without forgetting about the main storyline.

                              One part that I did find amusing was Gemmell's representation of Paris and Helen - Paris is a stoop-shouldered scholar who hates war and Helen is a plain faced country girl. Kassandra is already presented as an oddity - a young girl who speaks in riddles to those around her and who is often disregarded.

                              I felt that this book did a good job of bridging the classicism of the Iliad and popular historical fiction. It is a very readable book and you don't need to be familiar with the story of Troy to pick it up and become involved in it. Of course Gemmell has taken liberties with the story and this book begins before the period that the Iliad was set in. However much of the story of Troy is legend anyway so it doesn't worry me much.

                              Gemmell's version of Troy is quite realistic, as is his version of the politics of the nations surrounding it and their interaction with Troy. I felt that the interaction between Helikaon and Andromache was a bit much but that is probably because I don't enjoy romance in my novels anyway.

                              The battle scenes could be a bit brutal but in all fairness this is probably what Gemmell was trying to portray. Battle is brutal and the nations surrounding Troy and Troy itself were not exempt from that brutality.

                              I'm looking forward to getting the next book in this trilogy and would definitely recommend it for a bit of escapism.

                              This review is also posted under my username on Ciao.co.uk

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