27 Sept 2015

The Isle of Arcrea- Nicole Sager

The Isle of Arcrea- The Arcrean Conquest #3
January 13th 2013, 376 Pages 

Subject to the designing rule of evil men, one island's future rests in the hands of an Arcrean.

Lady Meredith of Gilbrenor seeks help from the borders of Arcrea in a desperate attempt to rescue her son from the clutches of Lord Brock and to claim his rightful legacy. When Falconer undertakes the seemingly simple mission and travels to the isle with Meredith and her two young daughters, he is unprepared for the painful memories from his own past that wait to confront him on the distant shores.

Seth is a simple Arcrean shepherd whose worries are few and far between. When the discovery of a costly heirloom starts him on a quest of justice, it quickly becomes a journey that will test the strength of his faith and unlock the truth of his life?s purpose.

A lost parchment, a devastating secret, and an evil lord who seeks their ruin. Will the puzzle of Gilbrenor be solved and her future secured before it is too late?

Another enjoyable read with a sound Christian theme, in which it was interesting to see a formerly minor character come into his own. In this case, it was Falconer the former spy and ‘informant’, whose background and circumstances we learn more about. His getting a chance at love was quite sweet and touching.

Some of the circumstances were rather predictable- I was able to guess Seth’s true identity a chapter or two before it was revealed, for instance. Also, some of the fight scenes left a lot to be desired (one guy beating up three or four trained soldiers- really?), and the characterization of the villain- well, it gets a bit repetitive after a while. Yet another evil Mizgalian nobleman. Finally- potatoes in the Middle Ages- even in a fictional Medieval society of that includes dragons and other made-up creatures, are a real annoyance to me. Ditch the spuds guys- they come from America- not Europe!

I would recommend this series for families and Young Adults, who are the intended audience (and I understand the reason why they can appear rather simplistic), and those seeking a wholesome, clean, magic-free alternative to secular fantasy stories. Those who prefer their fantasy a little more complex, nuanced or realistic might like other stories better- but this series is still worth a look.

Thanks again to the person who loaned this book to me, allowing me to read the whole trilogy for free.
I would consider the author's second series, as I would be interested in seeing the stories of characters like Eliena concluded, but I'm not sure I would be prepared to pay nearly £5 apiece for the books.

18 Sept 2015

The Fate of Arcrea- Nicole Sager

The Fate of Arcrea- The Arcrean Conquest # 2 
November 2012, 328 Pages 

Return to the kingdom of Arcrea,
where the stage is set for an epic battle between good and evil.

Trenton is a young Mizgalian caught up in the deadly beliefs inspired by a life in his father’s garrison. When a simple mission in Arcrea unearths the shocking truth of a mystery two decades in the making, he is left with a choice that may decide the fate of an entire kingdom. Join old friends and new on a journey of discovery, where battling vicious beasts and conquering a coast of dragons will test the mettle of men and set the pace for an adventure like no other

 Good Christian Fantasy with some sounds messages and memorable moments- but with a few of the drawbacks of the last book. Seemingly invincible heroes, and fight scenes that whilst exiting- seemed to be lacking something. Why does nobody seem to wear armour- or if they do why is it so easy to dispatch enemies?
Also, as before, villainary seemed to be determined more by social class and political affiliation more than anything else- in spite of the character's sentiments about there being evil everywhere.

It was interesting to read more about a lot of the characters from the first book, and see some of thier situations resolved, and its a good, easygoing quick read. Preachy in places, but that does line up with the intention of the author, so its not a cause for major complaint.
Perhaps its just not the type of fantasy that I really go in for. Too many Americanisms I think to be a convincing Medieval world, and I did notice a couple of scenes and details that may have been 'borrowed' from various movies. Still worth a read.

Thankyou to the person who loaned me this book.

12 Sept 2015

New for 2015- Chivalrous- Dina Sleiman

Valiant Hearts Series #2
368 Pages, Bethany House
September 8th 2015 

Strong and adventurous Gwendolyn Barnes longs to be a knight like her chivalrous brothers. However, that is not an option for her, not even in the Arthurian-inspired Eden where she dwells. Her parents view her only as a marriage pawn, and her domineering father is determined to see her wed to a brutish man who will break her spirit.

When handsome, good-hearted Allen of Ellsworth arrives in Edendale searching for his place in the world, Gwendolyn spies in him the sort of fellow she could imagine marrying. Yet fate seems determined to keep them apart.
Tournaments, intrigue, and battles--along with twists and turns aplenty--await these two as they struggle to find love, identity, and their true destinies.

A trilogy, that common animal in Fiction, can be a mixed bag. The first book can be wonderful, whilst others fail to please, or vice versa. Such was the case for me with Chivalrous. I did genuinely like Dauntless, the first book and the series- and that is high praise from me, who sets my standards for Medieval Fiction very high indeed.

In such cases, it’s best to start with the positive. Chivalrous was a tight, well-told story, with some important messages, and delivered its main religious theme about trusting God in difficult and seemingly impossible circumstances well, without being too preachy. Readers of the first book might also enjoy seeing Allen of Ellsworth, an important character from the first book, come into his own. There is also plenty of action, adventure and intrigue to keep young adult readers enthralled- as well as plenty of romance.

However, for me there some major deficiencies. One thing was that I never really warmed to the female protagonist, Gwendolyn. Like Merry from the first book she adopts a traditionally male role, that of a wannabe knight- but unlike Merry, her wish to do this seems to result more from rebellious obstinacy, and a refusal to conform to social norms than anything else, and some crazy idea that by acting like a boy, and doing things she knew her father disapproved of she could somehow win his approval.
In the early part of the book, she just seemed like a brat with a chip on her shoulder because she was not allowed to play with swords and was expected to stay in her family’s castle, and do ‘boring’ things she did not want to do. Even her basis for rejecting religion (namely that it supported and endorsed the repression and subjection of women and the lower classes) seemed contrived, clichéd and hopelessly anachronistic.

Okay, so the idea of a medieval woman fighting is not so implausible. Yet the notion of a teenage girl with no direct military experience being able to best trained soldiers, or even kill fully armoured knights on the battlefield when not even wearing a helmet (essential for preventing serious head injuries, or death) and escape unscathed is a bit much. Even for men, failure to use the proper armour or equipment in battle proved fatal, so how could she manage without it? Is this really a credible and constructive example of female empowerment?

Again, I had no problem with the issue of domestic abuse in this story. These things do happen and it’s necessary to explore them at times. However, I do object to the idea that Gwen’s situation- that of having a father who abuses her mother, and even his children, was common in medieval times, and such actions were generally considered acceptable. Nor do I accept the claim that Gwen’s father’s attitude towards women and their roles were normal for the period.
One example would be his belief that women should not ride horses because it could damage their genitals- which seemed to me patent nonsense historically- there are plenty of medieval illustrations that show women riding and I have never heard of anyone at the time raising such an objection.
 No doubt fans will take issue with me remarking on historical accuracy in this regard, but there were cases in Medieval Britain of women taking abusive spouses to court, or 'naming and shaming' them in front of the neighbourhood. Too put it simply, women, even in the 'bad old Medieval' days were not entirely without redress to law and rights. So why do we have to go along with the 'repressed chattels' stereotype as typical of the period- and strong, valued, women in loving relationships as the exception?

I also had issue with how prevalent forced marriage was in this story. It is something else I have a problem with in fiction- mostly because the church actually banned it in the eleventh century, and that it was actually quite hard to get past this ban because of how the law worked. Despite this, many authors seem to ignore or discount the ban, and make out that it was the norm-even though the evidence shows many noblewomen chose their own husbands. I mean, why? I understand drama makes for an interesting story- but does every arranged marriage have to be unhappy and everyone miserable and abused to make a good story?

Even the notion of North Britannia being a ‘progressive’ state got to me, because of the way this was treated. Basically, it’s supposed to be some paragon of medieval chivalric ideals, and Christian virtues in the midst of the universally corrupt society around it. I can accept that this is meant to be ‘dystopian’ fiction- but it’s almost too dystopian.
The characters constantly harping on about how ‘progressive’ they were, whilst pointing the accusing finger at anyone who did not share their ideals smacks too much of modern liberalism, not to mention that they actually come across as quite condescending, something along the lines of "Oh, thank goodness we're so enlightened, and so much better than those stupid, backwards, repressive English. We're so wonderful and smart, they copied the Magna Carta from our ideas!"

An idea supported by the fact that the villain was opposed to this ‘progress’ and wanted a return to ‘traditional feudalism’ which under which were rejected  such notions as rule of Law, rule by council, democracy and equality. The problem this representation in inaccurate- and such notions were not alien and repugnant to Medieval Englishmen.
The notion of rule of law existed in English society before the Magna Carta, most Medieval Kings had councils, and it was a nobleman who established the British parliament including the House of Commons, in the same century as this book is set.

More generally, I was concerned with the attitude towards authority that was held by some of the characters. The most progressive North Britannians seem to have little time for the idea that fathers should be able to ‘rule their household’ and have a legal right to authority over their wives and underage children. Yet this concept is supported in scripture- although not in the way that Gwen’s father uses it, but the characters in question seem to consider the notion itself to be wrong and unjust.
Allen and his fellows seemed to think that if the political authorities, in this case the Council that he was meant to be leading, supported something which that regarded as tyrannical, unfair or unjust, they should ‘follow their own heart’, and the alleged leading of the Holy Spirit- instead of being ‘ruled by men’. At one point in what could really be seen as little more than a fit of teenage pique,  he condemns said council as ‘tyrannical’- because it would not let him run off and rescue a damsel in distress, instead of facing his responsibilities and running the Dukedom.

The New Testament contains a number of passages which expressly state we should obey those in authority, for God puts them in that place, and even be subject to Kings and rulers. Only if they require us to do something which is expressly against Christian teaching is there any precedent for refusal to obey. Not just because we don’t like or think it’s right. Not just because they will not let us do what we want.
Now, I do not in any way condone the abuse of this power that Gwen’s father represents- but nor do I believe we should pick and choose which parts of the Bible we want to believe, and reject that which does not fit in with our ideas. The idea that you can reject anything in mainstream religious teaching, or that any authority figure tells you that conflicts with your innate idea of ‘doing what is right’, as the characters often seem to do, is one that is worrying.  Especially since the characters in question are basically a bunch of green teenagers, with no experience of rule, and yet think they know better than seasoned politicians, parents, religious leaders etc. Not very positive role models for teenagers today who might already have a problem with authority.

I almost think Rebellious could have been a fitting title for this novel, which would really have worked better as the original concept of historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. I would consider reading the next title in this series, and I’m not meaning to imply the author is deliberately misrepresenting anything, but just to proceed with caution.

I received an e-galley of this book, from the publisher via Netgalley for review. No other remuneration was given and all opinions expressed are my own.

2 Sept 2015

New for 2015- Not by Sight- Kate Breslin

Bethany House, August 4th 2015 
375 Pages 
Gripping Sophomore Novel from a Rising Historical Romance Talent

With Britain caught up in WWI, Jack Benningham, heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke, has declared himself a conscientious objector. Instead, he secretly works for the Crown by tracking down German spies on British soil, his wild reputation and society status serving as a foolproof cover.

Blinded by patriotism and concern for her brother on the front lines, wealthy suffragette Grace Mabry will do whatever it takes to assist her country's cause. When she sneaks into a posh London masquerade ball to hand out white feathers of cowardice, she never imagines the chain of events she'll set off when she hands a feather to Jack.

And neither of them could anticipate the extent of the danger and betrayal that follows them--or the faith they'll need to maintain hope.

 I'm stepping rather outside my comfort zone with my Netgalley requests for this year. Not by sight is a Romance set during the First World War- no doubt inspired by the massively popular Downton Abbey series, and the first book of this Genre I have ventured to read set in this period.
The sub-plot of espionage interested me, I think it bought to mind 'The Thirty-Nine Steps', although I did not belive the classic would be matched,
There were perhaps shades of the more recent BBC Adaptation with the elements of Romance, and some unexpected characters being pulled in- but the Drama was more of a Domestic, cosy kind, based on the relationships and interactions between the leading characters.
It would also be possible to see some shades of series such as 'The Land Girls', given the Emphasis on the lives, loves, and struggles of Grace, and her fellows in the Women's Forage Corps that 'flesh out' the book.

It must be said, it’s not the best spy novel in the world. The culprit was a bit predictable, and both sides seemed a little sloppy, clumsy, and slow in their methods. Yet, I got the impression that this was not supposed to be the main thrust of the story.
Some have complained about the lack of action in the main section of the novel, and its focus (perhaps over-emphasis) on the girls and their farming activities. This did not bother me per se, as that was what they were there to do, and it allowed for the development of some interesting backstories for the minor characters, even if some of these were a little on the melodramatic side.
Admittedly, the story it did drag a little in places, though I enjoyed some of the descriptive passages that others may have had little time for. Then again, it might not have been entirely necessary for the characters to explain the way that being confronted with reality had changed them, when this was made obvious elsewhere.

As to the protagonists, I took to Jack reasonably well, and his reactions and attitudes seemed reasonably realistic (except perhaps falling head over heels for a women who may have been working for the enemy). Grace, whilst, likable and caring at times, could be a bit of a goody- two-shoes, and rather self-righteous in places, convinced that her political ideology was the only solution to almost all of the problems in her society.
Maybe it’s just that I don't get on with people who like to get on their soapbox, and preach about the evils of anything that does not fit into their preconceived belief system to the point that their outlook becomes rather unrealistic. For instance, Grace complains about women 'bearing the brunt' of arranged marriages, but does not seem to consider than men were subject to them just as often- and of apparently will not even entertain the idea that such arrangements could even possibly be happy.

The romance itself was something of a mixed bag. Sometimes the characters behaved sensibly and courteously like mature adults, and the idea of getting past appearances to find out what a person was really like was done well. As things got further on, there seemed to be more emphasis on kissing, touching, and 'longing' for one another, with sudden changes in emotion or outlook.

The historical details were interesting, and the faith elements worked well-even if they were a little clichéd. My main complaint was the whole story being absolutely riddled with Americanisms in the character's speech, and even some of their manners.
I'm sure there were a couple of scenes in which the characters were eating with only a fork, as Americans are accustomed to, rather than a knife and fork, as is more usual in Britain, and would have been amongst the upper classes at this time. I suppose it’s to be expected, but this still irks me. I almost think, if an author chooses to set a novel is a culture and country other than their own, they should research the speech patterns, and customs of that culture, and try to accurately represent them to some degree.
The geographical descriptions of the region in which the story was set were correct as far as I could tell, and real effort seems to have been put in to making sure this was the case, so why not for other aspects as well?

I would consider reading more by this author, and perhaps this one again, but I feel there was some scope for improvement.

I received an E-book version from the Publisher via Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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