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A Sundial in a Grave: 1610 Paperback – May 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780380820412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380820412
  • ASIN: 0380820412
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,985,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1st trade paperback new condition In stock shipped from our UK warehouse

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Roy on 26 May 2004
Format: Paperback
Mary Gentle is widely known for what I like to call "historical fantasy." 1610: A Sundial in a Grave barely meets the definition of fantasy or science fiction, with the only fantastic element being the fact that mathematical precognition is a reality. She's also known as a meticulous researcher, and she shows that again in this book. 1610 is a wonderful book that just starts a little too slow.
1610 is a year of change. Edward Fludd has perfected the mathematics of telling the future. However, he doesn't like what he sees, so he determines to change it. This is the year where that change becomes possible. Valentin Rochefort, a duellist and down on his luck aristocrat, as well as servant to the French spymaster Sully, is having his own problems. He is supposed to set up the assassination of his monarch, Henry IV, but it's designed to be a fake. Too bad for him that it happens to succeed. Disgraced and forced to run, he encounters his nemesis, Dariole, who revels in humiliating him, especially by being 16 years old and able to beat him at swordplay. Dariole ends up running with him, and they both find themselves trapped in Fludd's web. Fludd intends to use Rochefort in an assassination of his own, one that will change the future the way he wants it to be. With the addition of a shipwrecked Japanese samurai, agendas clash, different honor systems conflict, and secrets are revealed. The story goes all over the world, from France to England to Portugal and then to Japan before returning for an intriguing finish. There's even time for a little romance as well.
1610 is written as if it were a computer-generated reconstructed translation of a fire-damaged manuscript written by Rochefort.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John P on 2 July 2005
Format: Paperback
Mary Gentle is a fine writer with this abiding fault: she cannot pass a fact without engaging it in conversation. As a result, her vivid prose and insightful characterisations are permanently hampered by a clogging mass of detail and digression. "1610" is not as bloated as the monstrously overlong "Ash", nor as self-defeatingly esoteric as the White Crow novels, but it's much weightier than its subject matter warrants. An author this prone to self-indulgence needs the services of a good editor, but in this case the editor seems to have glazed over quite early on, if the various continuity slips are anything to go by.
The writing is strong and sensuous throughout, but is let down by a central lack of substance. "Ash" managed to convince me that quantum mechanics can rewrite the past, but I didn't for a moment believe "1610"s premise that mathematical calculations can reveal the future. The story is therefore stranded at a supposedly pivotal but in fact hugely unexciting moment in history, requiring the characters to spend ages wandering around Somerset and take a completely unnecessary voyage to Japan in order to sustain the plot for 700 pages.
It all redeems itself magnificently over the last 100 pages, and the conclusion is genuinely moving; but if I hadn't taken the book on holiday, I doubt I'd have got that far. Beautifully crafted, but much too long, "1610" is a triumph of writing over storytelling, and that's a Pyrrhic victory at best.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Archie Lacey on 31 Dec 2003
Format: Paperback
Set variously in england at the time of James 1st and in france and japan this book is another exercise in cultural immersion. Gentle yet again leaves us breathless with her grasp of historical detail and attitudes. This book is less involved with the fanatastic than ASH but the characterisation is more finely drawn. In particular the relationship between the two central players is the driving force of the book.
It also has to be mentioned that the book also pulls of a major shock that simply leaves you gasping and relieved.
Gentle is fast becoming one of my favourite novelists.
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I really enjoy fantasy with a historical twist (or is it history with a fantasy twist) and discovered this novel via a review of The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle.

For me a test of a good historical novel (or historical/fantasy) is that it makes me want to go and read around the story and this novel certainly did that. I'll be Googling the main events and characters later to see how Mary Gentle has woven her story around real events.

Other people have provided the synopsis, so I won't repeat that, but I'd agree with the fact that it is a little hard to get into. I read the first few pages at the gallop, as I usually do, then realised I had no idea what was going on and reread more carefully. Don't expect to be able to speed read this - there is a lot of complexity which you will miss if you do.

I don't often give 5 stars, but I'm going to on this occasion as it was one of those rare stories that I don't want to finish, but want to know what happens. I am already recommending it to anyone who stands still long enough and I'm sure I'll read it again.

I hadn't read anything by Mary Gentle since Golden Witchbreed more years ago than I care to remember, but I'm off to chase down her back catalogue.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K. Freeman on 17 Dec 2004
Format: Paperback
Magnificent, romantic, exciting (in that sense for which one might use a different word that would get censored out, as well as in the normal sense), ingenious in the way that books like Da Vinci Code just wish they were.
Gentle has historical mentalities down cold and the writing of sword combat refined to a level of magnificence. Her characters are engaging and complex, and her plot is gripping. She never takes the easy or obvious option, which gives her work realism and depth. More accessible than some of her earlier (pre-ASH) work, this is still a novel of uncompromising quality. I fervently recommend it.
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