Customer Review

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disjointed, 1 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Parliament of Spies, A (An Abbess of Meaux Mystery) (Paperback)
This was my first encounter with Hildegard of Meaux. I am a huge fan of C.J. Sansom and find the Giordano Bruno series of S.J.Parris brilliant, so I thought this novel would be similar.
I find it odd that Clark has such admiration for one of our worst kings and like the reviewer who found errors with the falconry aspect, I feel the need to explain.
After the success of putting down the Peasants' Revolt, Richard ii didn't do much to crow about. Richard was a vain, self obsessed youth who amassed huge wealth by fining and taxing the populace. The Hundred Years War, and the victories gained by Richard's father, the Black Prince, had provided great financial gains to the nobles of England and here is Richard trying to hand back land to the French. Peaceful, you may think, but then he marches 14,000 men into Scotland at enormous expense. Richard surrounded himself with religious imagery and lavish symbolism, thought he was divine and from all accounts, didn't quite grasp the concept of leadership.
John of Gaunt, contrary to the image Clark conjures, was Richard's main support. His experience and statesmanship held the monarchy together. It was only when he was out of the country, that Richard's reign fell apart.
That deals with Clark's odd choice of monarch to champion. The story, however, is so mystifyingly convoluted that I almost lost track. Characters are coming in from left field without explanation. Then she adds in love interests which seem to me, incongruous for a nun. Some of the narrative is adequately descriptive but often turns into a list of bullet points. 'A retinue swarmed into the palace. All the Yeomen were being inspected. One or two were singled out. The King's men went into the kitchens.' Hard to get much enjoyment out of reading lists of events. In addition, many of the characters lack vibrancy or reality. Thomas, her priest sidekick, seems to waft through the pages like a wraith. Barely described, faceless, characterless and flat. Clark has made a good attempt at keeping the language to what we might imagine of the period, but then she uses a phrase like 'call the shots'. In addition, the dialogue between protagonists does not fire or spark. There are no idiosyncratic turns of phrase, no accents, no personal quirks of expression. As a result the characters appear bland and lifeless. The whole thing is such a mess, I almost lost the will to see it unravelled.
Not a patch on any of the well known authors of historical fiction, so a brief and confusing encounter with Hildegard
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2013 21:29:30 BDT
This reviewer knows nothing about the period and is clearly following the lessons she learned in school without applying any further thought or primary source knowledge.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Mar 2015 18:36:17 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Mar 2015 08:33:00 GMT
Over a year since I wrote my review, to which I still hold, I have discovered your comment. On the contrary, I have a special interest in medieval history, which led me, sadly as it happened, to this novel. My schooling, which you disparage, was of the highest quality. I was educated at possibly, one of the best private girls' schools in S.W. London. My classmates included Virginia Bottomley, the politician, and the granddaughter of Augustus John, whom I believe, went on to excel in the art world. The Fashion Designer, Edina Ronay is also an old girl of Putney High School. This is not to name drop, but to demonstrate how successful some of the school's former pupils became. And, yes I do have a degree myself.
I acknowledge that this is a work of historical fiction and I take no issue with points of precision concerning Richard's reign. After all, The Prince and the Pauper has long been a favourite work of children's literature and Mark Twain never intended his readers to believe that the future Edward vi had a Doppelganger with whom he caused havoc at court. My point was, that Richard is an surprising choice as a hero monarch, who next, King John?
Without entering into an historical ping pong match with you, perhaps you would like to read the comments of Ian Bremner, Associate Producer of BBC History of Britain. He too describes Richard as self obsessed and only aware of his own needs. 'Any slight', he goes on, 'had to be avenged, whilst the King's person sought constant praise.'
Points of academic exactness can be argued at length, and although these type of spats interest me, the point of my review was not the historical accuracy or lack of it but to draw attention to the faceless characters and mediocre literary skill. I cannot envisage a T.V. mini series on the horizon.
Hope that wraps it up for you. By the way, are you a defensive relative?
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