29 May 2012

Review of Gallimore by Michelle Griep

 "Jessica Neale's faith is lost the day of her husband's death, and with it, her belief in love. In a journey to find peace, she encounters a gentle, green-eyed stranger who leads her to the ruins of the medieval castle, Gallimore. On his way to battle, Colwyn Haukswyrth, knight of Gallimore, comes face to face with a storm the likes of which he's never seen, and a woman in the midst of it who claims to live centuries in the future.
The Lady Jessica of Neale is an irksome, provoking bit of woman to be sure. And she's about to turn his beliefs on end. The product of a family rooted in pain and evil, Colwyn has focused on naught but himself-until Jessica. To a mysterious prophecy stitched on a tapestry, through the invasion of Gallimore itself, Colwyn and Jessica are bound together by a lesson in forgiveness and love-a bond that might be strong enough to survive the grave."


Gallimore was a clever time travel novel with some interesting elements worked into the story which provided and interesting ‘twist’ on the genre. This said, the historical setting did not always seem to fit the story comfortably, and whilst I understand that a story based on time travel requires a real time period to travel back to, I almost think the story might have worked better if set in a fictional country. I did have a few issues with the historical content- one was the way in which the medieval aristocratic characters were depicted as uncouth and ill mannered.

Such depictions seemed to be the result of clich├ęs more than anything else, as people as the nobility of this period were actually very strict on manners and etiquette. Sometimes too the violence and brutality of the seemed seemed a little exaggerated and overdone- almost worse than the time period actually was.
Another issue was the characters constantly traveling at night, in a time when such was dangerous and most people would have avoided it. Despite warnings to this effect, and being attacked because of it, the characters do persist in their solitary nocturnal journeying. 
Finally, it did seem a little implausible that the King (in this case Edward II) could have got away with acting in the way he is depicted to have done towards the nobility in this story. I somehow doubt they would have stood by and allowed him to decimate their lands and ‘eliminate’ them without fighting back. King he might have been, but he could not do whatever he wanted.

Jessica’s character worked well as a person outside her own time, whose sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes conflicted with the social norms of a different period. This could land her in trouble, or result in some rather humorous situations. She was however no shrinking violent, and sufficiently sassy and feisty to please most, without being too militant.
The hero Colwyn was one of my favourite characters, a typical fourteenth century knight who is macho and but has a heart. I personally found his gritty pragmatism quite endearing, and his inner conflict really seemed to add something to his character. 

The spiritual journeys of both the lead characters really seemed to be well done, especially with Colwyn, as although he respected God, his belief that he could not be forgiven as he had done too many bad things is something that people could identify with. Though he does find peace and forgiveness for his sins, Christ was not mentioned at all in this passage, as would have been fitting. This did bother me perhaps did suggest some measure of 'dumbing down' of the Christian content.

Content wise, this could be counted as a ‘clean romance’ though the kissing and embracing does come close to getting a bit much at times. Readers may wish to note that this story is dark and gritty, sometimes very dark as the villain Tarne practices Black Magic and although he occult practice is always shown to be evil and it's source demonic the descriptions of it might be off-putting for some. This said, none of the good characters never use or engage in it, it is shown that the power of God and Christ working through Jessica and Cole defeats the evil power of Tarne.

There is also quite a lot of violence it is not described graphically for the most part, not does it seem to be glorified. Yet even though some of the violence may be in keeping with the violent nature of the period, but at times it just seemed a little exaggerated or overdone, even taking account of the setting.

Altogether, Gallimore is a great historical time travel romance, with good characters and a compelling storyline. As with some other reviewers I found the lack of resolution at the end rather disappointing, as I would like to have known what actually happened to Colwyn and some of the other characters, and what finally conspired between him and the villain. Taking account of the content outlined above, I would say that this novel may be unsuitable for younger readers in places, and is not a ‘light’ read. If you do choose it however, it is well worth a read.

27 May 2012

What do Historians know?

A person I debated recently raised some interesting points on the nature of historical study and methodology which can be summed up thus:
  • We cannot never know for sure anything that really happened in the past

  • People left very little behind, so we cannot truly know what they thought or believed

  • Most of the records we do have were left were composed  by or for the 'ruling classes' or clergy who represented only a small segment of society, so therefore we cannot know what the vast majority of ordinary people believed, or much about thier attitudes and values.
These points were raised in order to try to refute my position on some beliefs and values common to Medieval people by a person who had no formal historical training, but this does not necessarily make them invalid.

To examine the factuality of these statements it is necessary to also examine the nature of the source material. I know that this has nothing to do with books or novels so I will try not to spend too much time on this but will examine each point briefly.

"We can never know for sure what really happened in the past" or "we cannot know because we weren't 'there'".

To a certain extent this is true. We cannot know exact precise or intimate details about events that we did not witness, however, we do have accounts written by people who were 'there' and did witness the events they wrote about. That these accounts might be biased or partisan does not necessarily discredit the testimony of those who wrote them nobody is totally impartial after all.

"People left very little behind, so we cannot truly know what they thought or believed"

This really depends on the period or era in question, as well as the nature of the evidence and source material, and other circumstances. For the so-called 'Dark Ages' namely the period after the fall of Rome in the 5th to 8th century sources are limited, but for the Later Middle Ages it is a different matter entirely. Spending hours trawling through parish records, parliament rolls (so-called because they are, in their original form, literally huge rolls of parchment) and all the other reams upon reams of records and bureaucracy, or even looking at the bibliography section of the average history book should evidence enough that there is a significant amount of material left behind.

 Medieval  'rolls' such as this one are useful to historians
Such records often refer to subjects which are irrelrvant to our understanding of the beliefs and attitudes of common people, but some do, for instance records pertaining to a church or cathedral might refer to moral and social matters which had been bought before the church for mediation, or a will left by an individual might give some clues to their beliefs and values. Ordinary people themselves were also more than capable of giving voice their opinions, and these may well be remarked upon by a literate individual, even if the person themself was not literate. In this way, it is indeed possible for us to gain insights into the attitudes, values, opinions, and beliefs of everyday men and women of the Middle Ages, this in turn leads onto the third point.

"Most of the material we have were written by those of the ruling classes, or a literate minority, so it is not possible to know what the majority believed"

This is a fairly common idea, but is it actually true? Certainly it is correct that in many Medieval Societies a significant proportion, or the majority of the population were illiterate, but this does not mean that they did not have access to Literacy and there can be no written material pertaining to them. Even an illiterate peasant could dictate something to a clerk or a priest, who could write down their words; thoughts, or wishes, and so preserve them for posterity. If that peasant had any dealings with the law, or took part in a financial transaction their actions, thoughts or wishes might also be recorded in this context.
Also, people of certain professions or occupations would likely have needed to have some measure of, or at least some grasp of literacy. Merchants or traders could be an example these, and it may be significant in this regard to mention that Geoffrey Chaucer is supposed to have been the son of a wine merchant.

There are also other types of written material such as songs, poems, or plays which can also enable us to gain some understanding of what ordinary Medieval people might have thought, felt and believed about life, and the world around them.

So really, it is possible for Historians and others to know something of the above about Medieval people. We can never know everything, but we can know a lot more than nothing.

20 May 2012

Review of Seasons in the Mist by Deborah Kinnard


"Stranded in 1353 Cornwall, American graduate student Bethany Lindstrom knows she must find a way back to her own time or face a life of falsehoods and peril. But with the stern overlord Sir Michael Veryan, she is swept into the intrigues of King Edward's court, which will test their mettle and their faith in God to the limits -- and forever bind their lives together."
Opinion: This novel was clearly well researched and written by an author who values historical accuracy and authenticity and used plenty of period terms and phrases in the narrative. She also apparently had a good knowledge of linguistics, both of Middle English and Medieval Cornish and the peppering of the narrative with Cornish, Middle English and Medieval French phrases again gave the novel a more authentic edge. Details of political, social and economic conditions also made for a more realistic and plausible historical setting.
 The Middle English-like language spoken by the characters could be something of a double edged sword- it made the novel accurate and authentic, but could also make the narrative cumbersome and heavy- going, so that sometimes it was necessary to read passages of dialogue two or more times to get the gist of what the characters are saying. Thankfully, the author provides a glossary at the back, and the Kindle dictionary makes life easier, but this could be a little off-putting for some readers.

The romantic aspects of the story were also generally well done and there is no sexual content, which many `romance' novels feel the need to resort to. Though some of the romantic scenes seemed a little overstretched and overdone at times, and this really did not always seem necessary as Beth and Michael the hero's depth of feeling was pretty obvious for the most part anyway, so did the audience really need to have it affirmed so many times to get the picture?

The characters were generally well developed and believable, allowing the reader identify with or feel for most of them. The time travel concept is also well handled, Beth's sense of confusion and isolation at landing suddenly and unexpectedly in the 14th century was very relate-able and quite understandable for her circumstances- as were the responses of the Medieval people to her strangeness.

Christianity/Morality:  To 'get by' in the past Bethany tells a lot of lies and falsehoods, primarily for the reason that she thinks nobody will believe her claims to be from the future, and so invent a sort of 'cover story' for her turning up alone and hurt in the 14th century. She does agonise over the morality of such a course of action, and eventually reveals the truth to the hero Michael, but not to anyone else.

I had some issues with the treatment of some biblical and Christian concepts in the book. For instance, in one place Bethany says that Michael's evil half-brother who was killed by him in single combat's `soul dwells with our dear Lord' , despite having lamented the fact that he had not been shriven or made his peace with God a few sentences before. So it is seems to have clearly been implied that the person is question went straight to heaven without having confessed, repented or been forgiven of his sins.
 Bethany also 'says Aves' or prays to Mary a few times throughout the novel.

Sheila, Bethany's modern day Cornish host is a strange and unconventional personality to say the least. Her main role is as Bethany's `guide' and `mentor' which is all well and good, but the constant references to her `seeings' or ability to anticipate future events, and `intuition' by which she knows intimate details about Bethany are really just- weird. Sheila is supposed to be a Christian and the author tries to attribute her abilities to God, but I simply could not buy this. It would be all too easy for readers to see Sheila as a `psychic' of some description, and come to the conclusion that psychic power supposedly comes from God, or is compatible with Christianity- a dubious and perhaps even dangerous implication for a Christian book.

History: One thing that I found incredibly annoying being a Medievalist Historian myself was Beth the Historian heroine's belief that she could be branded a `witch' and summarily burned at the stake by the people around her for the slightest and most trivial things, such as wearing `strange' clothes, or having surgical scars. As a Doctorate level `expert' on 14th century English history she should have realised that the above would quite possible neither have been legal or very likely, as burning at the stake was not particularly common in England at this time and often reserved as a last resort for only the most serious of offences, such as heresy and supposed Satanism (to my knowledge.)

On a personal level I disliked the way that some Historians and the members of the historical profession seemed to have been depicted in the story. It appeared to be claimed that all they were interested in was 'dry facts' for their own sake, or for their own self-aggrandisement, yet many Historians wish to learn about the day to day lives of the people they study- contrary to what Beth thought.

 Beth also seemed to adopt a rather condescending view of `medieval medicine' for most of the book, dismissing it as rubbish that could not heal anyone and marvelling at how soldiers could have survived the wounds which gave them the scars they bore without the wonders of modern medicine. Apparently she expert was unaware of the ability of at least some surgeons to deal with wounds relatively effectively (to my knowledge) . So for a supposed trained Medievalist, Bethany's knowledge of many aspects of Medieval history was decidedly lacking.

1 May 2012

Review of 'By Love Redeemed' by Deanna Julie Dodson

By Love Redeemed- The Chastelayne Trilogy Book 2 

"Complete strangers on their wedding day and separated by war since their honeymoon, can they find true love together?

Even though their time together has been short, Prince Tom is eager for his bride's return. Though his love for her has grown, Elizabeth makes it clear that she considers him a stranger, not to be trusted. Not to be loved.
Certain the lavish love he claims to have for her cannot be genuine, Elizabeth turns to a deceitful friend who feeds her doubts and insecurities, poisoning her mind against her young husband. Just as Tom's patient tenderness begins to soften her heart, he is left with a heavier burden. His brother the king receives news that threatens the stability of the kingdom and his marriage. Forced to go in secret to find the truth behind it, he leaves Tom to deal with the undercurrent of treason and treachery that lies beneath the deceptive quiet of the court. Will Tom be able to hold the kingdom together and win his wife's heart? Or will she let a seductive stranger lead her away from his unconditional love?"

Opinion: I loved 'In Honor Bound' and really liked this novel, the second in Miss Dodson's 'Chastelayne Trilogy', though I confess I did not love it as much as the first. As before the novel was quite historically authentic and the author has appears to have made some effort to make the language of the characters authentic too.

Tom the brother of Philip is the main protagonist in this story, I really liked him in the prequel, and it is nice to see him and other characters again developing and having to face new challenges.

Tom was hurt and mistreated by his wife Elisabeth, who repaid his love and affection by slapping him in the face, both literally and proverbially, and so it could be hard not to be annoyed by her shrewishness, and over or dislike her for the possessive jealousy and lack of trust which caused her to condemn Tom as a lecher if he so much as talked to another woman. Yet for all this she was willing to believe that she was wrong, even though she was too strong-willed to admit it, and all her disgraceful treatment of Tom was essential to the storyline.

I look forward to the third and final novel, but the feeling is bittersweet knowing that it will be the last in the trilogy. This and the first novel I count amongst my favorite Christian Fiction Reads this year.

Christianity/Morality: There was much more emphasis on Romantic rather than Historical content in this novel than the first, which was one of the reasons I did not always enjoy this novel quite so much as the prequel,  but this content worked well with the storyline and was presented (usually) tastefully and sensitively.
Personally, I did not feel that the 'sexual' or rather Romantic content was ever too graphic or that the author ever actually went too far and described sexual acts in detail, she always stops short of doing this and more seems to know when to stop so as not to stray beyond the bounds of taste and decency.

I also feel that there is more of a commitment to and emphasis upon truth and truthfulness in this series than in others. The characters are flawed, but they are honest about what is right and wrong, and about their own behaviour and others.
Elisabeth for instance willingly admits that she was responsible for her adulterous liaison any only engaged in it to ‘get her own back’ on Tom when she wrongfully believed he had been unfaithful, whereas other authors would have tried to lay the responsibility entirely upon Tom’s shoulders.

History: Again, the attitudes and values of the characters reflected those which would have liwkly have been common in a Late Medieval society.
The author  also seems to be familiar with the legal and political conventions of 15th century Europe and England, and details of these really add a more realistic edge to the story. 
There were a couple of scenes which did seem a little implausible in their details such as Tom engaging in single combat with an expert swordsman yet not wearing any armour, or the sheer absurdity of King going off to deal with potentially a potentially dangerous situation without any reinforcements or an armed escort.
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