This historical fiction reads more like a book written in the 19th Century than one written in our time, which says something for the quality of the Dennis’s creativeness. One must qualify that by pointing out that there is a great deal of modern rather than 19th Century word usage and sentence structure, but for the modern reader that simply sharpens understanding, rather than detracting from the historic placement. Time shifting word patterns have often give even the greatest literature from past centuries a turgid heaviness. So I think the author was right to not too deeply play his use of 19th century ‘building materials’.
As one is absorbed in the series of period specific vignettes, which make up the book, the descriptive detail effortlessly levers imagination back through time. I would find it hard to believe that Dennis hasn’t read a great many of the classic fictions from the period, allowing his writing to absorb something of those famous authors tones. The modern reader needs to be warned that this book also has a slow rhythm, is very long descriptive detail and has a primary plot that is almost an irrelevance. What Davis does do with a certain brilliance is draw us to the ‘atmospheres’, the social drama, the real histories, of the 18th and 19th centuries.
My strongest criticism is firstly that the book is overlong, being at least two good-sized reads in one, and that, secondly, I see no value in flicking backwards and forwards in time. The later confused me, causing a struggle to put together the jigsaw of characters and events. I am, I’m sure, hampered by being a particularly slow reader, so necessitating many periods of reading interwoven with the demands of my real world. Particularly with my memory being far short of excellent, I was too often left half drowned. The book is far too long for all but a few to read at one or even two concentrated sittings. I would love to see this book re-engineered into a simple linear chronology.
Overall, it would be most ingenuous of me not to give this book five of those ridiculous stars. However, I feel this reads more like a work in progress than a finished article. This is the first part of a series, but that doesn’t mean that this volume is correctly ended in adagio rather than climatic allegro. The read finishes with an intellectual plot resolution of sorts, but with none of the fortissimo that some earlier episodes in the book achieved. In short, a wonderful read that is somewhat spoiled by a lack of input from a good content editor.