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Attack of the unexpected, unnecessary paranormal romance
on 20 December 2010
Initially, 'Child of the Phoenix' was a fairly solid example of the historical fiction genre. It's a bit cliched (can we say beautiful and willful heroine?) and nothing spectacular, but the story races along quite well and I found it an engaging and quick read despite its size. Characterisation is patchy and inconsistent: Eleyne is described throughout as an independent, opinionated, fiery woman and yet she submits without question when her first husband beats her to punish her for her actions, then has willing sex with him and snuggles up to him for comfort, which is utterly unbelieveable. I would have expected, shock, anger and hurt, not the strange meekness which Erskine suddenly gives her. I could live with that though, as most of the enjoyment of historical novels for me is in the plot rather than the characters.
Halfway through, however, the book runs into major problems. The story goes round and round in circles as similar events happened repeatedly with seemingly no attempt to differentiate between them. Then the paranormal romance strikes! Now, I have nothing against a bit of magic in books, particularly the occasional use of the Sight or references to the old gods which seems to be ubiquitous in any historical novel with an even vaguely celtic setting, but this combination of strange visions and a ghostly love triangle was far too much for my tastes.
Erskine explains in her afterward that very little is known about her central character. In fact, she may even be two entirely different people that Erskine has erroneously combined, historical records are that vague and incomplete. To me, the paranormal subplot which quickly takes over is a lazy way of attempting to inject excitement into the times when very little was happening in Eleyne's life without having to develop the story and characters in a more difficult way without such instant appeal. The paranormal occurrences are noticeably absent at times when important and interesting historical events are occurring, and so they really do just seem like a way to fill in the gaps without trying.
Ultimately, I would have preferred this book if Erskine had avoided the problem of long periods when nothing happened by making the book much shorter. There are plenty of examples of time being skipped over, just indicated by a dated heading, and so, at over 1,000 pages, I feel that she could have trimmed a lot of fat from this book and made it a much tighter read, without the need for a silly ghostly lover.