27 Jun 2013

The Comrades of Honor Series by Alicia Willis

The Comrades of Honor Series is a Medieval Adventure trilogy by Christian author and historian Alicia Willis. The series is advertised as "detailing the lives and thrilling adventures of several young men and women during the Middle Ages. Courage, loyalty, respect, and chivalry flood each page, thus coupling Godly character with exciting plots and often little-known historical facts."

Considering how some Medieval novels for the secular market seem to fall short in many ways, it is good to find some in the Christian market.
However, being Christian does not mean a story has to compromise on those values which make for first rate Historical Fiction such as solid research, realism, a faithful and accurate rendering of the past, and of course a good well-told story. The Comrades of Honor Series even has its own website which can be visited by clicking the link.

Thus without further ado, here is a little introduction to her Medieval novels: 

Book One: To Birmingham Castle, A Tale of Friendship and Adventure

 "The time is the Middle Ages, a time of clashing arms, valiant knights, and intriguing castles. Join Robert Fitz Hasseltine, a young nobleman of unchallenged character and the heir to his uncle's vast earldom. Valiant, yet merciful, Robert's steadfast determination to aid the weak brings him face to face with several individuals who urgently need his protective care--individuals who must throw themselves upon his compassion and rely on his strength to overcome their pasts and lead successful lives.

Yet the days are volatile, and danger lurks on the horizon. There are dangerous enemies who hate Robert's steadfast character and ever-present mercy--enemies who would do anything to vanquish his compassion and shower their malice upon his cause. A thrilling adventure commences, coupling victory, peril, friendship, and rivalry. During his eventful journey from squire to knight to earl, Robert's courage is strongly tested and his strength challenged. Will he be able to overcome the enemies that beset him and proclaim himself the undisputed lord of his shire? And, above all, will he abide true to his resolve and prove to be a kind, considerate master?

Join Robert and his steadfast friends, Brandon, Strephon, Nathaniel, and Narcissa, in their long journey of friendship and adventure, and experience the thrilling perils of life at Birmingham Castle!

A novel of adventure, suspense, friendship, and courage, as a young man embarks on a perilous journey to overcome tyranny and reform chivalry in medieval England.

In just a few weeks the  second book in the series is due for release: 

Book 2: In Search of Adventure, A Tale of Courage and Devotion

"Enter In Search of Adventure, the thrilling second installment of The Comrades of Honor Series! Packed with action at every bend, this tale takes up the story of Nathaniel de Lance, once the page of Sir Robert.
    Now a young man and belted knight, Sir Nathaniel takes young Kenneth Dale for his squire, a boy left destitute by a stroke of ill-fortune. Quickly learning to trust and care for each other, Sir Nathaniel and Kenneth become fast friends, little knowing how much they will need their mutual comradeship.
    Taking advantage of his liberty as a knight, Sir Nathaniel leaves his boyhood home to visit old friends. The small journey quickly takes an unexpected turn, however, and climaxes into a perilous adventure. Old enemies revisit the scene, creating hazards that require all of Sir Nathaniel’s strength and valor to overcome. Trapped in a hostile country, the question arises: Will he ever return?
    Join Sir Nathaniel and Kenneth in their rousing adventure and witness the perils that strengthen their courage. Their friendship is extraordinary – but will the rewards of their devotion be greater still?
    A novel of adventure, comradeship, and suspense, as a valiant knight seeks to overcome his merciless foes and retain honor in a hostile land.

I only discovered Alicia's work fairly recently through a list I created on Goodreads.com in which someone had voted for her first novel To Birmingham Castle.
Though I was not home-schooled like Alicia, much of the history I learned between school and University was self-taught, and I hope to become a historian one day (if almost being a BA Graduate in Medieval History does not qualify me as one already).

For me, a genuine understanding of the past and of the people who lived it is also an important ingredient of historical fiction, as the imposition of modern beliefs, standards, values and ideals onto the past is something I find incredibly irksome.

So seeing that one reviewer commended Alicia's work as presenting a faithful picture of the values and mores of the time period commended her book to me. Needless to say To Birmingham Castle is somewhere near the top of my To Read List, I might even have the honour of being be the first English person to review it...


17 Jun 2013

'A Heart Decieved' by Michelle Griep


A Heart Deceived  Michelle Griep 
 20th June 2013, 387 Pages
A Heart Deceived breaks rather new ground for author Michelle Griep. A regency as you likely have not seen it before. Little in the way of bonnets and balls here, rather this story opts for darker and more difficult subject matter including drug addiction, corruption, madness and even murder, but also redemption and a hint of romance. 
The central characters Miri and Ethan were certainly interesting and well- drawn, though Ethan’s ‘journey’ and struggles are perhaps more poignant and his story perhaps a little more complete. 
The romantic elements also seem to be generally done well, except some passages I did not like for their seeming to border on suggestiveness or sensuality, like Miri just happening to meet Ethan when he had is shirt collar loosened, and them ending up almost doing something inappropriate, when I doubt any gentleman would dare to present himself to a Lady in such a way. 

The central theme of the story appears to be that of deceit and its impact upon the characters’ lives and story, in which the actions and deeds that have sought to run away from or hide from others both threaten to destroy them. 
Whilst it is easy for the characters to grow attached to the protagonists, and vouch for them through their struggles, their exact circumstances may not be such as most readers could relate to. Most people don’t have to conceal their siblings’ descent into violent lunacy after all, though the hopelessness of a life without God, and the necessity of trusting in him are themes which could speak to many. 
Yet, maybe somehow there were aspects of the story which were lacking. I felt for instance that as much as the author wanted to make this book ‘grittily’ realistic, it had some of the same problems as her previous titles in this regard. 

I’m not really familiar with this period at all, but I did feel that is that the nastiness and unpleasantness of the setting and circumstances sometimes seem a little exaggerated and overdone, especially in the later part of the story. 
18th century London may have been an unpleasant place to live for the poor, but I don’t think all the poor areas were entirely squalid, vermin infested slums, and the period was that of the Enlightenment so I found the descriptions of the conditions and treatment of inmates in the asylum to be a little implausible. 
And would people with facial disfigurements really have been consigned to an insane asylum? I don't know. Also the villain seemed to be able to get away a little too easily with unlawful acts like having someone imprisoned indefinitely without charge which was been prohibited even under the Magna Carta. I mean was every court official really so corrupt?  

On a spiritual level, the Christian theme was well done, but the treatment of the gospel message and those who delivered it was not something I always felt entirely comfortable with. 
It was Miri’s mad murderous brother, and other unsavoury characters who were depicted as delivering a message on sin and condemnation, but the ‘good guys’ who gave one focusing more on mercy and love. This did seem a little like watering down, or as though the former was presented as a ‘bad’ way of preaching what is an integral part of the gospel. 

Altogether, Heart Deceived is a worthwhile read with an original plot, despite some shortcomings and reservations I would recommend it.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review. All opinions expressed in it are my own.

13 Jun 2013

Shoulder Clapper and Catch Pole......A Word Search.

The use of unusual period terms and phrases can add that certain something to a novel (depending on how it is used and the overall content) and author Michelle Griep makes frequent use thereof in her new novel A Heart Deceived set in 1795 England. 
The villain, Nigel Thorne, a well drawn and delightfully dastardly (apart from his murderous tendencies) individual loves to use period slang terms which would probably have been recognized by persons belonging to the disreputable circles that he frequents. 

For the most part I had just passed over most of these in ignorance, but last week I decided to indulge in an activity which can bring me enjoyment, never mind enlightenment- word searching! Yes, I like words. I like looking up the origins of words, or the meanings of unfamiliar ones.
One particular scene in Chapter 16 is which Thorne is about his dodgy business provides some interesting material. At the Chancery Court (those familiar with Dickens Bleak House may know of it) our villain asks for 'a certain patent' from a young clerk.
My training in Medieval History has taught me what that particular term means. A Letter Patent was a type of official letter or document, its name deriving from the Latin patens meaning 'open' or 'accessible'.  In this sense it meant that the document was meaning 'made public' originally it meant a letter that was not closed with a seal, and so could be read by anyone.

In the chapter in question, the patent was a document like this which had something to do with the matter of an entailment. My historical training came in handy there too- I know 'entailment' generally
had to do with the inheritance of land or property.
Thorne however runs into trouble when he comes face to face with the Barrister who is in charge of the case, and on being asked who he is advertises himself in his capacity as a Bailiff as a the best  catch-pole and shoulder clapper in the land.

Bailiffs do exist in America of course, and the office existed in the Medieval period in several European nations but in good old England they were officers or officials whose duties could involve arresting criminals, and collecting fines, among other things. Even today in England bailiffs may be sent to the homes of an unfortunate individual who cannot pay their taxes with the power to seize goods.

So what exactly do catch-pole and  shoulder-clapper mean? Both are terms that Mr Thorne uses to refer to himself. The first, according to Wikipedia is identified under the surname derived from the term- surprisingly Catchpole, and is said to have originally referred to 'a type of tax collector in medieval England'. To elaborate further:

"At that time, tax-gathering was contracted out, a system called tax farming. The catchpole paid a lump sum to be authorised to collect taxes from a given area or population, and was then able to keep whatever he could extract, using almost any method he came up with.
Later, the duties of the 'catchpole' were those of a legal official, working for the bailiff. He was mainly responsible for collecting debts, using methods hardly more restrained than those of his tax gathering forebears.[1]"
So what of the second? Finding the meaning of this could prove a little more difficult as clapping a person on the shoulder can be a friendly gesture, and Nigel Thorne is most certainly not the friendly type. 
The Merriam Webster dictionary shed some light on the term where it is listed as an archaic term for a Bailiff, and another site fromoldbooks.org gives its meaning as 'Sergeant or Bailiff', and perhaps was some reference to the action of arresting someone.

So essentially ol' Nigel was just using another name for a Bailiff, (but making out he was a very good one) with a good capacity for the duty of collecting taxes, and bringing in persons sought by the law, as per some of the traditional duties of the role.
 Hopefully, this foray into the more obscure oddities of English Vocabulary may prove profitable (at least to people who read A Heat Deceived or were curious about what these terms meant, if the reader is not too lost, confused or asleep by now.....


'Bailiff', Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bailiff

'Catch Pole', Wikipedia.com, Accessed 7th June 20313, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch_pole

'Shoulder Clapper', Merriam Webster Online, Accessed 7th June 2013, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shoulder-clapper

N. Bailey, L, Quin, 'Shoulder Clapper', Words from Old Books, Accessed 7th June 2013, http://words.fromoldbooks.org/NathanBailey-CantingDictionary/s/shoulder-clapper.html

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