Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mini Book Reviews

I hope this post finds everyone enjoying their summer (or winter for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).  While I've managed to get a lot of reading done so far this summer, I admit that I haven't been all that inspired to write lengthy reviews. Nevertheless, as I would still like to share my thoughts on a number of the books I've read over the past few months, I have prepared mini reviews for them. 

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

4.5 Stars

Historical author Michelle Moran's first novel, Nefertiti, is a fictionalized account of the life of the infamous Egyptian Queen.  Told from the perspective of Nefertiti's younger sister, Mutnodjmet, Moran's lovely prose brings ancient Egypt to life and evokes a strong sense of time and place.   It also features fabulous characters, a strong plot and great historical detail, all of which are necessary for me to consider a novel a great work of historical fiction.   Given that Nefertiti's behaviour, attitude and actions make her a hard character to amass any sympathy for, the decision to use her sister as the means through which to recount Nefertiti's life was the right one.    

Hereward by James Wilde

3.5 Stars

The focus of this novel authored by James Wilde is on the title character, an English outlaw and hero, and his companion, a young monk named Alric.  The novel takes place primarily in England in the years immediately before and after the Norman Conquest.  Although an outlaw, Hereward fights first to prevent, and then to end, Norman occupation of England.  Although it took me the better part of the novel before I warmed towards Hereward, who is portrayed as rather violent and angry, by the story's end I at least started to appreciate why he is considered an English hero.  While Hereward's narrative is the principal focus of this book, the story does alternate between Hereward's life and that of life at the courts of English King's Edward Wessex and Harold Godwinson.  While I found the narrative switches to, at times, interrupt the flow of the story, I nevertheless appreciated the inclusion of life at court as it was used to help explain the political situation of the time period in which the novel is set.   Although at times a little too violent for my tastes, I did enjoy the novel overall and would recommend it to historical fiction readers interested in the Conquest period of English history.   Hereward's journey continues in Hereward: The Devil's Army

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

2.5 Stars

While this novel started out strongly, my enjoyment of it lessened the further I advanced in the story.   Set a few years after the end of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley features a murder on the grounds of the Pemberley estate; a murder that involves Elizabeth Darcy's sister Lydia and brother-in-law, Wickham.   While I think P.D. James does an admirable job of capturing Austen's voice and tone, especially early in the novel, the endless repetition of plot points becomes tedious even before the novel's half-way mark.   Furthermore, even though the accused murderer is believed innocent by the Darcy's, their family and their acquaintances, for a novel billed as a mystery I found it odd that there is absolutely no effort made by the key characters to determine who the actual murderer is.   Rather, the focus seems to be on how the accused murderer's link to the Darcy's will forever change their lives and reputation, essentially destroying their idyllic life.  If this was the case, why didn't the Darcy's do whatever they could to solve the murder and absolve the accused?  Their lack of interest in doing so, combined with their increasingly morose and melancholy moods neither felt right, nor felt consistent with the original characterizations of Austen's beloved hero and heroine. 

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

4.5 Stars

Theft of Swords, the first installment in Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria Revelations fantasy series, is a must read for fans of the fantasy genre.  At the centre of the story are thief Royce Melborn and mercenary Hadrian Blackwater, who, while in the process of trying to steal a sword, are accused of murdering a king.  Lured into a trap in order to cover up treachery at the highest levels, Royce and Hadrian receive help from a most unexpected source and, as a result, set off on an adventure quite unlike any they have experienced before. With a relatively straightforward plot and a manageable cast of characters that doesn't leave the reader wondering who's who, Theft of Swords is a highly readable and entertaining fantasy novel, one that I found difficult to put down.  Sullivan has created not only an interesting world, but also a fabulous cast of characters.  In fact, it took only the first few chapters for Royce and Hadrian to become two of my favourite characters in all of fiction.   When I finished the novel I immediately picked up the second installment in the series, Rise of Empire, as I  had to know what happened next.   On the whole I think this novel will appeal to fans of both simple and more complex epic fantasy.