Category: Book Review

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver.

Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

When you read about the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel is one of those survivor names that keeps cropping up again and again because of the amazing things he went on to do later in life.  While I was researching his story I noticed that there are actually two versions of Night: one from 1982, translated by his publisher at the time and another one from 2006 that was translated by his wife (who translated most of his fictional novels).  I decided to read the most recent one because of the introduction where he mentioned that he was now able to correct and revise some of the details that had gotten lost in translation in the first edition.  Because of that introduction I believe this one is the more faithful translation when compared to the original Yiddish manuscript and decided to read this 2006 version.

One of the things that really struck me about Night when I started reading it is the sparse but beautiful prose Elie Wiesel uses.  He describes things in a way that ensures they’re ingrained in your memory but never really gets flowery about it.  I can still picture the scene of the ghetto emptying day by day until Elie’s street is called for transport.  I can picture the horrific burning ditch that greeted Elie and his father when they arrived at Auschwitz and learned the truth: their denial of the horrors a fellow townsman had warned them of might very well be their undoing.  It’s really stark prose and it drives home the horrors of all that he witnessed in his months-long stay at various concentration and work camps, first at Auschwitz, then Buna and then to Buchenwald where he and the rest of the prisoners were liberated in 1945.

While the prose and descriptions are stark, you really do get a good sense of his mindset as he adjusts psychologically to his situation.  At first he’s still pretty naive and horrified by what he witnesses but by the end you can tell that he’s lost some of that humanity, that sense of the importance of every single life.  And who wouldn’t, given the circumstances?  He takes his readers on a journey through the loss of his faith in a benevolent, almighty God and how his father kept him alive for so long despite Elie’s lack of will to live at times.  It really does hit you hard; this little book of just 115 pages packs one heck of a punch and it does leave you wondering what sort of humans could carry out such horrible deeds.  There aren’t really any adequate words to describe my feelings after reading this book but it’s a combination of sadness, happiness, numbness, despair, confusion and hope.  I think every reader will have a different emotional experience.

If you’re the sort of person who is interested in history in general, but particularly in survivors’ accounts of the Holocaust, Night is definitely a must-read.  Elie Wiesel is a master writer who can pack such an emotional punch in so few words that sometimes his story will leave you breathless.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater

The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Set in the 1820s, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is sure to thrill fans of vampires of literary past with its lush, gothic atmosphere and terrifying spectacle.

All Lady Glynis Wright ever wanted was the freedom to live life as she pleased, despite her aristocratic parents’ wishes for her to marry into wealth. But her fate is far more terrible than an arranged marriage when her family becomes prisoners to one of the most fearsome and powerful vampires of all time, Count Vlad Dracula.

Imprisoned in the decrepit castle in the Carpathian Mountains, Glynis’s new life as a Bride of Dracula is filled with bloody feasts, cruel beatings, and sexual depravity. There is no hope for escape. Vlad Dracula has elaborate plans to use her familial connections in England and she has become his favored pawn. Even more terrible is the bond of blood between them that keeps Glynis tethered to his side despite her deep hatred of him.

It’s only when Vlad Dracula takes Glynis to the picturesque city of Buda on the Danube River and she meets a mysterious vampire in the darkened city streets, does she dare hope to find love and freedom.

Rhiannon Frater sure wasn’t kidding when she said that this book was ‘gothic horror’ on Goodreads.  It’s pretty bloody and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart but at the same time none of the violence is really unnecessary.  There’s always a point to it; none of it is gratuitous.  And the most important part is that it really jars the reader in the same manner that poor Glynis herself is jarred as she’s thrown into the life of an unwilling wife to one of the most famous psychopaths in history: Vlad the Impaler.

 Glynis is a pretty extraordinary woman for her time.  She really doesn’t want to get married; she really just wants to be her own woman, independent and free.  In her time that’s certainly unconventional but not an impossibility when you have wealth on your side so it’s not like she’s a stand-in for a modern woman.  No, she definitely tries to rebel within the narrow confines of society and that’s part of the reason why she runs afoul of Count Dracula and his brides once her family is killed and she is turned.  Glynis loves her independence and being raped and controlled by Dracula isn’t exactly being independent.  So as she suffers, Glynis begins to plot to gain her freedom by any means possible.  I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that when Dracula begins to love her in his manner (because realistically he is not the sort of man to fall in real love) it’s the beginning of the end of his reign of terror over poor Glynis and the other brides.

One of the things that struck me the in the first novel I read by Rhiannon Frater, The Last Bastion of the Living, was the complex psychology involved.  The Tale of the Vampire Bride is really no different in that it presents some pretty abnormal psychology without condoning or condemning it.  She simply portrays the characters without judgment and leaves it up to the reader to figure things out.  Is it a result of all of the trauma she’s gone through that Glynis starts to actually feel something (not love) for Dracula?  Or is it that she’s finally accepting her vampire life?  I personally think it’s a result of the trauma combined with an acceptance of her vampire life but Rhiannon Frater smartly leaves things up to the reader for them to figure out themselves.  She’s not one of these authors that tries to beat her readers over the head with the obvious stick.  Her writing is subtle and ambiguous, which is perfect for this kind of gothic tale.

I was a little hesitant about this book in the beginning because it starts off relatively slow with Glynis and her family travelling around in Transylvania to try yet again to find Glynis a husband.  But things pick up pretty quickly when they get mysteriously diverted to Dracula’s castle and meet the count himself.  After that the story involves a lot of the push-pull dynamic between Vlad and Glynis as both of them try to assert their authority.  Sometimes Dracula wins, sometimes (particularly toward the end) Glynis wins.  She learns to survive and there’s another level of intrigue dropped in when the two of them go to Buda and find that humans aren’t the only things they need to worry about.  Glynis’ journey is one of sorrow, torture and strife while at the same time it’s a story of hope, redemption and even love.  Even when the pacing itself is slow, it’s hard not to be captivated by the story itself and the amazing, memorable characters.

That’s why even if you’re not a big fan of gothic horror novels, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is worth a try.  I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and maybe you’ll surprise yourself as well.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Éire’s Devil King by Sandi Layne

Eire's Devil King by Sandi Layne(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A man of ability and ambition, Tuirgeis Erlingrson has nurtured the desire to carve a place of leadership for himself on the Green Island, Éire, that he has raided multiple times. After the death of his wife in Nordweg, he takes his surviving son to Éire. Having connections with his adopted brother, Cowan, and Agnarr, his former countryman, Tuirgeis feels he has the support he needs to make his claims strong.

Agnarr is torn. His promise to Aislinn to remain with her on Éire is still in force, and he resists Tuirgeis’s requests to join the conquering forces from Nordweg. He desires above all things to maintain a safe home for his wife and children in Dal Fíatach. Charis encourages Cowan to do the same, though this makes for tense moments between them.

After initial disastrous attempts to achieve his ambition, Tuirgeis comes to learn that there is more to claiming a kingship than merely overpowering the locals. Tuirgeis finds himself at odds with the very people he had hoped would reinforce him. In addition, he wants to establish his father-line. He has one son; he wants another to be born of Éire. Will the woman of his choice accept and support him?

At length, Agnarr and Aislinn—though she is heavy with child—sail with Cowan and Charis to join Tuirgeis as he battles over one final summer to attain the High Kingship of the island.

Tuirgeis knows he doesn’t have long to make his claims; the Danes are coming in greater numbers than before. As he wins men of Éire to his cause, he has to maintain the relationships he has already fostered with Agnarr and Cowan. Charis finds that her Otherworldly gifts are needed by a man she considers her enemy.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’m always a little nervous starting the last book in a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  Why?  It’s usually because I’m worried that the author isn’t able to wrap things up in a satisfying manner, answering most (if not all) questions that arose throughout the series.  Sometimes my nervousness is justified and other times it’s not.  Éire’s Devil King is most definitely the latter.  I didn’t need to be nervous at all when it comes to the last Éire’s Viking book.

In the first book I always favoured Turgeis above Agnarr, maybe in part because Turgeis was not the one actively raping Charis and humiliating her.  Agnarr reformed himself in the second book but I still was generally more interested in Turgeis’ story.  In the beginning I’ll admit I was a little disappointed in how slow the book started out but once things got going, they really did get going.  Turgeis is a man who is already quite mature but throughout the story he does come to see things in a much different light.  Instead of burning and pillaging he wants to assimilate to a certain extent and rule over the locals.  He won’t give up his precious Norse gods and convert to Christianity like Cowan and Agnarr but he at least tolerates Christianity and doesn’t impose religion on anyone.  As you can probably guess, his hands are far from clean but I definitely like this new Turgeis better than the old one.

Turgeis is definitely the main focus of this last story but we also see some incredible glimpses into the lives of Charis, Cowan, Agnarr and Aislinn on occasion.  Charis and Cowan aren’t getting any younger (well, Cowan sure isn’t whereas Charis is her same ageless self) and Aislinn and Agnarr are still working on having some more children.  Things don’t always go smoothly in the village because the Danes are coming to raid their land but overall there’s much more peace on the island than there was when we first met Charis.  This is in part due to Cowan being Turgeis’ adopted brother but also because the men from Nordweg are more interested in immigration and assimilate than conquest.  They want to be a part of the great island instead of just plundering its riches.  I really liked how Sandi Layne showed that gradual change that comes over decades while at the same time introducing the new threat of the Danes to help move the plot along.

Charis, as always, stole the story for me.  She’s an incredible woman with possibly Otherworldly powers but she also doesn’t have her head in the clouds like you’d expect from someone like her.  There are times she can be very stubborn but she’s at heart a pragmatic woman and will ally with people she dislikes, such as Turgeis, in order to achieve her own ends.  In this book it’s peace on her island and a home from her adopted daughter’s children and grandchildren.  There’s an interesting little epilogue that brings her incredible story to an end and it’s really quite satisfying even if we don’t know exactly what she is and where her powers truly come from.  It’s sort of left to the reader to figure things out and draw their own conclusions.

So while the plot wasn’t fast-paced in the beginning things quickly got exciting and through it all the incredible characters Sandi Layne has created over three books really shone through.  Charis in particular stands out to me but all of the characters were very well developed; there’s a character for everyone here.  From the author’s note I believe the little historical details within the story are true as are the broader strokes like the migration of the Danes but Sandi Layne does admit to changing around Turgeis’ story just a little bit.  And that’s fine because it really works well for this story.  I’m sad to see the trilogy end but it was done in a way that really satisfied me as a reader so I have no problem with that.  It’s a great ending to a good trilogy.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Disposable People by Mia Darien

Disposable People by Mia Darien(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Even Adelheid has a dark side…

Detective Vance Johnston has a lot going for him. He’s got good friends, a job he likes, gets to play tiger every now and then, and is getting ready to propose to his long time girlfriend, Sadie Stanton. Things are looking pretty good.

That is until a shocking turn of events sends him into a case at the last minute that threatens not just everything in his life, but his life itself. Thrust into the seedy underbelly of the preternatural organized crime world, Vance is trapped, a prisoner to the entertainment and money of a darkness threatening to undermine Adelheid.

But he’s not alone. Not just in the prison he’s kept in, but on the outside too. He just has to hang on until help comes, but that’s going to be anything but easy as his own beast within is used against him.

[Full disclosure: I obtained a free ebook through the blog tour for the series but was under no obligation to review it.  As always, this review is honest.]

By this fifth book in the Adelheid series, it almost seems like we’ve come full circle.  In the first book, Cameron’s Law we have Sadie’s point of view as she falls in love with Vance and solves a huge mystery related to the hatred of supernaturals.  Now in Disposable People we have Vance’s point of view as he wants to take his relationship with Sadie to the next level when he suddenly is involved in a huge mystery related to the hatred of supernaturals.  Even two years after Cameron’s Law was passed, not all humans are eager to accept the supernatural community as fellow humans.  If you’ve stuck with the series from the beginning you’ll notice that quite a bit has changed in regards to supernatural rights but some things still remain the same.

As with all of the books in the series, Disposable People is an excellent addition to the world of Adelheid.  Not only do we see some of the severe repercussions of supernatural hatred but we also see how some supernaturals are their own worst enemies.  Through Vance’s eyes we see the ugly underworld that exists even in a town like Adelheid that is more accepting of supernaturals than many other towns.  In the first book from Sadie’s point of view we saw some of that underworld but Vance of course gets to see the worst of it when he’s captured and is turned into a gladiator against his will.  The reason behind this sick form of entertainment is interesting but I can’t really discuss it without giving too much away.

Vance is a great main character.  He loves Sadie quite a bit but Sadie is still a little reluctant to commit to him after losing her human husband in the crash that nearly killed her as well as her boyfriend Cameron, the one who inspired Cameron’s Law (the one that gave supernaturals the same rights and protections as humans).  Considering her score is 0-2, you can’t blame her for being a little gun shy but at the same time Vance is willing to wait for her to come around.  They fight a bit and of course that’s when Vance is kidnapped and seemingly vanishes.  While Vance is in the disgusting gladiatorial arena you really see a lot of character growth in him.  He was, of course, a pretty good person before then but you really do see his sympathetic/empathetic side come out in full during the sheer horror of being forced to kill his fellow supernaturals against his will.  All the while, he tries so hard to hold onto his humanity and it’s a testament to the strength of his character that he tries so hard to lessen the pain of everyone else around him.  He’s an amazing character.

The plot is very fast-paced and although you’ll probably be able to guess some of the plot twists, some of them were also pretty shocking.  In hindsight they make sense but while you’re reading the book they can definitely blindside you.  Disposable People seems to start off slowly enough but things heat up pretty quickly and really don’t let up until the end.  It’s a really fast-paced book and you’ll be frantically turning pages by the end, hoping against hope for a happy ending.  And of course, like the other books, the conclusion is satisfying but definitely doesn’t close the door on the world of Adelheid, which still has a lot of stories left to be told.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Written All Over Her by Mia Darien

Written All Over Her by Mia Darien(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

One word can change the story of your life forever.

Abduction. Torture. Surrender.

Eleven months from her adolescence have framed thirty-one years of Detective Nykk Marlowe’s life. Despite the trauma of her past, and the unique physical scars it left her with, she’s built a career as a detective for the Adelheid Police Department.

Her personal life might only consist of caring for her sister and a pet rabbit, but she accepts that.

She accepts that she’ll never be able to be like “normal” people, even the supernatural ones. As long as she can keep the past where it belongs, she’s okay.

But when the body of a teenage girl shows up with the same scars that Nykk sees in the mirror every day, her “okay” life gets turned upside down and she’s forced to confront the past she’s been looking away from for sixteen years.

And when it turns out there’s already more than one victim, the pressure’s on to stop the killer before any more girls are tortured, mutilated, and murdered.

[Full disclosure: I obtained a free ebook through the blog tour for the series but was under no obligation to review it.  As always, this review is honest.]

While I was always intrigued by Dakota from Cameron’s Law, the first book in this series, I wasn’t really all that interested in Detective Marlowe.  Why?  Well, partially because she rather brushed off Sadie and partially because she didn’t really feature as prominently so I didn’t really get to see much of her personality.  Still, the story behind her bizarre scars was interesting enough that I decided I’d try the fourth book in the Adelheid series.

Nykk was actually a pretty good character.  Throughout the story she’s forced to confront her rather painful past as well as look after her sister Ann, who has Down’s Syndrome.  Interspersed with the chapters taking place in the present, we get tantalizing glimpses into Nykk’s story as she relates it to a therapist shortly after her horrific brush with death and torture.  They never really interrupt the flow of the narrative and they’re always clearly marked so they were a great addition to the story rather than a hindrance that slowed down the plot.  Through them we get to see Nykk try to deal with all of the emotions right in the immediate aftermath of the event and in the present chapters we get to see Nykk deal with these resurfacing memories as a grown woman.  As she hunts down the killer who nearly took her own life, she does grow quite a bit as she puts her past behind her and begins to actually live in the present.

The plot was actually pretty fast-paced compared to the relatively slower pace of Cameron’s Law.  The body count is high and I was honestly left puzzling about the identity of the murderer but in hindsight it really does make sense.  There are clues everywhere but you just don’t see them until after the explanation is offered.  The plot slowly builds up to this explanation and the confrontation with the villain; Mia Darien is just relentless in ratcheting up the tension until it’s almost unbearable.  I thought the confrontation with the villain was a little brief but it’s better to err on the side of short instead of going on and on and just generally belaboring the point.  And unlike some other mystery stories, the murderer him/herself made sense and was legitimately terrifying and hard to defeat.  Given how well they operated in tracking down those poor girls and how methodical they were in killing them, it certainly makes sense.

As with the other books in the series, we get to see glimpses of both Sadie and Vance but Nykk really is the main character in every sense.  Her personality really carries the book along at a nice pace and through her we definitely get to see just a little more of the world of Adelheid.  We get exposed to some interesting new creatures that weren’t really talked about in the previous books, we get to see more of summoners and their work and we get to see how politics have progressed (or not) since Cameron’s Law was enacted.  It’s really quite fascinating and realistic, particularly on the political side of things since in Mia Darien’s world supernatural creatures are real and have been granted full citizenship rights.  Let’s just say the bigotry that drove the plot of the first book is far from vanquished by this fourth book.

Even if you haven’t read the three previous books, you can pick up Written All Over Her.  You don’t need to read the previous three to understand the characters, plot or world-building and that’s really the beauty of the Adelheid series.  You can pick up anywhere you like!  I think you’ll get a richer experience if you pick up the first book first and then read in chronological order but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.  So if Written All Over Her has intrigued you at all, go pick it up.  It’s well worth your time.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

Dragonfriend(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Stabbed. Burned by a dragon. Abandoned for the windrocs to pick over. The traitor Ra’aba tried to silence Hualiama forever. But he reckoned without the strength of a dragonet’s paw, and the courage of a girl who refused to die.

Only an extraordinary friendship will save Hualiama’s beloved kingdom of Fra’anior and restore the King to the Onyx Throne. Flicker, the valiant dragonet. Hualiama, a foundling, adopted into the royal family. The power of a friendship which paid the ultimate price.

This is the tale of Hualiama Dragonfriend, and a love which became legend.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Beautiful.  Enchanting.  Hilarious.  Tragic.  Touching.  Empowering.

You could use any of those words to describe Dragonfriend but in truth to do this book justice you’d have to use them all.  It is so many different things woven together into one book that you can’t help but fall in love with Hualiama as well as her companions Flicker (the dragonet) and Grandion (the dragon).

Hualiama is one of those characters that you’ll never forget after finishing the book.  In the beginning she’s nothing but a royal bastard, the half-daughter of the king who stands up to his captain-of-the-guard, the usurper of the Onyx Throne.  She doesn’t even particularly like her father but she likes Ra’aba even less and for her trouble she gets her back and stomach sliced open before being tossed off the Dragonship to die.  But thanks to Flicker breaking her fall, carrying her to safety and patching her up, Hualiama isn’t so easy to get rid of.  (If you don’t know, dragonets aren’t much bigger than a couple of feet long and just a little bigger in wingspan so for Flicker to carry a human, even a tiny one, it was a huge sacrifice on his part.)  As Flicker nurses her back to health and teaches her to speak in a civilized manner—Dragonish, of course—she grows stronger and more and more determined to seek revenge against the man who deposed her family.  No one in her family save for her adoptive mother may like her, but Hualiama loves them with a fierce, protective sort of love that leads her to the gates of hell and back in her quest.

What I found really interesting about Dragonfriend is that it’s set 425 years before the ‘main series’, Shapeshifter Dragons.  It’s set almost 275 years before the spin-off series, Shapeshifter Dragon Legends.  So all of the technology that’s introduced first in Legends and then in the main series is just in its infancy.  There are no meriatite-fuelled Dragonships; they’re powered by the back-breaker, the machine that soldiers have to pedal in order to keep the ship moving.  Dragons and humans have no contact with one another whereas in Legends it’s the peak of Dragon Riders and in the main series the Dragon Rider era has waned and dragons are hunted.  You really don’t have to read Aranya and Shadow Dragon from the main series or The Pygmy Dragon from the spin-off in order to appreciate Dragonfriend, but it does make the whole experience more enjoyable.  However, if you start with Dragonfriend, go to The Pygmy Dragon and then move on to Aranya and Shadow Dragon, you’ll actually be reading the series in the in-universe chronological order.  So really, either way works and whether this is your first Marc Secchia book or not, you’ll really appreciate the sheer amount of detail he puts into all of his world-building.

One of the things that constantly surprises me is Marc Secchia’s ability to write from a female perspective so believably.  He creates these amazingly strong characters but they’re not all Action Girls!  Hualiama tries to fight but is hopelessly clumsy and has to really, really work at it.  Pip from The Pygmy Dragon was born gifted at fighting but is at a huge disadvantage because of her small size.  Aranya is better than Hualiama but that’s because her father made absolutely sure she became good at fighting whereas Hualiama’s father the king actively discouraged Hualiama’s more masculine pursuits.  Each female main character has her own journey to womanhood in unique ways and Hualiama’s is just so amazing.  She goes through so much in order to achieve her goals and even though she tries her hardest, sometimes (much like in the real world) things don’t work out.  Her life is one of pure happiness and pure tragedy and even though I’m not a very emotional reader I must admit I balled my eyes out at the ending of this book.  I defy anyone not to become attached to Hualiama throughout this book.  It’s impossible because Marc Secchia not only writes believable and diverse female characters, his writing has such an emotional quality that you won’t be able to remain impassive during their struggles.  You’ll really be rooting for Hualiama, trust me.  Even when she makes mistakes, you’ll root for her.

The plot starts off pretty fast-paced compared to the other three books in the Island World and although it does slow down in terms of action, it always remains interesting.  There’s always that undercurrent of tension as Hualiama is rehabilitated and learns from Flicker and it helps that the point of view changes quite naturally between the two friends.  With any other characters I’d say changing points of view with no clear page break would be nothing but trouble but the points of view of Flicker and Hualiama are so different that you’ll never get confused.  There’s a tremendous difference between a dragonet and a human being and the difference is even more pronounced when our dragon, Grandion, joins the story.  The point of view switches definitely keep things interesting but in reality you could have had the whole book from Hualiama’s point of view and it would still be able to keep readers’ attention.  It really is just a fascinating story with so many plot twists your head will spin.

If you haven’t already guessed, I really did love this book.  This is definitely one of my top 10 favourites of all time and considering I read on average 200 books per year, that’s really saying something.  It’s an incredible book and everyone should buy it.  It will make you laugh, cry and just generally have an amazing time.  The cliffhanger will also make you as eager as I am for the next book.  If my review has intrigued you at all, please go and pre-order Dragonfriend on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  It’s only $3.20 and $3.49 respectively and you absolutely won’t regret it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13.

Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor’s legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .

Seeing as I really don’t know much about Eleanor of Aquitaine I’m not qualified to comment on the historical accuracy but I think it’s pretty exciting that The Summer Queen is based on new research into Eleanor’s life, including the fact that she was married at the tender age of 13.  Also within this book, Chadwick uses the way Eleanor herself actually spelled her name: Alienor.  It gives it a more authentic feeling and gives a little more recognition to the real historical figure that’s the centre of this novel.

First off, I was very impressed with the character of Alienor.  She’s a very complicated person, much like the real historical figure.  Her childhood was fairly carefree in Aquitaine but when her father died when she was a pre-teen, life definitely changed for the worst for her.  She initially was enraptured with Louis when she married him at age 13 but throughout the story she becomes understandably frustrated with the utter lack of passion in her marriage.  Louis really would have made a better monk than a husband, as she quips at one point.  So in a bid to get out from underneath her overbearing mother-in-law and her bossy, stuffy husband she rebels in small ways by bringing bits of Aquitaine with her to court including its bright fashions and beautiful music.  I liked how she desperately tried to find happiness despite an objectively terrible situation and when she actually achieved some measure of happiness after her divorce, she desperately clung to it.  Having experienced years of misery, I really don’t blame her.  She had to grow up pretty fast and had a pretty rough life up until she met and married Henry of Anjou.  Even then, her happiness is only temporary.

The plot is not very fast-paced I must admit and I did struggle at some points.  What saves The Summer Queen is Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing style, which both lends an air of authenticity to the work and makes things interesting enough to get readers through the long travel sections (particularly the section where Alienor is on the crusade with Louis).  Sometimes even then the pacing drags the book down, however.  But the book is interesting enough in general to get you through those really slow sections and to the very exciting events of Alienor’s life.  She really was an incredible woman who was not allowed to be all that incredible until she achieved the legal independence she craved.  Alienor definitely chafed under the expectations put upon her in France, especially since she was such a strong-willed and passionate woman.  Even if you can’t get past the slow pacing, I thin kthe character of Alienor really carries the day.

Again, I can’t speak for the historical accuracy of this novel but I do believe Chadwick did more than enough research to lend an air of authenticity to the text.  She has this way of writing that puts you right there along with Alienor from the beauty of Aquitaine to her brutal trip slogging through hostile territory to get to the Holy Land.  She does admit to speculating about an affair between Alienor and one of her vassals because it cannot be proven but I feel she made a strong enough case to her readers so it didn’t feel like she was adding in intrigue for intrigue’s sake.  I am a little skeptical of all that she has written because she uses “the Akashic Records…to fill in the blanks and explore what happened in the past from a psychic perspective.”  That’s a little, um…unconventional…for me but she at least justifies her choices with more reliable historical records.  That’s why I’m not going to say that her research is 100% reliable, both because I know so little about the period and the fact she uses a ‘psychic perspective’.

Her research methods aside, The Summer Queen is a great read even though it does drag in sections.  The character of Alienor really does shine through and I think that if you love historical fiction and want to learn more about the famous queen, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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