Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: In Gallant Company, by Alexander Kent

In Gallant Company (Richard Bolitho, #5)In Gallant Company by Alexander Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the tradition of the Hornblower series, In Gallant Company is one of the early books in Kent's Richard Bolitho series. Set during the American Revolutionary years, the novel chronicles Bolitho's rise through the British Navy. The action is peppered with wonderful period details without detracting from the pace, and certainly Kent's ability to create stalwart, living characters is, as always, spot on.

Recommended for pure, historical fiction escapism.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Changeling, by Sile Rice

The Changeling (the First Book of The Saxon Tapestry)The Changeling by Sile Rice
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No one could gainsay Sile Rice for this ambitious attempt. She had great material (the historical account of Harold’s rise to the monarchy of Anglo-Saxon Britain). She adopted a Chaucerian narrative which lent very much the feeling of the classical bard to the story. Her knowledge of the minutia of early medieval Britain is astounding.
And yet I’d have to say overall the story failed, in my opinion. Why? There are several reasons.

While the narrative voice is evocative of the period, there are a great many period terms that are left without contextual inference, so that the average reader might founder. Given I’m somewhat acquainted with the period, even I had difficulty at times. And that detail sometimes is so overwhelming that the story arc gets lost amid descriptions of exactly what type of rushes are used on floors, or flowers pinned to bosoms, or types of woods that are burned in fires.
The character point of view tends to wander within sections, so that overall the story ended up with a lack of character development. After awhile it began to pall to read about brawny, hairy men, what they were thinking, what the women lusting after them were thinking, and what the hus-carls warming various beds were thinking.

Which brings me to the sexuality of the novel. I’m all for cross-genre writing. But I’m also an advocate of literary integrity. And while Sile Rice had some simply compelling material with which to work, about half way through the novel that material ended up mired beneath precisely and crudely detailed sex scenes. There is such a thing as too much information. And there is such a thing as losing the integrity of your plot by attempting to blend microscopically detailed erotica with what could have been a fabulous historical novel.

And then there is the problem of sentence structure. In an attempt to mirror an Anglo-Saxon, bard’s voice, the sentences tend to run on, and on, and then on some more. We start out a sentence about someone crossing a road, and end up with a sentence, some hundred words later, having detailed the quality of mud and rushes.

So, while I truly wanted to find merit in this novel, not only because of the subject matter, but because this is by an author who has taken her backlist (formerly published with Hodder and Stoughton, and Arcade) and brought her work back to life.

In this case, maybe the work should have been left to slumber.

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