I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations -- but sometimes, I just can't do anything else. This is one of those times.
This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter -- in an introductory note we're told "By the early 1500's," Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 -- but things didn't really get moving for a few years. So "by" the early 1500's is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, "while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction." Now, I guess it's possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I'm pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We're not even to chapter 1 and we've got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs -- it'd be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn't.
With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character's vocabulary -- will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone's ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you're not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it's understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I'm not sure I'm willing to buy 16th century people talking about "teenage angst." Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy -- and it takes the reader out of the moment.
If you're going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points -- you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize -- but man . . . when it's such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I'd like the book as a "theology nerd," so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn't have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion -- particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing -- most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.
This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn't really a success. There wasn't real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially -- those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals -- including crime victims and survivors -- this might have worked.
I'm just piling on now, and I really don't want to do that. So, I'll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say " I do not think it means what you think it means." Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.
Barclay can probably produce a decent book -- there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post -- I do appreciate it, even if the book didn't work for me.
I write this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This is a book based on a real case (although so many years later and with the few documents and written clues available it is difficult to know what might have been ‘real’ and ‘true’ at the time) that has all the elements to be a fabulous novel, or a TV investigative documentary, or a movie. You can check the Werewolf of Bedburg and you’ll find a lot of information (or rather, a bit of information elaborated upon and repeated everywhere, but not many different sources). It’s easy to understand why the author would become fascinated with the subject and I also see how a writer would feel that the bare bones of the case that can be found through research would make a great starting point to write a fully-fledged and fleshed-out story. And that is what the author decided to do. In such a case, decisions have to be made as to how close to keep to the facts (such as they are) and how many fictional elements should be introduced. With this particular story, there were also many possibilities with regards to genre. Should it be a historical novel, researching the place and times and fitting in the specifics of the story around the findings? Should it be a mystery/thriller, chasing and investigating an early example of a serial killer? Should it be a horror novel? Personally, I’m not sure what I would have done, but as a reader, this novel was not what I expected. This has probably more to do with me than with the book itself but, in my opinion, it tries to be too many things.
The novel has elements of historical fiction. The author explains, in an end note, who were the real characters, and who the ones he created, and also briefly exposes some of the liberties he took. The historical background and facts are fairly accurate (although if you research the story, it seems that the fate of the daughter was very different to the one in the book, that seems an attempt at introducing a romance and a happy ending of sorts, that, in my opinion, does not befit the subject), and one of the things that the author does very well is to reflect the conflict between Catholics and Protestants at the time, the atmosphere of deep suspicion and hostility, and the paranoia that permeated all levels of society, whereby nobody was safe and anybody could be betrayed and accused of being a follower of the wrong faith. The author uses modern language, a perfectly good choice to ensure more readers access the text, but there are anachronisms and expressions that felt out of place (and perhaps using a more neutral, rather than a very casual language would have been less jarring, as some expressions sounded particularly weird in such setting. We have references to teenager, an expression only in use in the XXc. , characters drink coffee whilst it was never introduced to Germany until the late part of the XVII century…). I also wondered about some of the characters’ actions. Sybil, a young girl who lost her mother and looks after her father and younger brother, challenges her father’s authority with no consequences, goes out by herself and does things I would have thought would be out of character (but I will try and not offer too many spoilers). Dieter is a young and pious priest that seems to change his faith and his mind practically overnight (no matter what he thought about the bishop, the religion he’d dedicated years to, one would expect it would mean more to him than that) as a result of falling in love at first sight (as there is nothing in common between him and the girl) and in general I felt most of the characters were not psychologically consistent. I am not an authority on that historical period, although I have read other books about that era that created a clearer picture in my mind, about the historical period and also about the society of the time.
Whilst the novel opens as if it was going to be a straight investigation into bizarre murders, with a suggestion of the paranormal, there are some elements of investigation (following people, plenty of intrigues, researching paperwork), but a lot of the novel is taken up by telling (more than showing) us about the religious situation, the machinations of the powerful of the time (particularly Bishop Solomon, not a real character who is truly despicable and has no redeeming features at all) and it stirs the book towards the territory of the intrigue/conspiracy-theory novel (it appears likely that those aspects played a big part during the trial of the man who was found guilty of being the werewolf).
Although at the beginning there is the suggestion that there might be elements of horror in the novel that is not the case. Or rather, the real horror is the way the truth is sacrificed to political and religious interests and how no side is above using any means to win (the Catholics come out of it slightly worse off, but nobody is truly blameless). There is action, violence (some for comic relief, but some extreme and graphic, including torture scenes and gross deaths), and war, so this is not a gentle novel for people intent on learning a bit about the historical era, but it is not scary in sense horror lovers would expect.
The story is told in the third person from the point of view of different characters, and each chapter starts with the name of the character whose point of view we share, although at times we get reflections and comments from an omniscient point of view (comments about character’s feelings or motivations that do not seem to come from them). Heinrich, the investigator, is an enigmatic character we never get to know well, as although we see things from his point of view, we aren’t privy to his full motivations (and that is aided by the third person narration). He is at times presented as weak and ineffective (a bit like Johnny Depp’s depiction of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow) and at others, he is clever and manipulative (and the ending is quite eerie, but no, I won’t say anything else). He seems determined to carry on with his investigation and get to the truth one minute, and then he settles for what he knows is a lie, behaving as a corrupt cog-in-the-machine.
I suspect it was partly because of the point of view changes but I found it difficult to connect with the characters (my favourite was Georg, a conflicted character whose motivations are easier to understand and who was, despite his flaws, a good man. I felt sorry for Sybil but her character didn’t quite gel for me) although it is impossible not to be horrified at what went on and I didn’t manage to get the timing of the events straight in my mind.
Some of the comments expressed unhappiness with the ending, but for me, that is well resolved (perhaps apart from the happy ending part of it, but then that is a matter of genre) and I did not find its openness a problem but rather a plus.
Most of my difficulties with the book stem from my own expectations about what the story was going to be about and how it was going to be told. I’ve read many positive reviews about the book, and as I said, it does create a sense of dread, paranoia, and suspicion that can help us imagine what living in that historical period, so uncertain, must have been like. And it has a chilling and eerie ending. So, if you are intrigued by the history behind it, don’t take my word for it and check a sample of the book. And do a bit of research. It will prove, once more, that reality can be stranger than fiction.
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before but a few days ago, a mouse bit through our internet fibre cable (not sure about the technical term) and that way several mice got in through the tiny opening. Since then we've been using our humane trap that we got in the summer when we forgot that out here, you can't leave the front door open even for a short while... That mouse was shut into the bathroom and mainly hid behind the shower or the washing machine so it wasn't too difficult to handle - except for the first time I saw it. It was probably a lot more scared than I was - I was just startled - because I'm not really scared of any rodent, just spiders, snakes etc. Anyway, this time around there are a lot more and they're hanging out on our floor, not the cold and more or less empty ground floor. And these clever, cute little creatures can reach in and get to the bait (mainly bread, oats, pasta etc) and not get caught in the trap. Even so, we've probably released about ten-twelve of them in just this short time and we still have at least four in here. They're everywhere! Climbing on drying laundry, on clean laundry we hadn't yet put away (but we have now). One even got on my sister's back when she was sitting in her armchair! We're quite worried we'll accidentally hurt these tiny creatures, but so far they've been more or less fine, only scared, but not nearly as scared as I expected. The few mice I've seen earlier, when we lived in the cabin in the woods, were a lot shier of us. Even the rats that we had in the garage in town were gentle, polite creatures that never did us any harm, though two of them hissed at us, when they realized they couldn't get into the living areas. I've had it with living in this farming area. It must be the wheat fields that attract all these mice. Add to that the lack of communications and culture - well, I just want to get out of here. Not back to where we came from, because that place sucked big time, but somewhere else. Somewhere better. In a way, I feel guilty for not appreciating this place more. It's a nice place. People are nice. We're not used to that. And it's cheap. And several of our ancestors came from here. I should have known there was a reason our family moved away from here...
Two months before Kitty had been called to a lawyer’s office to find out she now owned Bluebell Lodge and a small apartment nearby Bluebell Lodge from her grandmother who she had been lead to believe had died before Kitty was born. So now Kitty is off to see what was now hers and make a new life for herself. Kitty at one time had a dream of becoming a doctor and care for her terminally ill mother. But instead she was her mother’s only caregiver and her mom had passed away five months before and at ten years old Kitty lost her dad in a car accident. All Kitty had before the news from the lawyers were her books and Kitty had been at loose ends but now she had a new start, Kitty found a cat in the apartment that was now hers also. The cat’s name was Alfie. There was a bicycle in the apartment and Kitty rode that to town to get some groceries and cat food. After Kitty returned home with the groceries and cat food, Kitty headed off to Bluebell Lodge.Kitty met Tom who was the manager of the farm after a fall then she fell again and Tom helped her up both times. Blue bell Lodge is the name of the farm and chickens are raised for show and eggs there. Kitty was relieved when Tom offered to stay on as her manager,Jeanie became a quick friend to Kitty. Kitty also makes friends with Lucinda who owns the bakery. Kitty found a diary in a safe at Bluebell Lodge dated from 1960 written by Violet. This answered questions she didn’t even know they had.
I loved this story it was really good. The first part is light and sweet with Kitty with Kitty learning about the chicken farm and all that entailed. Then finding the diary changes the tone of the story and a lot of emotions are brought to the front of this part of the story. But Kitty does now have friends to back her. I will sat once the diary was found it was hard to but this story done as I wanted to see what would be said next. At times i choked up . The characters were great especially Kitty and I loved the twists and turns she went through. I highly recommend.
I received an ARC of this story for an honest review.