Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disjointed and bewildering tale, 6 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Red Velvet Turnshoe (Paperback)
I love historical novels, especially ones with mystery, murder and a journey thrown in. It's a long wait between CJ Sansom's books, and, very sadly, Ariana Franklin has died, so I was quite excited to come across this.
But it turned out to be a very frustrating and bewildering read. I have to admit that I haven't read the first one, Hangman Blind (Abbess of Meaux Mystery 1), but I firmly believe that any book worth its salt should be able to stand alone. This author assumes rather too much about her readers' knowledge of the characters, both fictional and real, and the period - if you don't already know about the politics of Richard II's England, you might feel a bit lost and alienated in this world.
It's a very choppy narrative, you hop from Yorkshire, to the Alps, to Italy and back again, and nothing is linked together. New characters pop up everywhere, sometimes with a big build-up (like the sinister Italian countess), only to simply disappear again for no particular reason. Some of the relationships are downright weird - I never understood what exactly Hildegard felt for the strange minstrel Pierrekyn, for instance.
I found Hildegard to be a very unsatisfactory heroine altogether. Compare her to a similar sort of character, Ariana Franklin's Adelia, to see what I mean. Unlike Adelia, it's hard to root for Hildegard or even visualise her, and I kept losing sight of why her life was in such danger all the time. And it's not a good sign when you have to re-read the ending twice, to work out the significance of what's just happened.
In short, this book fails the plot test. It's basically just a murder mystery, so you should be able to stop reading on any page, confident that you know what the point of the whole thing is (I'm afraid it's that word macguffin again). No matter how intricate or far-fetched the story, if you feel you understand the protagonist and what they're trying to find, solve, prevent, escape from, or whatever, then it works. For me, this one didn't.
Maybe I'll leave it a few months and try again. In the meantime, I'll write this one off as another disappointment and re-read Ariana Franklin's The Assassin's Prayer: Mistress of the Art of Death 4 instead, to remind myself of how it should be done.
(Just one final bit of nitpicking, and maybe it's just a personal bugbear of mine, but I wish book designers would do a bit more research - how hard can it be these days, with the internet at your fingertips? Because if that's meant to be Hildegard on the cover, why is she wearing what looks like a bright blue velvet crinoline?)
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Dec 2011 13:14:33 GMT
S. Clark says:
As you can't even spell the heroine's name and the plot is too bewildering for you I suggest you stay with teen fiction. Or smarten up.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Dec 2011 10:32:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Dec 2011 13:12:10 GMT
Bookwoman says:
Oops, my mistake. Thanks so much for pointing it out.
She's Hildegard, of course, like Hildegard von Bingen, and not Hildegarde like Hildegarde the duck (great film). I will change my spelling immediately, but not my review of the book itself.
I've discovered over the years that getting worked up over someone's criticism of a book or film you happen to love is a pointless business: there's just no accounting for taste, I'm afraid, and we're all entitled to our opinions - even me.
But I'll take your advice on board and head to the teen section straight away: I rather fancy that boy in Twilight.
So thanks again.
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