Most helpful critical review
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Not bad, but lacks something
on 18 November 2007
I had high hopes for this book. Promising a clash between civilisations during the time of the crusades, it seemed perfect material for a sweeping, thrilling historical epic. However, despite the book's initial promise, there's something about it that just doesn't work for me.
Don't get me wrong - it's not a bad book and, for a debut, it's probably quite good. It's certainly ambitious in its scope and themes. It's obvious that a lot of research went into many aspects of this book, particularly the settings and places (the book moves from medieval London and Paris to the Holy Land), and the author succeeds pretty well in capturing the essence and atmosphere of medieval life.
There are a few negative points, though. The first is the author's writing style. She can write, there's no doubt about that, and much of her prose is excellent; however, after a while it began to seem a bit heavy-handed and ponderous. I also agree with some other reviewers, who said it's clear that the author has a qualification in creative writing - the writing often seems very rigid, as though the author was more concerned with conforming to the technicalities of style rather than with story flow and ease of reading. That's a fairly minor point, though. To me, the two biggest let-downs of the book were character and plot (and, considering how important both are to novels, they were pretty big disappointments).
First of all, the characters seemed a bit wooden and under-developed, and weren't always that believable. The author also seems to spend a lot of time telling us how one of the lead characters, Will, is feeling, rather than showing us through his actions; he seems to spend a lot of time in introspection, fuming over real or imagined wrongs done to him by others, and it sometimes came across as whining. The dialogue of the characters was also unconvincing in many instances - some of it seemed far too modern for medieval times, which was surprising, as a lot of research obviously went into the book. I just can't believe that some of the dialogue would have been heard in the thirteenth century. As another reviewer mentioned, it was also hard to believe that a medieval knight - a highly trained, professional warrior - could be so easily overcome by a thief from the streets.
In terms of plot, nothing much actually seemed to happen and the book was, in my opinion, over-long. One of the main threads throughout the book - the search for the Book of the Grail - was resolved in a huge anti-climax, and made me wonder what the point of it was. The blurb on the back cover promised a 'collision' between the two main characters, which never actually happened. The whole book felt as though it was just setting the scene for the next two books in the trilogy - I wonder whether the author should have just started with book two, as that seems to be where the action will come from. In addition, I couldn't see the point of the sub-plot involving Will and Elwen - again, it didn't go anywhere and didn't do much to deepen the plot. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe more will be revealed in the second book.
Having said that, it wasn't an awful book, and there was something about it that kept me reading to the end. As a first-time author, Young shows a lot of promise and has the potential to be a great writer - I'm just not sure she's a great storyteller. It wouldn't put me off reading the next book in the trilogy but, if that one fails to improve on the first, I probably wouldn't persevere with the third.