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Turning into a good series, but ...
on 26 April 2011
This is turning out to be a very readable series. There's a lot to admire in this book - a fast-moving, page-turner plot with that safe old favourite, a race against time; interesting characters, including some excellent villains, many of whom are famous historical figures; a convincing 16th century setting, against a backdrop of real events; realistic dialogue which avoids any 'forsooths' or 'begads'; a solid leading man who's William Shakespeare's brother, no less. If you like a historical murder/spy mystery with a dash of intrigue you'll enjoy this, and the author has been clever enough to plant the seeds for a whole series.
But for me it's an almost, but not quite, four star read.
Rory Clements must realise (and his publishers, judging by the cover design, certainly do) that he will always be compared to CJ Sansom and that John Shakespeare will always be compared to Matthew Shardlake. In this respect, there's absolutely no contest. Sansom's first person narrative means that we enter into the heart and soul of Shardlake - consider how he constantly worries about the wellbeing and whereabouts of his sidekick Jack Barak, and compare that to the perfunctory relationship that Shakespeare has with his assistant Boltfoot, which just seems to move the plot along.
However, it's an exciting plot and he weaves real people and events into it very well indeed, but for me it's short on atmosphere and characterisation. I suppose it's the difference between the character-led and the plot-led story. Sansom's characters live and breathe, making the story even more compelling. But maybe with a decent director and some good actors, Revenger's defects could be remedied for the book to form the basis of an excellent tv series?
Just one final carping note: lose the lists at the end of the book! It's always interesting to tack on some sort of historical note at the end of a book like this, to flesh out the real characters and their place in history. But here we have a rather random list of characters that didn't quite make it into the narrative proper, and a lexicon of words that the author didn't use well enough to make their meaning clear. And do we really need to have the definitions of words like musket and strumpet ..?