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Search tags: Historical-Fantasy
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review 2017-08-17 18:06
A Mystery of Errors / Simon Hawke
A Mystery of Errors - Simon Hawke

Two travelers, Will Shakespeare-a fledgling dramatist, and Symington Smythe, an ostler and aspiring thespian, meet at a roadside inn and decide to cast their lot together for fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of the London theater in Elizabethan England . . . but neither was prepared for their offstage encounter with A Mystery of Errors. When a backer's daughter is double-crossed by a would-be suitor, the reluctant bride turns to the ostler and the playwright for help.  Little does anyone realize that these simple affairs of the heart and an arranged marriage will lead to a vast web of conspiracy, mistaken identity, and murder that finds the playwright targeted for assassination and the ostler hopelessly in love.

 

This novel suffered from comparison with recently read historical fiction by C.C. Humphreys, whose work stands head-and-shoulders above this little mystery. The writing of just the first page had me wondering if I would even bother to finish the book. After all, life is finite and there are tons of good books out there.

I did persevere, however, and followed the story to its rather pedestrian end. The plot was imaginative and I wish the author had been able to exercise more skill in its execution. Rather than flowing, events bumped along rather brusquely. The dialog was simple and the characterization was basic. Every now and then, there would be a tiny info-dump as the author proved that he had done his research.

If you are considering this book, I would suggest that you approach with caution. If you are looking for a book featuring Shakespeare as a character (as I was), I would recommend Shakespeare's Rebel. If something involving a highwayman is your goal, try Plague. If you are looking for a 21st century humourous take on Shakespeare, pick up Shakespeare Undead, which is lighthearted yet effortlessly shows how to reference the Bard’s works without belabouring the point.

At some point, I will probably solider on and read the second mystery in this series, as I have made a bit of a project out of reading all the novels I can find that feature Shakespeare as a character. You are not obliged to follow me in this obsession.

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review 2017-08-17 18:03
Plague / C.C. Humphreys
Plague - C.C. Humphreys

London, 1665. A serial killer stalks his prey, scalpel in his hand and God's vengeance in his heart. Five years after his restoration to the throne, Charles II leads his citizens by example, enjoying every excess. Londoners have slipped the shackles of puritanism and now flock to the cockpits, brothels and, especially, the theatres, where for the first time women are allowed to perform alongside the men. But not everyone is swept up in the excitement. Some see this liberated age as the new Babylon, and murder victims pile up in the streets, making no distinction in class between a royalist member of parliament and a Cheapside whore. But they have a few things in common: the victims are found with gemstones in their mouths. And they have not just been murdered; they've been . . . sacrificed.  Now the plague is returning to the city with full force, attacking indiscriminately . . . and murder has found a new friend.

 

Chris Humphreys is an inspired historical fiction author. I met him last weekend at a literary conference and he is smart, funny, and charming as the devil. He definitely benefits from his acting background, particularly his ease with performing Shakespeare (we got an excerpt from one of the Henry plays during his key-note address). During one of his panel discussions, he mentioned that as an author, one must choose how the dialog will be written—choose your form of “bygone-ese” as he called it. Humphrey’s ease with the English of Shakespeare and his playwright’s ear for what will sound good gives his fiction a feeling of reality, using just enough older vocabulary and never becoming too 21st century.

There is, of course, theatre involved in the novel—a subject that the author is knowledgeable and comfortable with. But the variety of characters, from highwayman to serial killer to royalty, gives the story a breadth that I appreciated. As a reader, you are not limited to merely the theatre of 1665, you experience many parts of London. In fact London itself could be counted as a character.

I will be working my way, gradually, through all of Chris Humphreys works and will definitely look forward to more. Highly recommended.

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review 2017-07-24 20:03
Soleri / Michael Johnston
Soleri - Michael Johnston

I am a big fan of anything Ancient Egyptian and of King Lear, so when I heard this book described as inspired by both of those things, I knew I had to give it a try. The environment and the architecture were definitely reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, as were the names and some of the religious observances, but the author definitely gave his world its own traditions and quirks.

I didn’t really see the King Lear comparison—unlike Shakespearean tragedy, there were survivors! I guess the Harkan king, Arko Hark-Wadi could have been somewhat equivalent to Lear, but he is not nearly passionate enough to truly do justice to that monarch. However, that does not mean that it was a disappointing book.

All the members of Arko’s family, in fact, seem rather cold and calculating, even when they are supposedly in love with someone. There are manipulations and misunderstandings galore! If you enjoy back-stabbing and elaborate plots to sabotage rivals, this is the book for you.

I suspect there will be a sequel—there were enough loose ends left hanging to justify one. Probably sales of this volume will determine whether the sequel sees the light of day. I, for one, like messy endings, so I am okay with Soleri’s final pages, but if you need things wrapped up neatly, you may find it frustrating.

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review 2017-07-24 19:58
Blood Games / Chealsea Quinn Yarbro
Blood Games - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

Finally, I met the enigmatic Olivia who corresponded with Saint-Germain during the first two books! She is an excellent character and the Ancient Roman setting was an inspired choice. I can’t imagine all the historical research that Yarbro must do for each novel—so far, she has skipped through three entirely different time periods and seems to maintain the accuracy of each one reasonably well.

Also long awaited was Saint-Germain actually using his vampire powers a bit more. What is the point of giving your main character exceptional abilities if you aren’t going to utilize them? It was also good to see him lose his temper and make errors. Up to this point, he has been the uber-rational, uber-calm master mind who never screws up!

I seem to be on a vampire kick this summer and I’m enjoying the variety of perspectives as I switch authors. Yarbro’s fiction is from a time before the paranormal craze that we find ourselves in today and is interesting just for that.

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review 2017-07-04 22:23
The Essex Serpent / Sarah Perry
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

 

Being a fan of Mary Anning, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the story of Cora Seaborne, a fellow admirer of the female fossil finder. Perry manages to illustrate the debate between the scientific and the spiritual as Cora debates these matters with the local vicar, Will Ransome. They especially clash over the issue of the Essex Serpent, possibly a relic of the Cretaceous haunting the Essex shoreline. Which beliefs are true? When is belief harmful?

Released from a brutal marriage by her husband’s sudden death, Cora gets to indulge her inner naturalist and spend time wandering the trails, forests and shores of Essex. She finds freedom in dressing like a man and trying to forget the societal limitations on her gender. Her son, obviously depicted as somewhere on the autism spectrum, is a cause for concern.

A parallel story is that of Cora’s secretary/companion, Martha, who is a socialist and passionately interested in social justice issues. When a man of means fancies her, Martha uses that interest to point him and his fortune towards housing issues in the East End of London.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, but Perry manages to keep all the balls in the air and the plot ticking along quickly. Recommended for those who enjoy reading about the Victorian time period, albeit with a very modern view point.

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