Friday, October 30, 2009

Vive la Revolution!

Y'all remember how much I liked Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, right? Well, this little news item from Amy on Passages to the Past had me jumping up and down this morning:

Michelle Moran reveals UK cover for 2011 publication, Madame Tussaud

(I speak French and I still spelled that wrong three times.)

I'm really excited for this book; the French Revolution has always been one of my favorite fiction settings. But it's sooo far away...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm about to go medieval on your... well. You know. A Historical Novel Review.

It's blog tour time!

Pendragon's Banner
(Book 2)
by Helen Hollick

Cover: Overall, I like it. It's very *manly* looking, and will probably attract a lot of readers.

Summary: Arthur is king in a historically-based Great Britain. He goes on progress, he works in a world plagued by ethnic conflict, and he fights for his own survival as well as for that of his loyal men and his dream of a Britain under his single rule. It is a fast-paced novel of the early medieval period, with one man fated to bring light to to a dark age.
My Review: This is one of the better Arthurian books I've read in while. While I'm a huge fan of T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King, I'm probably a bigger fan overall of Arthurian books based on historical fact. Hollick has clearly done her research and kept this Arthur solidly based in a real time.

On a side note, I also appreciate that the author decided to write dialogue in a more sophisticated and style. Much as I loved The Mists of Avalon, I always felt taken out of the time period when so much of the dialogue was written in a modern syntax. At the same time, Hollick writes her dialogue in the way that Sharon Kay Penman does: stylistically, but not distractingly-old-fashioned. It's enough to help engross you in the period, but also easy enough to read through quickly.

I have to say that Gwenhwyfar ("Guinevere" from the traditional tales) was my favorite character. She was strong and made her opinion known whenever she had one, and it made her sections of the book particularly interesting. I think some criticism that might come her way would be that Gwenhwyfar is anachronistically spunky, but I think that she's rather more historically accurate by being portrayed this way. We don't know a fraction of what life was like for medieval women because of the lack of written information about them. Modern writers have to work based off of scant material, and as such it's easy to make mistakes or strange suppositions. However, I think that Hollick is fully justified in her characterization of Gwenhwyfar; after all, women didn't just turn "spunky" in the 1970s when they became much more equal to men in the official views of society. There have always been fierce ladies, no matter their social position or their period of time, and the Guinevere of legend, if there is any historical base, must have been one of them. She was descended from royalty, educated, and believed she was destined to marry the greatest king of all time; why wouldn't she speak her mind? For all intents and purposes, she and everyone around her believe her to be one of the most influential women of the age. Plus, reading about a lady like her is always entertaining and makes you turn the pages as fast as you can.

And yes, I did just use the word "fierce."

Arthur is noble and easy to like. The action scenes are great fun, too. One of the most beautiful and horrible parts of Arthurian literature, for me, has always been the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, and immensely hard to understand. Hollick approaches this part of the lenged from a different angle that is more satisfying.

While this definitely feels like the "middle" part of the trilogy that it is, I read it without having read the first one and was able to follow along and enjoy it without feeling like I was missing something. I look forward to the next book in this series, and to going back and reading The Kingmaking.

Visit the author's website

Buy this book on Amazon

The Courtier's Book is part of the Sourcebooks blog tour for Pendragon's Banner-- see what everyone else has to say about this exciting book by following along on the next tour stops:

The Tome Travellers Weblog (10/12)

A Reader’s Respite (10/12)

Carla Nayland’s Historical Fiction (10/13)

Enchanted by Josephine (10/14)

Fumbling with Fiction (10/14)

Found Not Lost (10/15)

Nan Hawthorne’s Booking the Middle Ages (10/15)

Jenny Loves to Read (10/16)

The Review From Here (10/17)

The Courtier’s Book (10/18)

Chick Loves Lit (10/19)

Love Romance Passion (10/20)

He Followed Me Home… Can I Keep Him? (10/20)

The Impasse Strikes Back (10/21)

S. Krishna’s Books (10/22)

Books Like Breathing (10/23)

Passages to the Past (10/24)

Virginie Says (10/25)

Readaholic (10/25)

Reading with Monie (10/26)

Rundpinne (10/26)

Books & Needlepoint (10/27)

Capricious Reader (10/27)

Books are my Only Friends (10/27)

A Sea of Books (10/28)

Bloody Bad (10/28)

Revenge of the Book Nerds! (10/28)

Booksie’s Blog (10/28)

Devourer of Books (10/29)

Peeking Between the Pages (10/29)

Starting Fresh (10/29)

Historical Tapestry (10/30)

Medieval Bookworm (10/30)

Book Soulmates (10/30)

Susan’s Art & Words (10/30)

Steven Till (10/31)

Café of Dreams (10/31)

There are plenty of interviews, guest posts, and book reviews to interest anyone-- enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is technically "historical," right? An Intelectual Thriller Review.

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

I hate it. What is it? Is this a novelization of National Treasure?

Summary: Oh, god, yes, I've been waiting to write this...

Renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has been summoned to talk about something historical, and eerily-related to the mystery that unfolds when he discovers a gruesome-but-esoteric crime scene. Of course, he is immediately under suspicion for the crime, and he must flee from a Javert-esque police officer. He finds an encrypted object that he must solve before time runs out, but doing so might unleash a secret... a secret that could turn the whole world on its head if it is released. Some people want this secret out; others do not. Nevertheless, time may be running out for Langdon.

Also, there is a chick involved.

My Review: I loved it.

What can I say? You get what you pay for. Refusing to buy this butt-ugly book in dead-tree form, I downloaded it to my eReader and proceeded to plow through it in three days. I'm sure that's not fast to most of you fellow bloggers, but I read this along with two other books for a class, I read during lecture, and I read standing in line at the bank. It was kind of awesome.

If you like other Dan Brown books, you'll like this one, and I must admit that I think he has improved as a writer. He still has his problems... there are a lot of italics, for one. A lot. Sometimes he uses them to indicate the thoughts of a character. But sometimes he just uses them to tritely emphasise an otherwise average sentence. There are some useless factoids I could have done without, like what kind of engine was in the plane that Langdon flew to D.C. There were a few moments where I actually figured out a clue before Langdon... and that's saying something for me. All that said, I think he has improved. He's more socially aware, for one. His characterization is less telltelltell and much more nuanced. His villain is much more horrible (although... probably not more believable) than in his previous books. The love interest is 50, and easily close to the age of Langdon, making this a respectable move from a female character construction standpoint.

In the end, this is a great book on an entertainment level. Not everything has to be perfect. We can't all be Michael Crichton. Get charmed by Langdon's weirdness. Lose yourself in an action sequence. And hey, if there's one thing you can't fault Dan Brown on, it's pacing. I didn't want to put this book down because I always had to turn one more page (electronically, that is). I'll say it here and now: I enjoyed this book and I look forward to the next Dan Brown book, hopefully featuring the irascible Langdon.

Check this out: Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences, as collected by The Telegraph

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