20 Mar 2013

Christian Fiction Historical Society: A Royal Love Story: History of the Eleanor Crosses...

A post from the relatively new site of the Christian Historical Fiction Society on the memorials built at the behest of Edward I for his beloved wife Eleanor of Castille. Another royal love story. Read the article below.

Christian Fiction Historical Society: A Royal Love Story: History of the Eleanor Crosses...:

11 Mar 2013

It's Monday What are you (and I reading)?

Alrighty, I found this Meme and have decided to take part. It is hosted by a Blog called Book Journey and its owner Sheila who says "This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well"

So here are the books I am reading the in Christian Historical Fiction/Fantasy Category which this Blog is devoted to.
I have just about 100 pages still to go of 'A Trail of Ink: The Third Chronicle of Hugh de Singeton, Surgeon' by Melvin Starr. This is the third in a series of Medieval Murder mysteries set in the 1360s in Oxfordshire, England, featuring Hugh a surgeon and Bailiff of the village of Bampton on the Weald. 

Synopsis from Amazon "An excellent medieval whodunit by the author of The Unquiet Bones and A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel

Some valuable books have been stolen from Master John Wyclif, the well known scholar and Bible translator. He calls upon his friend and former pupil, Hugh de Singleton, to investigate. Hugh's investigation leads him to Oxford where he again encounters Kate, the only woman who has tempted him to leave bachelor life behind, but Kate has another serious suitor. As Hugh's pursuit of Kate becomes more successful, mysterious accidents begin to occur. Are these accidents tied to the missing books, or to his pursuit of Kate?

One of the stolen books turns up alongside the drowned body of a poor Oxford scholar. Another accident? Hugh certainly doesn t think so, but it will take all of his surgeon s skills to prove.

So begins another delightful and intriguing tale from the life of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon in the medieval village of Bampton. Masterfully researched by medieval scholar Mel Starr, the setting of the novel can be visited and recognized in modern-day England. Enjoy more of Hugh s dry wit, romantic interests, evolving faith, and dogged determination as he pursues his third case as bailiff of Bampton"

So far, Hugh was won Kate's affections and her promise of marriage, but gained a deadly enemy in the form of Sir Simon Trillowe, a rival for her affections. son of the Sheriff of Oxford, who seems determined to stop him from marrying Kate at by any means necessary.... 
I really like this series, and this installment is good so far, I have written a some reviews of previous titles by clicking the links here and here.

Yesterday I started on 'A Cast of Stones' by Patrick W Carr, which I have from Netgalley.

Amazon describes it as  "An Epic Medieval Saga Fantasy Readers
Will Love

In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.

Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.

So far, I am not hugely impressed. One thing I dislike is Medieval novels in which the characters speech is full of modern terms and phrases- and this seems to be one of them, also the writing style seems a little- unsophisticated. I have read less than 40 pages however, and try to finish most of what I read. It won't be finished this week however, as I am a full -time  student, and study means I don't always have much time to read for pleasure. 

So that's it from me- hope people have liked my contribution. What are you reading? Feel free to leave a comment.

9 Mar 2013

Preachiness or Historical Accuracy? Thoughts on Religion in Christian Fiction

There is an issue that seems seems relevant to all Christian Historical Fiction (and Christian fiction in general) and that is of course, religious content. Some people dislike this genre because of the religious content it inevitably includes.
Personally, I think it is just plain silly to complain about religious content in Christian fiction- the key word is Christian it is categorized as such for a reason.
Now admittedly, if a reader doesn't  realise a book is Christian when they pick it up then such complaints can be understandable, and even Christian readers do not seem to take well to novels which are overly 'preachy'.

Yet I believe it is possible to go to the opposite extreme. Perhaps in an effort to avoid appearing ‘preachy’ or contrived an author may choose to avoid overt or blatant religious and theological references in their books as much as possible, but is this always for the best?
One  reader expressed her view on the subject when she stated that “I like keeping some of the auxiliary characters as non-believers that… is much more realistic”.
This reviewer may have a point where the modern Western world in concerned, but I believe that her particular idea of ‘realism’ cannot so easily be applied to past cultures, nations and civilizations.
It is almost a given that the Medieval Period, for instance, was more conspicuously religious than our own, with religious institutions exercising a more pervasive influence, and people generally more likely to identify themselves with the dominant religion.
Christian Historical Fiction novels set in the medieval era are not nearly as common as those set in say, 1800s America, but comments made by reviewers of books set during the Middle Ages can shed an interesting light on this issue.

Whilst some people, as mentioned above, complain about overtly religious content in such novels, there are some who seem to have a different view. Take what this reviewer said of Rosanne E Lortz's first book 'I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince' for instance "...the aspect of this novel being Christian fiction... didn't bother me for the most part. The setting of the story was in a time when religion was important, and a key element of chivalry".

This reader is apparently not the only one who thinks this, and I have come across a number of reviews of historical novels in which similar sentiments have been expressed. It appears then, that where some historical periods are concerned, religious content is almost something which readers may expect to encounter as a reflection of the time.
Another reviewer wrote of 'Fortress of Mist' by Sigmund Brouwer the second of a trilogy set in the 1300s England that even though he did not regard the book as 'Christian Literature' ".....there is the presence of the Church which should really only be expected of a story taking place in medieval Europe. Expectations of anything else would be inaccurate."
These reviewers were not alone in holding such opinions- indeed they do not seem uncommon.

I tend to agree that it would in be historically inaccurate to have a novel set in Medieval Europe in which there were no references to the church, or one in which most of the characters were non-religious.

So, when it comes to the Middle Ages, the above mentioned reader may be wrong, because it may not be so very unrealistic for the majority of characters in a book set at this time to be religious. 
It seems that where some historical novels are concerned, religious content and characters do not constitute ‘preachiness’ but simply a realistic and accurate representation of a past society and its cultural norms. If this is the case, could it not be better for writers to be faithful to history and in doing so use the religious influence on past ages as an opportunity to explore Christian ideas and themes in their writing, instead of being afraid to be ‘too religious’?

1 Mar 2013

Review of 'The Unquiet Bones' by Melvin Starr

The Unquiet Bones: The First Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton 

"Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling-despite his lively faith-and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris and then hanging his sign in Oxford. 
 Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith.
The young man she loved-whom she had provoked very publicly-is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. But this is just the beginning of the tale.

The story of Singleton's adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion."
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I wish I had read this novel before 'A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel' the second in the series, as in my opinion it was far better.

For starters, it was interesting learning something about Hugh's life and background before he came to Bampton, and his motivation to become a surgeon. His initial struggles to find work and his place in the world seem in a way relatable.
As expected, Hugh is initially reluctant to investigate the matter of the bones found in the castle cesspit, and doubts his own ability yet he does turn up important leads in the process. Ultimately though, his following the seemingly obvious conclusion almost leads to tragic consequences, which knocks his confidence even further.
In this sense, Hugh's character is very human and endearing, he needs encouragement (as we all do) and is well aware of his own inadequacies.

The way in which faith is also woven into the story works well.
Hugh as stated before is a close friend of the theologian and scholar John Wycliffe, who questioned many of the core teachings of the Catholic Church. He is also very much our protagonist's mentor, who causes him not only question some of his choices and decisions, but sometimes helps to prod him in the right direction. Wycliffe is a fascinating figure historically, and his inclusion in these novels really adds to them as a way of exploring religious themes, and making the novels more appealing to non-Catholics, but also as an interesting character.

There were also plenty of interesting descriptions of surgery and medical procedures, which are another thing I enjoy about this series. Hugh's use of herbs almost harks back to Cadfael, and gives some fascinating insights into an often misunderstood profession. The investigatory process also gives some opportunity for presenting (and in some ways critiquing) the fourteenth century legal and justice system.
There is even a hint of romance as Hugh is rather enamored by his employer Lord Gilbert's sister, despite the differences in rank and station.
Alongside my reservations expressed in other reviews about the character's accents seeming a little unrealistic I only had one or two issues. One was that Hugh seemed a little too sympathetic to those who turned out to be behind the crimes, which was in a sense understandable considering their circumstances, and the 'self-defence' story did not really seem entirely convincing.
Also, as others have pointed out, once Hugh was on the right track, it was not hard to guess whodunnit- some time before this was revealed.

Overall 'The Unquiet Bones' is a great first installment to the series which should be enjoyed by both fans of historical fiction and mystery stories, and those who enjoy clean reads.

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