Sunday, 20 May 2018

DUNSTAN by Conn Iggulden

(Dunstan by Conn Iggulden, AKA The Abbot's Tale in the US)
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Well, I think it pretty obvious that Conn Iggulden relished breathing life into this complicated creature called Dunstan. What a joy it is to read books that are so clearly a work of pride by the author. And he should be proud. This was a bloody good book. The best I have read of him so far… but of course, I have not yet read everything he has written. 

Now, Dunstan of Glastonbury is not your typical feel-good protagonist. Don’t expect to go into this book backing him to the hilt throughout his journey. He can be a very bad boy, and an even worse adult and there are many readers of this book who are saying they loathed him or disliked him. I actually did like him eventually. At first, in the opening chapters, with the way he treated his brother, I really didn’t like him much at all. With time, that passed and I found myself often rooting for him as he planned and plotted his vengeances and his climb to the top.

In his lifetime he outlives them all. Kings, Queens, family. And in the end, he gets a bit over it all. I suppose, as an insomniac and with many sins to ride his soul, life can get a little exhausting in the end for an old schemer like Dunstan.
What a man though. What accomplishments. What a colourful life. What things he must have seen.

Iggulden has made up so much, but this is historical fiction, it is to be expected. You have the few references to him in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and not much else. This gave the author a fairly broad palette to work his colours upon. With the attention not on giving us one long-winded info dump that reads more like a Non-Fiction, but to give us a fiction that follows the known history closely enough to inform us while entertaining us.

And what a world he had to entertain us. But don’t let me try to explain it…let Iggulden explain it through the words of his Dunstan:

“You have to understand our kingdom is a flame in a storm gale, guttering, flickering, struggling to survive. To the West, we still had the Vikings who had made their fiefdoms in Ireland. To the east and north, we had the might of all those small kings who saw our coast as a challenge – the Danes, the Swedish kings, the savage Norse. To the south, all along the coast of old Gaul, more Norsemen gathered, peering across at us. They waited all around us then. We had no chance to survive, some said. Yet we fought even so, whenever they came. Some men will.
We fought, because not to fight was to be destroyed, but also because we’d glimpsed something in the land, the rivers. Our fathers and grandfathers had found a good place, a sweet valley, with wolves on every hill all around us, just watching. We were farmers and soldiers and princes and priests. They were mere cruelty.
When a king died, they came howling down the hills.” 

This was quite a land of fire and sword in those times and what better world is there than that, for this author to pick up his brush and give us the most vividly worded account of a manipulative, aspiring, selfish, flawed, sinful creature called Dunstan of Glastonbury.

- MM


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

BRETHREN by Robyn Young

Brethren by Robyn Young

It has taken me a long time to read book one in this Brethren trilogy. Which is unusual for me, seeing as Robyn Young is one of my favourite authors and I loved her Insurrection trilogy and I really enjoyed book one, Sons of the Blood, in her new trilogy, New World Rising.

I think I avoided Brethren for so many years because of regular comments from fellow readers on it being more romance based than the trilogies mentioned above. Having now read Brethren, I am surprised that people say this. I did not find it romance heavy at all. Not to the stage where it would put off a reader who does not enjoy romance. There is a relationship between two young characters that develops into something stronger as they grow up, but I never found it ‘romancy’ nor melodramatic. 

It took me a while to get into the read due to maybe a third of the book being consumed by characters as children and young adults. Now this, of course, is personal taste. It is neither a negative about the book or a fatal story wrecker, it is just that, no matter how much I like or love the author’s work, I never like hanging around in the child or young adult phases and I felt Brethren dwelled there too long. I prefer stories set around adults; doing adult things, viewing life through an adult’s eyes, talking in adult voices.

This is not going to be my favourite Young novel, I mean, how can this strong debut ever compare to the beauty of the Insurrection trilogy? It just cannot, for the simple fact that it is indeed a debut. By a younger Robyn Young. With Insurrection, the author was older, wiser, more experienced as a writer. She had obviously learned a lot about herself. Learned how she wanted to write and in what voice her stories should be told. Brethren is Robyn Young in training wheels. She was not quite ready for aerial flips, tyre grabs and tailwhips.

Still, it is a decent, solid read. It had its moments where I maybe didn’t want to pick it up, and then it had its moments where I could not wait to pick it up.
With a tale split between the Templars in the west and the Mamluks in the east, and then the coming together of both medieval super powers, it is drawn out as a very detailed and intelligently done plot with sub plot aplenty. 

It had a lot of promise and I look forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy, Crusade and Requiem. I’ve heard good things about them both and I will try to slot them into my reading schedule this year or early next.

3 stars out of 5

-      -  MM 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

CATHAR by Christopher Bland

Cathar by Christopher Bland
Written with a sharp and deft hand, Cathar is the story of not one, not two, but, um, well I forgot to count, so let’s just say it was written in the voices of maybe as many as ten first-person points of view. 
For some this works and they do not flinch. For me, it was an overwhelming flood of voices and it made the book not as enjoyable as it could have been.

Francois is your main voice. And from the book’s blurb, I was under the impression that he would be the only voice. I feel the blurb should have touched on this not being the case. He gets the most talk time in this tale of Cathars during the terrifying reign of the Inquisition, but he is nearly lost at stages under the chattering of all his friends, lovers and acquaintances.  

I think that if, like me, you get put off by more than two first-person points of view in a novel, then perhaps if you go into this at least expecting the multitude, it will set you better on your reading path. I was not expecting it and this worked against it…for me. If I had known, things may have gone down differently.

I was very much enjoying the early stages of the book when it was only Francois, so to then have it abruptly change to another character’s first-person narration was a surprise. Then every time you meet a new character, that character eventually shows up in first-person as well. And that first-person narration is nearly always just a retelling of a scene already described by one or more.

I understand what the author was trying to do. He was trying to give the publishers a unique voice. The unique voice that they say you can’t get published without. I commend him for giving it a red-hot go. He nearly pulled it off for me, and for some – those who have no issue with the multiple first person narrative style and the story line that never really had energy or reached a climax – he has indeed pulled it off. In fact, I know some who really liked it. So, you just never know who will like Bland’s narrative style and who will not. 

It may sound like I disliked the book and oddly, despite the review being written here, I did not dislike it. 
I should clear up this vagary...
I felt it was well written. As I said at the opening of this review, it was a sharp and deft style. A style I admired often as I read the book.  Sometimes it was quite beautiful. The plot wasn't really on fire. It was very melancholy in tone and was lacking in energy, but a lot of the time, this was not of detriment to the story. It kind of suited it. Although, sometimes it made it boring. I won't avoid mentioning that.

I give it 3 stars, which means simply, I liked it. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I liked some aspects, I disliked others.  I got annoyed with it at times, bored at other times, but entertained at others.  I am glad I read it. It was something different. I learned a lot about Cathars, who are a people of history that I knew pretty much nothing about initially, and I also learned that apparently in these times women can have lots of sex over long periods of time and never actually get pregnant...hmm…what is their secret?

I also learned that multiple first-person points of view are most definitely not for me.

-  MM