Friday, September 26, 2014

One of my favourite Medieval Series

Here's one for all the Medieval buffs or writers out there- a 1997 BBC series based on the Walter Scott novel Ivanhoe. Probably one of most credible depiction of Prince John I have seen as well- in other words one that does not present him as a blithering idiot.....though the plot of burning people for witchcraft in the 12th century seems decidedly inaccurate I think the fault was with the novel itself. 

This is episode 2.....


Monday, September 22, 2014

New Release- The Unexpected Earl- Philippa Jane Keyworth

★★
Paperback, 324 Pages
September 24th 2014, Madison Street Publishing
"Six years after being jilted without a word of explanation, Julia Rotherham finds Lucius Wolversley standing before her once again--unexpected, unannounced, unwelcome.
With her heart still hurting and, more importantly, her pride, Julia must chaperone her younger sister, fend off fortune hunters, orchestrate a fake engagement, and halt an elopement--all whilst keeping the man who jilted her at arm's length.
But what Julia doesn't know is that this time, the Earl has no intention of disappearing, and this time, he has more than an explanation to offer...."

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Three years ago, I didn’t read regencies- at all. Since then I’ve read a few- and learned that not all Christian Regencies are equal. The Unexpected Earl ranks among the better- with faint shades of the literary great. The Lady (and spinster bordering on the old at the other side of 20- at least  by 19th century standards) who unexpectedly comes face to face with the former beau who jilted her is almost reminiscent of Persuasion, and hostility tension between the protagonists of Pride and Prejudice. A Regency that harks back to these is stepping in the right direction.

A cast of memorable and well written characters also helps- and this book has them. Julia is strong but not in the militant way that some historical heroines are who seek to rebel against society in the name of ‘freedom’. Perhaps her most endearing trait was her (sometimes biting) wit, and propensity for impulsiveness. The former extends to the writing style, with some great lines such as “Two other gentlemen, with a similar predilection for foppishness, sidled up to join with Windlesham in synchronized sneering” Wolversley, the male protagonist is a suitably brooding dark horse, though not lacking in his fair share of charm.

With such novels as this there does seem to be a danger of the storyline becoming repetitive or clich├ęd, and romance too fluffy and mushy to be palatable. This was generally not the case here. Aside from a couple of scenes towards the end in which the characters were rather pre-occupied with kissing or emotional attraction, the plot was mostly tight and credible. Indeed, like with her previous book, Julia could not stand Wolversley at first, In fact, she spent most of the first half of the story trying to ward him off whilst protecting her sister. Nor did she just wake up one day realising she still loved him. The process was gradual and difficult, the characters having to deal with their resentment, pride and other issues.

Mrs Keyworth is the only British author of Regencies in this genre that I know of – which has some major advantages in my opinion. One is that her work is free of the Americanisms in the character’s speech that blight so many regencies. Indeed, the American Publisher also deserves some commendation for preserving the British terms and idioms, rather than changing them.
My only major complaint (and the main reason for the lower rating) was that I felt there was little in the book that was explicitly Christian- aside from a few reference to Julia praying. She seemed to lie more often than prayed (indeed lies and deception are often central to moving the story along) and her faith did not always seem to be something that was very important or that she took seriously.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect characters in Christian fiction to be perfect, and there may have been some deeper messages that passed me by- but I just expected more. Some sort of redemption, repentance, or some sort of change in the characters. The morally dubious and licentious characters seemed to stay that way- with the slightly dubious implication that the ‘goodies’ consorted with prostitutes and women of ill-repute as much as the villain- though Wolverseley did not. Also, the swearing may be an issue for some.
Overall, I would recommend The Unexpected Earl for Regency fans, but I’m not sure it really fits comfortably into the ‘Christian’ Genre. Perhaps it should be simply ranked as ‘clean’.

I received and Advance electronic version of this book direct from the publisher in return for a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Historical Saturday #2- Its Only Words......

Alright, I know I haven't done one of these posts for months- so much for my plan for a weekly feature, and initially, this post may have little to do with history, but bear with me...
It's Only words.....or words outside their place, and why

The English language is a wonderfully versatile animal, always changing and evolving. To borrow from a movie "the English have a language that is rich and beautiful, and blessed with infinite variety- why should we not use it all?" Those who have studied other languages like Greek will know this well- with one word in Greek having many English equivalents.
New words are added every year to the dictionary- but some are sadly lost- when was the last time you heard someone say 'festooned' or 'forsooth' outside a Shakespeare play?
I like words too- I actually took English Language to age 18, and almost wish I'd studied it  alongside Medieval History at University. Perhaps it's because of an assignment of years ago that I have a certain interest in etymology - or the history of words, its certainly though it that I got to know of a wonderful resource for language Geeks- the Online Etymological Dictionary .
Since I began reading Kindle books I've also made use of the New Oxford American Dictionary, which comes free with Kindle- both come in handy for an activity I occasionally indulge in- I must confess it- word checking.
I do, when reading historical fiction or fantasy use these resources to look up words that do not seem right for the time period- just to be sure. Alright, so a few linguistic errors here and there are forgivable, but there are two faux pas that really get on my nerves.
1- Anachronistic Terms and Phrases 
Now don't get me wrong- I don't expect authors who write books set in Medieval England to have characters speaking Chaucer's English- or Middle English as its known- or Shakespearean English, but I also find language that it 'too jarringly modern' distracting, and having the potential to damage the credibility of the historical setting and of the characters within it.
So here are a list of a few words I've encountered in books over the years, and their origins- which will hopefully demonstrate why its wise to avoid them.
'Okay'- 19th Century- America
This one was from a Medieval Fantasy novel. Yes, I know Fantasy is in a sense freer than Historical Fiction- but having Medieval people saying 'Okay', is a major faux pas- because using this word makes it hard to take them seriously as - Medieval People. Why? because the origins of this word lie firmly in the 19th century. See the dictionary entry for more information.
Admittedly one fan of the novels in question did try to argue that this word was used by the  Native Americans- and 'bought back' by the Spanish- but she provided no proof, and I frankly don't buy it at all.
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'Bucko'- 19th Century- Nautical Slang
This little treasure was used repeatedly by a Scottish character in a novel set at the time of the 3rd Crusade (the one with Richard the Lionheart) in the late 12th century- so definitely wrong. In all honesty, it was the first time I'd ever encountered the word, which I assumed was used because it sounded 'British' alongside 'bloke' and 'bl**dy'. It seems to be a term that is more commonly used in Ireland- but does not belong in the mouth of a 12th century Brit- for the origin is 19th century Nautical slang-the same century that gave us 'bloke'.
So words that are considered stereotypically British today, do not work in every period. See the entry here.
 
'Cute'- 19th Century- American
'Ah' you might say 'but cute is an old word'. Yes, the word from which it is derived is old- but the sense of meaning good looking or attractive dates from the 19th century and 'cutie'  from the 20th. So having a Medieval person ask if a person is 'cute' is not right..... See the entry here.
'Prankster'- 20th Century- American
Those seeking a term for a person who enjoys playing tricks on others in a novel set in the Middle Ages may wish to opt for something different- and this one sounds modern anyway. Though the word 'Prank' is older, the original meaning was different. See the entry for details.  
2 - Americanisms/ Stereotypes in Britain
I've read my fair share of Regencies in the last few years, and I have to say, they can be a persistent
offenders- but I fear this seems to be a common drawback of books set in Britain penned by American authors, who are not, perhaps, entirely familiar with the British version of our shared language. Here are some common mistakes:

Someplace- Instead of the more commonly used British Equivalent- which is Somewhere 

Pants- In Britain this means underwear- the garment Americans would call 'pants' are here called Trousers. So it would have been  rather embarrassing for a 19th century English Lady to pass remark upon a Gentleman's 'pants'.

Go-  When used in conjunction with another verb, such as 'go tell', 'go see', or 'go find'. In Britain, it is more common to put an 'and' in between the two verbs- so we would tend to say 'go and find' or 'go and tell'.

Write - English ladies don't 'write' a person- they 'write to' them. Rather!

Ye - This archaic form of 'you', harking back to Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons not of Shakespeare), is one that readers may notice being used by lower class British characters in various parts of the country.
I encountered one novel in which it was used by a man in Dover, about the nearest part of the country to France. Yet today, this term is mainly only used in the West Country (Devon/Cornwall) and Scotland and Ireland.

I don't know if it was more commonly used 200 years ago, or is one of those fictional tropes- rather like the way that almost everyone who isn't an aristocrat has either a Scottish or a Cockney accent in Hollywood movies.

England and Britain - Alright, this may be the most important one. Britain is not repeat not a synonym for England- Britain is a land mass that consists of hundreds of separate Islands and three distinct countries- England, Scotland and Wales (see the map to the right) England is one of these countries. Wales and Scotland are not part of England- nor are they in England- but all are part of Greater Britain.
Yet a Scottish character in a novel set in 18th century America is as much British as his English neighbour- though only the English person is usually referred to as British in such books.
Now, having American characters conflate England and Britain is understandable and forgivable- but for Brits to do this as if they did not know the difference is a heinous error in my view. Its as bad as calling a Canadian an American....or saying Wales is your favourite part of England.

The above are only a few example, and perhaps I may be accused of needless pedantry, but I believe that a grasp of language, or linguistic nuances and differences may be of more importance to historical fiction than is generally thought.
 Maybe readers will disagree, or would like to contribute further examples, or simply express an opinion. Feel free to do so....

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Necessary Deception- Laurie Alice Eakes


351 pages, October 2011, Revell
 
When young widow Lady Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreamed he would turn up in her parlor. But just as the London Season is getting under way, there he is, along with a few other questionable personages. While she should be focused on helping her headstrong younger sister prepare for her entrance at her debutante ball.

Readers will enjoy being drawn into this world of elegance and intrigue, balls and masquerades. Author Laurie Alice Eakes whisks readers through the drawing rooms of London amid the sound of rustling gowns on this exciting quest to let the past stay in the past and let love guide the future.
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A Necessary Deception was, overall, a decent Regency Romance with an interesting subplot involving espionage, a smattering of political intrigue, and some incorporation of historical events and issues current at the time period when it was written, such as the Luddite insurrection and the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Percival. At times, however, the plot twists and turns were perhaps a little too ambitious, seeming to mae the story disjointed, lurching, and hard to follow in places.
There also seemed a little too much reliance to dramatic chapter-endings and cliff hangers to maintain interest.
Don’t get me wrong- drama can be compelling, but sometimes it’s possible to have too much of it, perhaps at the expense of other literary devices like character development or depth of plot.

I also found I had some of the same issues with the story as others by this author (and many others)foremost the use of various Americanisms by the ostensibly British characters, which appeared totally out of place for the time period.
These included ‘someplace’ instead of ‘somewhere’ as is more commonly used in Britain, or a location being several ‘blocks’ away.
Or said British characters using the terms England and Britain interchangeably (sometimes in the same sentence) as if they were synonyms for the same country- which they are not. Such would be expected from American characters, but not from British ones who ought to have known the difference.

I suppose such oversights or minor inaccuracies are to be expected, given the Christian Regency genre is dominated by American authors, and aimed at the US market. However, I suppose I would like a little more realism in terms of elementary details such as speech, language and dialect, especially in a novel that seemed to be generally well-researched in other ways.
I did also question the plausibility of Lydia’s notion that a person could be thrown into the Tower for sedition at the slightest hint of any criticism of the royal family. How could this have been so when there were satirical cartoons about the Prince Regent?

As for the characters- they were developed and well-rounded for the most part, but no always easy to identify or sympathise with. Lydia’s desire to protect her family was admirable, but her initial attitude towards men was very annoying. Basically, she believed that any man who wouldn’t let a woman do what she wanted, or pursue her own interests was an evil, repressive, autocratic, tyrant – but there was nothing remotely autocratic or controlling about her demanding men give up their careers to stay at home.
An opinion resembling too much the extremes of militant feminism for my liking- never mind being arrogant, immature and nauseating.
Admittedly, she seemed to realize this attitude was unfair and unrealistic towards the end, but a little too jarringly modern for my liking.

Finally, the villain, when he was finally unmasked, seemed to be largely lacking in any real motivation- apart from being the person least expected, and the Christian themes did appear a little forced or contrived at times.
I would consider reading the next two books in the series, to find out the story about Lydia’s sisters, and recommend this, but, like the Midwives Trilogy and A Lady’s Honor by the same author, it’s not a favourite.
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