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I am always on the look out for authors I am not familiar with and before reading this book I had never heard let alone read anything from Kate Sedley. About a year ago I read my first few period pieces of fiction by Anne Perry. These I was surprised I enjoyed set in the Victorian times, so I thought I should try one from a different author set in a different time period.
==About the author:==
Kate Sedley was born in Bristol in 1926. She specialises in period thrillers and so far she has written 20 novels, of these 19 have been in the Roger the Chapman series of mysteries. The book I am about to review is the 17th of these and was written in 2008.
==Synopsis of the book:==
It is the year of 1482 and Roger Chapman enjoying his hard but happy life with his family in the West Country. It had been a hard winter and summer is finally hopefully dawning. This is a period of great hardship for its people with many starving as crops failed and disease is commonplace, while the rulers enjoy the fruits of the common man and their wealth.
Roger's life takes an unexpected and unwelcome turn when he is commanded by the Duke of Gloucester to act as Bodyguard to the Duke of Albany. He has worked for the Duke of Albany before helping him flee England when his brother King James wanted him dead, now the man is back with the support of the English King to try and reclaim Scotland and in so doing bringing the two countries closer together as friends not enemies.
The Duke of Albany believes one of his close circle of friends is on King James's side and will try and kill him and Albany remembering Roger's help puts his safety in his hands. He must march northwards with the gathering English troops, where he is involved in a number is sinister meeting with the mythical Green Man on route to Edinburgh. What will happen when they reach their destination and will Roger be able to protect this unusual and unpredictable aspiring leader?
==My thoughts on the novel:==
My overall feeling about this historical mystery was that it was an enjoyable read. As I have said before this was my first experience of this author and I liked her style. I found despite it being set in 1462 easy to understand and without using language in conversation like broken or old English, that I was expecting but very pleased when it did not materialise. Instead I found crisp dialogue that was at times witty, thoughtful and above all containing mysterious elements.
When I purchased this book at my local car boot sale I had few expectations about it. How can I put it nicely it was cheap at 30p and I couldn't see the harm of another book in my ever expanding library. I very nearly did not even pick it up though as the front cover to me was unappealing, it had what reminded me as a tapestry with knights on horseback with weapons and a king. This really didn't appeal to me but the title I thought sounded good and I wondered what that was all about so I decided to pick it up and learn a little more about it.
I discovered on the back cover several quotes about this series of books by various writers. For once I found it quite useful, as I was a complete newcomer to it so I was keen to learn a little about what other people thought of the books. My only reservation was they were not commenting on this book specifically and that from experience is often a bad thing. But once I checked out the summary of the story my doubts subsided and I bought the book. The summary I thought sounded interesting and I liked the concept of this mythical Green Man appearing and this very down to earth character Roger being forced to protect Albany.
You may think from my summary of the story above, that I have given too much away about it, let me reassure you I have not, this is just setting the scene as the real mystery, action and suspense all follows this in an often exciting story that takes you in direction you had not even considered.
The story began in a way I found easy to follow and intriguing. It told you a little about what life was like in medieval times, the hardships and the fight to stay alive. It dealt with Roger meeting a travelling mummer who updated both Roger and the reader of how much tougher life was up North and the Wars between Scotland and England. All this I found useful and well written especially as Roger was soon to be commanded to go north to protect a man he hardly knew bit had helped previously.
However as soon as they started travelling North with the army, my interest started to tail of a bit. I found little happening for a while and I was finding it like Roger confusing why this man Albany suddenly wanted a complete outsider to protect him when he already had five Scotsmen who had been with him for a long time. But not only that at times he was desperate for Roger to be at his side to protect him while at others he would go quite happily of on his own.
The advent of the Green Man added a real sense of mystery, as it was only as the story unfolded did we discover more about him. For me the story really began to interest me more about half the way through when they reached their destination and unexpected things started to happen that I had not foreseen and Roger really started to come into his own, as before he had been treated with contempt by those within Albany's inner circle of friends.
The concluding chapters were all fast paced, exciting if just a little predictable. That said I did enjoy the way the author built up the suspense and had a very clear plan of what would and did happen and he explained all this very well to the reader. Yes there was a lot happening in the final few chapters and I would have possible liked it explained and justified a little bit more but overall it was a good ending and not quite what you expected in one respect.
What did impress me the whole way through the story was the use of humour. I was impressed not necessarily because it was funny, which it was, but the different levels used by the author around different characters. It was a welcome addition to what was essentially a quite a dry story and the wit and sarcasm really lightened the mood to proceedings.
I have already explained this is the 17th of 19 books in the series. Not a logical or sensible place to start really!! However I did not find this a problem at all, I liked the way the author set the scene for life back then and although there were a couple of mentions to Roger previously helping Albany I did not feel this left me at any disadvantage reading this. As the story was well explained, interesting and well thought out and hardly referred to Roger's past.
The series lead character is Roger who I found very down to earth and likable. I enjoyed his thought process and the way he tried to make sense of what was happening around him. In a role he neither wanted nor enjoyed. He was well written for and I got the impression the author really understand him as his actions always seemed in keeping with his personality and his thoughts all logical. Given all the nobility around him I found this normal everyday man's view refreshing and ultimately honest.
He was supported by a cast of characters the majority I struggled a little to remember who was who, but in a way as Roger knew so little about them to this added to the mystery about them. The only one who clearly stood out was Albany himself and he was a very unusual would be king, who just seemed paranoid someone close to him wanted to harm him. As the story unfolded you learn more about these mysterious supporters of Albany without ever feeling you knew, understood and definitely didn't trust them.
My version was a hardback copy which contained 251 pages, which I think was a little on the light side. I would have liked an epilogue as I thought the start of the novel was good the ending just a little rushed and I would have liked to known what happened next to all the unusual characters in the story.
For me this was a well-written and enjoyable piece of slice of medieval life. It was well thought out and certainly had me wrong footed at various time within it. My only issue was it took a while to warm up and I struggled a little until this point. On this evidence I will definitely recommend this book and I will be reading another (hopefully the 1st one!!) in the series very soon.
Publisher: Severn House
Year of Publication: 2008
About the author: www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/kate-sedley
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
© CPTDANIELS August 2011