Sunday, September 23, 2012

One is very impressed...

Updated post from my original site. I recently won a paperback edition of this novel in a competition on a blog called 'Fly High' in which the author placed a guest post. Thanks to Maria of fly high and Roseanne Lortz for getting it out to me in little old England from America! 

Anyhow, here is the original post, sorry if it is a bit repetitive. 

Yes I know, this pedantic medievalist in the making is not often easily impressed where some historical fiction is concerned,  but the methodology and approach to historical material of this novelist Rosanne E Lortz gets my full seal of approval. She states that she has a 'love of historical research and primary sources'.

The latter are very much the cornerstone of much scholarly historical study and research which many Historians are, to a varying extent, dependent upon. Mrs Lortz cites a number of primary sources, or works heavily based on primary sources in the 'bibliography' of her book 'I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince'.

The synopsis of the book summarises it thus "A tale of arms, of death, of love, and of honor. Set against the turbulent backdrop of the Hundred Years' War, I Serve chronicles the story of Sir John Potenhale. A young Englishman of lowly birth, Potenhale wins his way to knighthood on the fields of France. He enters the service of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, and immerses himself in a stormy world of war, politics, and romantic intrigue. "

Though I have not even started reading the book yet, and it is not at the front of my 'to- read' (well nearer than it was when I originally wrote the post) list I did 'flick'through the Kindle Edition when I first purchased it. The author appears to not only know her stuff factually and historically, but also on a more personal level. By this I mean that she seems to understand and appreciate the values, attitudes and beliefs of people from the past, even if these were vastly different from our own, instead of seeking to impose anachronistic modern values and standards in their place.

Factual accuracy is important enough, and is relatively  easy to achieve in a novel, but not every writer of historical fiction is able to take the past on its own terms, and learn to see things the way that people living at a given time would have seen them, rather than judging them according to modern standards and expectations. Rosanne E Lortz is thankfully one of these few who has a real understanding and what I define as a sense of history. Which is why even after a quick preliminary reading of some parts of her novel I have come away impressed and distinctly satisfied.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review of 'The Scarlet Trefoil' by L.A Kelly

The Scarlet Trefoil: Book Three of the Tahn Dorn Trilogy ★★★☆☆

   
"The Trilett family and friends prepare for the joyous celebration of Tahn and Netta's wedding. Returning from a party in her honor, Netta is kidnapped, and her coachman and escorts are found murdered. It looks like the work of bandits, but Tahn is secretly sent a message that Netta will be released if he will present himself in trade. Tahn believes that his murderously jealous cousin, Baron Lionel Trent, is responsible for the villainy. The baron would surely kill Tahn given the chance, just to eliminate the possibility of a rival heir. But Tahn chooses to go to the assigned meeting place anyway, alone as ordered, in hopes of securing Netta's release. Will he succeed in rescuing his bride? Or will Tahn and Netta forever miss their chance at happiness?"
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Opinion: As with the last novel, this one left me with somewhat mixed feelings, overall, I would say I enjoyed it a little better than the last one, but it had many of the same shortcomings as its predecessor. The first half of the novel seemed to me repetitive and rather slow and tedious. Netta gets kidnapped, and Tahn gets captured by the bad guys and beaten up again. Even these events seemed predictable, or at least not unlikely, and it required almost no imagination to guess who was behind it all- naturally the villain from the last novel Lionell Trent, with his usual plan to eliminate Tahn with the help of the bandits from the last book.  He doesn't seem to have much imagination either...

Parts of the second half I found more enjoyable, partly because they seemed more historically plausible or simply well written and original then other parts of the book.
Some of the characters start to come into their own a little more, like Benn Trilett who is not such a wet blanket. The conclusion to Than and Netta’s story was satisfying, if a little predictable, and one could be forgiven for thinking that a little too much adversity then was plausible was thrown at them before they got their happy ending. 

Christianity/Morality: There is hardly any objectionable content in this novel, apart from some violence against Tahn and Netta which does arguably become a little tiresome by its overuse. ‘The Scarlet Trefoil is a good Christian novel which builds upon many of the same themes of the two prequels, such as the efficacy of prayer, and the faithfulness of God.
The only thing which I found a little strange was the appearance of angels at Tahn’s side, who are initially there to protect him from the baddies.
I know that ministering angels are mentioned in scripture, and I do believe in their existence, but the manner with which Tahn almost causally converses with the angel just seemed to me a little bit –for lack of a better word- weird. 

History: As with the other novels, a lot of the characters were so ‘Americanised’ in terms their speech and attitudes- and even some of the names that they could have stepped off the set of a Western. I personally find that content such as this makes it difficult to take the characters seriously as medieval people, and it seems as though the story is populated mainly by sword wielding cowboys.

Another thing which bothered me was the depiction of aristocratic characters- which seemed to reflect American prejudices and stereotypes more than fact. Apparently almost every person of noble blood (except the practically perfect in every way Triletts) was supposed to be lazy and pampered- unlike real medieval aristocrats whose often were the fighting classes.
Then there was the way that any customary practice or tradition which did not make sense to the characters was regarded as 'stupid' or unnecessary. 
Personally, I think it takes more than sword wielding men on horses and the , lords and ladies, and an odd castle or two to make an authentic Medieval tale, and that this trilogy really would have been better set in another time period.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review of 'The Laughing Side of the World' by Robin Hardy

★☆☆☆☆

The Laughing Side of the World: Book Nine of the Latter Annals of Lystra
From the back cover: "Having abdicated the throne of Lystra in favor of his adopted son, Henry, Ares travels to the monastery/leprosarium he had established, the Sanctum. Ares has heard disturbing reports that the Master of the Sanctum has converted it to his own private domain. Not to be left behind, Nicole follows. With the cooperation of Nicole and the Second Oswald, Ares acts as poltergeist to the Master's rule at the Sanctum. But when Henry's sister Ren e misplaces some property, she goes to the Sanctum to recover it-and there discovers who is fomenting rebellion against the young Surchatain.The Laughing Side of the World is Book Nine, the final book of The Latter Annals of Lystra. It includes eight pages of "A Lystra Retrospective" with images not seen anywhere else."
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Opinion: After some months, I finally bought myself around to reading this book which is the final title in the Latter Annals of Lystra series, and with some relief at finally finishing the series. The blurb, as with some of the other titles in the series does not provide and entirely accurate appraisal of some figures and events as the ‘property’ the character of Renee has ‘mislaid’ is actually her fourth and latest husband who went to the monastery when he realised they were not legally married, relishing the chance to escape from her clutches. The description of him as her ‘property’ is particularly apt however, as, like all her other husbands before, she lords over him and treats him with utter contempt.

As with the other novels several of the character go under assumed identities and have to use cunning or deception to outwit their enemies, or in Renee’s case using usual device of sex to get information out of them. The villain, an evil and corrupt monk named Manworren was at least an interesting character, though perhaps a little unoriginal and as with most of the other baddies before in the series, seemingly not very bright.

As another reviewer pointed out, the rebellion which is the central focus of the plot seems to have come out of nowhere, and to me it seemed that the disaffection of most the nobles involved in was baseless. Indeed, most of them were very minor characters some of whom seemed to be new, and others who are scarcely mentioned in previous novels. So that it almost gets to the point that a reader may be left scratching their head and asking ‘okay who is this person again, and why are they out to kill Henry and Ares exactly?’

Also, the execution of the plot was almost so simplistic as to be absurd. It involved a few armed lords attempting to kill Henry at the dinner table in front of everyone. After all the preceding scenes in which the terrible danger to the ruler Henry and others had been emphasised, and with all the and supposedly meticulous planning, one would think that the traitors would have done something less obvious then the above, and displayed a little more initiative or intelligence.

Christianity/Morality: On a personal note, I was not convinced by one other reviewer’s (Deanna Julie Dodson whose novels I love, and I respect) claims that the character of Renee had begun to ‘change her ways’. She was as arrogant, self-absorbed conceited as ever. As usual she was lording it over most of the other characters including those of higher status then her, abusing and humiliating those around her for no good reason, and expecting everyone to do what she wanted. I was amused and rather elated when her patsy Bonnie (the sister of the ruler’s wife) actually showed some assertiveness and would not just let Renee tell her what to do. However, as was typical with such aberrations, she repented of having been so ‘rude’ soon afterwards, and happily returned to her usual status of minion.

Renee was also as much of a shameless slut as ever (in spite of some laughable talk about her imaginary ‘honor’) using the monastery by seducing Manworren shortly after her arrival. In a farily obvious, though predictable attempt to exonerate her of this adultery it is made out that she was acting in the greater good of her country, by helping Nicole and Ares to get information about a plot out of him and claiming that this act was performed 'at great cost to herself'.
This 'cost' (perhaps designed to illicit the reader's sympathy) was Manworren trying to violently force himself upon her when she attempted to leave the room in the middle of the sexual act after promising to ‘give herself to him fully’.
Given this, and her previous use of sex to get what she wanted out of men such an outcome was hardly surprising, and indeed one could almost say it was  an inevitable consequence her amoral promiscuity.
Also, her beauty and ‘feminine charms’ constantly having a debilitating effect upon all the men around her is becoming rather stretched, tiresome and predictable. Are we really meant to believe that no man on earth has the ability to resist the advances of an aging seductress losing her beauty?

Historical: The one positive I might mention is that this novel did not seem quite so anachronistic and historically far-fetched as the others and more on line with the medieval setting. This said, the inclusion of numerous obscure terms for food could give the impression that the author was ‘showing off’ to a certain extent.

Finally, I found the depiction of Historians in the final chapter not only absurd, but personally offensive. In one place, two students visiting the ruins of the Abbey with a Professor mention how one of their other professor’s said the Bible was written by Baptists in the 18th century, when no real Historian on earth would make such a ludicrous claim. The main Professor also makes unfounded and far-fetched claims, and it really seemed as though the author was deliberately seeking to depict historians as ignorant or foolish people yet arrogant people who present an inaccurate version of the past to others, yet present it as the ‘right’ one.

Even more absurd though, was one fan’s dismissal of the fictional Professor Baxter’s claim that Ares and Nicole lived in the 14th century (a claim fully supported by the historical details within the novels themselves) and assertion that the series was actually set in the Ninth century on the basis of an note in the appendix about a ninth century Hungarian King who joined a monastery, who provided the basis for some fictional ruler mentioned by the characters. Yet even this ruler is implied to have lived a long time ago by the characters, so the whole basis for such historical claims is flimsy at best.

Yet this episode serves as a good example of the potential pitfalls of basing one’s knowledge of history on fiction. For all the supposed arrogance and stupidity of historian which fans rally against, their belief that they ‘know better’ because they take their knowledge from the novels carries absurdity to new heights.
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