29 Sept 2013

To Birmingham Castle by Alicia Willis

To Birmingham Castle 
Comrades of Honor Series Book 1
June 2012, 480 Pages 

One could perhaps call To Birmingham Castle  a ‘coming of age’ tale recounting the exploits, challenges and adventures of Robert Fitzhassaltine and the young men who come to be his squires on their journey to manhood, and eventually knighthood (for the latter anyway)learning about courage, honour, loyalty and even finding love along the way.
 There were some interesting historical details, especially regarding weapons, armour and fighting techniques, and occasional French or Latin phrase demonstrates the author’s research in these areas.
 That said, there were some inaccuracies and errors which may have been due to deficiencies in the secondary sources themselves, rather than anything else.

That said there were a few references which I stood out for me as an English person like knights coming from cities or towns which would have been relatively small and insignificant at this time- including Birmingham.

The one major issue I had was the writing style, which I could really not get in with. Essentially it was written in the style of the Victorian novels of Howard Pyle and G Henty with much of the dialogue pseudo-Middle English in style. So the characters will say things like ‘verily, methinks thou art right, beausire’.

It’s not just the archaic language that I had the problem with, (I have read actual Middle English- though not for a prolonged period). There was the way in which the book was written, which seemed a very narrative style telling rather than showing. I personally found it hard-going and slow some of the time, or perhaps rather simplistic or repetitive in style.
 I perhaps prefer my characters more complex than some of the ones here were, some of whom seemed altogether too perfect,  and some of the scenarios just seemed rather implausible. Like the way in which a miscreant was able to get into the castle apparently easily and kidnap the Lord’s daughters (who could do nothing but scream) and make off with them by the hand into the forest, or the characters seeming to recover from even relatively serious injuries incredibly quickly.

When the author did ‘show’ the character’s emotions it was almost always in some descriptive passage such as ‘fear and concern mingling in his eyes’ or ‘his whole mien portrayed his feelings of combined expectation and anxiety’. Without meaning to be personal or over-critical, could the author not have used some other way to describe the characters feelings or body language, and is it even possible for people to portray such a range of emotions with only their eyes?

Altogether, To Birmingham Castle is generally a satisfying ‘old style’ adventure tale, with a sound (and not theologically dubious) Christian theme. I think I was genuinely able to engage with it in parts. I could I think have given a higher rating had the writing style been different, especially considering the book was pushing 460 pages.
I would be interested in reading the second book in the series and might be interesting to see how the character of Nathanial the page of Sir Robert who seemed to do little but cry in this book, develops.

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