Sunday, 30 September 2018

Review of "The bird king" by American Muslim writer G. Willow Wilson - A mix of history, mythology and fantasy,

This novel begins as a historical novel but before you know it you are in the middle of a fantasy story. But it is not fantasy fantasy but the mythical elements of the Arab, Jewish and Christian traditions of the era the story is set in. I will come back to that later. Let me start with giving you a glimpse of the novel.

Fatima is the concubine of the sultan of Ibero-Arab Granada. The Muslims conquered what is now Spain in the 8th century but in the 15th century the combined Christian kingdoms are on the verge of even conquering the last Muslim town on the peninsula. This ere is called the Reconquista (re- conquering). It is just before Columbus will go and discover America. It is also the time that the Catholic church was very harsh against everybody who seemed not to believe mainstream Catholicism and its secret police and judges, the Inquisition, persecuted those people.

Fatima is 18 years old and born and raised in the harem of the palace. A very silent harem as it contains only the Sultan's family and her because due to the siege everyone else is evacuated to /fled to Morocco. Her best friend since early childhood is Hassan the cartographer. They are allowed to fraternise because everyone knows he is a homosexual (and pretends not to know). When a Spanish emissary enters the harem lonely Fatima longs to be her friend

At the beginning Fatima is still a very naive girl. She has never left the palace and knows nothing about the world behind the walls. One can notice it because she does not realise that her mistress, the sultan-mother, does love her. The sultan is a very handsome man who is kind to her (she is even allowed to call him by his given name and not his title during orgasm - oh my) but who only sees her as an object to have sex with. When he takes her to his bed when she is 15 she blurts out she loves him and he just laughs. However during the last days of the siege there grows a deeper connection between them. Fatima realises that she could have loved him very much if he only had allowed her the freedom to initiate or refuse her affection instead of deciding when he wanted it. When she then embraces him in reflex, for the first time he allows her to take the lead and they start to make love. Only to be interrupted by a messenger.

When Fatima realises her friend Hassan is in mortal danger she runs off to save him and they have to leave all that is familiar behind.

Like I said there are a lot of mythical elements in this novel what makes it a fantasy story. Some I did recognise with my Christian background like the splinter in the eye and the Leviathan and I know what Arab jinns are supposed to be but that was it. A lot of the other things were a complete mystery to me and I only found out about their origin when I googled myself silly after I finished the book and I wondered if there was more to it then I thought. I did not know that the story Fatima and Hassan tell each other "the conference of the birds" is a Persian poem in which all kind of birds who represent human flaws go to look for the king of the birds. Nor did I know that the legend of the Christian bishops fleeing before the Muslim invaders to the island Antillia was a story told in the 15th century and maybe found its origin in pre-Columbian discoveries of America. I am sure I still missed other references. Like the bones and the boot? That what is regarded Satan in myths?

Exactly that fact that some legends are a bit familiar made me wonder while I was reading the novel what it was really about. Hence the Google session afterwards. Those who have read Umberto Eco "The Island of the Day Before" might recognise that feeling. I also wondered if like the play by Jean-Paul Sartre the people were really in hell or a kind of afterlife.

Like Umberto Eco books some parts of this novel is a bit slow. But the prose is beautiful. This rang a bell with me as an immigration lawyer: "The real struggle on this earth is not between those who want peace and those who want war. It's between those who want peace and those who want justice. If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy."

I would recommend the writer to write a short introduction to the book explaining the historical setting. I can imagine some of the American readers not even knowing where Spain is let alone Granada (saw a reviewer here write Morocco). And explain that the Inquisition is not the Reconquista (another thing I see here mixed by the reviewers) And maybe a kind of Afterword (what is the proper word in English for that?) explaining the origins of the mythical elements in the book. Because I see a lot of the reviewers on NetGalley get lost and also underestimate the complexity of the story.

The novel will be published in March 2019. I received an ARC from Netgalley providing I would write an honest review.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

A regency romance and thriller combined: "The Marquess (Regency Nobles Book 2)" by Patricia Rice

The novel starts with a townhouse burning. The two cousins who live there manage to escape with their lives but the rich cousin is badly burned. The poor one wonders why people wanted something bad to happen with her nice cousin.

This romance novel is longer than the usual regency romance. This one does not stop after the hero and heroine slept with each other and fell in love (yes that seems the way to do it even in Regency romances nowadays). Only halfway down the book they then have to find out who is putting her life and that of her cousin in danger.

Although sometimes a bit slow the writer is good in world building and creating believable characters. I was sorry to see the book ending.

Review of "Isabella of Angouleme" by Erica Lainé

Set in England and medieval English ruled what is now Western France. A few centuries after Normandy nobles conquered England the descendant of William the Conqueror is king of England and has still vast lands in France although Normandy is recently lost by King John (the evil brother of Richard Lionheart known by the general public from Robin Hood movies). Kind John died and his minor son is now King of England and the lands in France. His mother the queen mother arrives in Angouleme to rule her ancestral home in the name of her son.

Unbeknownst to me this novel was the middle part of a trilogy around the historical figure of Isabella of Angouleme and the people around her like her son the English king and her husband a count in what is now Southern France. You can read it without having read part 1 but of course will miss the end of her story when you do not read the last novel.

At the beginning of the novel I expected it to be a story centred around Isabella and we more or less looking out of her eyes. However the story is told as a kind of spider on the wall looking in on other people as well like the young king, his tutor, the French king, the count de Lusignan etcetera. This makes it less a novel and more a history book if you know what I mean. I did not at all identify myself with Isabella.

Because of that I would recommend this novel to people who like to read history books. For people who hope to find a medieval romance or adventure novel this book is not for them. I think the people who want to learn more about the historical facts of this era would enjoy reading the novel.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Review of "The line between", the new novel by Tosca Lee

This one kept me awake as it is very captivating. This novel is more or less two separate stories that connect in Wynter Roth. At the beginning of the novel Wynter is banned from the religious cult she grew up in and in Alaska a hog eats from a defrosted Caribou carcass.

One storyline is Wynter looking back on her life so far. As a young girl her mum took her daughters and joined a religious cult that runs a settlement and sells heirloom seeds. Through the eyes of a child and teenager we see the cracks in the veneer. This part of the novel was the most interesting and the best psychologically developed.

This story is woven into a pandemic disaster story. Some months after Wynter went to live with her late mother's best friend that lady's husband, a doctor, is called to research weird cases of early onset dementia that are popping up. One evening he calls them and warns them to leave the city as he expects a pandemic to happen. While the family sleeps in preparation of an early departure Wynter's sister rings the doorbell and hands Wynter a package related to the disease that was bought by the leader of the cult. From that moment on the story turns into an action thriller with Wynter crossing a country in chaos.

That action part of the story is very entertaining but lacks the depth of the other storyline. For instance I did not feel her grieve. But that might be due to the anti-anxiety medication she is still taking.  But developing a serum is as far as I know quite time-consuming.

What is interesting to see is how the writer puts one religious man who is a prepper (someone who thinks the world will end soon and hordes food and supplies) but who is utterly selfish against another prepper who is religious in his actions (and named something sounding like Peter's son) who is a good person and utterly unselfish. I like it when in books religious people are not painted as all nutcases or people faking goodness.

 I am wondering what the title mean. The fine line between good and bad? Or the line between the two stories? Or the line between the two sisters?

All in all a very entertaining book. A four stars out of five.

This is an ARC. The book will be available for sale in January 2019

Monday, 3 September 2018

A free novel for you: (today's offer) "Murder at Merisham Lodge: Miss Hart and Miss Hunter Investigate"

A #free copy for you:

In this delightful mystery set in 1930s England, house servants Joan and Verity put on their detective caps after their employer is murdered at her country estate. Can they save an innocent man by catching the real killer?

Review of "The Sadist and the stolen Princess"

Writing a story set in a historical period has one big pitfall : historical incorrectness. When I received this novel as an ARC to write a review about it that was what almost stopped me reading. I have the feeling the author mixed up the Edwardian era with the Victorian one. As far as I know London in 1880 had no electrical lighting nor telephones. Moreover the Duke is addressed in a fashion like in the Middle Ages. But I thought that the author needed a chance and it would be fair when I continued reading.

The thing is that the lovestory that develops is endearing. I have nothing with BDSM so that is a challenge in itself. But here we have a man who only learned that intimacy had to involve pain otherwise it would not arouse him and who regards himself as disfigured and a woman who needs a bit of fear. However it is made clear that hurt should never involve harm. So all what happens is a domineering man who might be rough or bites. But due to the bond they start to share mentally that is not even a prerequisite later on. I smiled when Willow remarked she could not understand 'Pride and Prejudice' and thought "Well it is a matter of what you fancy it seems".

This is again a timetravel romance. An American woman does research in London in the present day and is transported to the late 19th century. More or less right into the arms of the disgraced Duke of Warrick who takes her home. Hiding in his abandoned townhouse they get to know each other better. That part I liked best.

The book is part of a series and that might be the reason why his family history and what happened in India is not that well explained.

So far a 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Prince Edward's Warrant by Mel Starr - review of a historical mystery novel

When you are a fan of the Cadfael mysteries this might be the book for you as well. We are still in medieval England but a century after the Cadfael settings. Master Hugh is a surgeon who is summoned to the court of the crown prince of England, the man we now know as 'the black prince'. Prince Edward is not feeling well. His intestines are troubling him again and master Hugh has cured him before. However during the first evening meal at court the knight who accompanied Hugh to court drops dead. It is soon clear the man was poisoned. The prince gives master Hugh the task to go and find the murderer.

The murder mystery is not the biggest appeal of this novel but the worldbuilding is. I had the feeling I was watching a movie about 14th century London. The writer weaves all kind of historical, medical and theological details in the story and also uses a lot of contemporary words. You can almost see the houses in a street in London been built over the street and thus blocking the sunlight, the traffic jams on London bridge or the different food people dining in the manor house were given depending on their status and thus seating. I also was surprised of the difference between a surgeon and a physician in those days. It is like reading a history lesson disguised as a well written mystery.

It is part of a series but this novel was the first I read of that series - I was given it as a ARC to write an honest review about it - and it works well as a stand alone story. Though I would advice people to read the series in a chronological order as sometimes older events are mentioned.

a 5 out of 5 stars