Book Review: The Du Lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yarde

Book Review: The Du Lac Chronicles

by Mary Anne Yarde

ASIN: B01CDK2MK0

At its heart, The Du Lac Chronicles is a love story.  Forced together by the rash yet fearlessly daring decision of a young girl, our hero and heroine brave certain death by sword, arrow, dog, wolf, starvation, hypothermia, fratricide (I’ve probably missed a few)… sometimes simultaneously.  I was drawn into the book by the action and pace from page one, and the developing complexities of the story held me until the very end.  I’m not particularly fond of the romance genre, but even so I found myself cheering for the boy to get the girl the entire time, laughing out loud at the sometimes subtle, other times outright wit of the characters.

The plot of the book is well thought out and well executed.  Telling the tale of a king who has lost his land and failed his people, we journey along with Alden Du Lac as he is given a second chance to right the wrongs he feels he caused, and for which he bears the burden of shame.  There were times in the reading that I found myself confused by references to events occurring “off page”, and by bits and pieces of back-story.  I wondered if I had missed something in my hasty reading because I was so carried along by the plot and simply not paying enough attention.  (I do this a lot in movies too.)  Figuratively shrugging my shoulders, I kept at it, assuming my questions would be cleared up at some point.  And slowly but surely, I was right; my confusions cleared up.  As the pieces came together, I discovered the true masterpiece in this book: the beautiful blending of a new story with the threads of a lovely, and very old, legend.

I loved Alden from the beginning.  He breathed off the page immediately as a strong man, able to take brutal treatment from his captor with good humor even while in a state of despondency.  He carries the weight of his responsibilities heavily, never being quite willing to release them, always wanting to redeem himself for the mistakes he insists he made.

And then there is Annis.  Dear, dear Annis…  There were times I wanted to throttle her.  Oftentimes emotionally unstable, she repeatedly questioned the ability of Alden to be true to his word.  “He loves me, he loves me not” echoed in many different scenes, and I wanted to slap her silly for it.  That being said, when taking into account Annis’ life up until the point we meet her in the book, the cold, uncaring, and abused life she lived growing up, one can totally understand, from a psychological perspective, why she harbored so many insecurities.  I may have been annoyed with her, but her reaction to the world and to her relationships was totally and utterly believable.  She is a flawed character, and Ms. Yarde wrote her beautifully.

There is a cast of other supporting characters – kings and queens, retainers, servants and sympathizers.  Each of them serves a purpose in knitting the story together, and of dropping hints about the back-story that I thought I had missed.  Careful attention to these individuals and the stories they tell hint at the deeper parts of the plot if one is paying attention.  Perhaps the best supporting character is Merton, a character I am told will take center stage in the next book.  What we learn of him in this first novel suggests an entertaining next book!

I love historical fiction, but I also love fantasy.  This book easily fits into both camps as it contains bits of historical fact woven through with folklore, even taking a step beyond the traditional telling of the story and asking what might have come next.  I’m excited to see where Ms. Yarde takes these characters and their stories in future installments.

About Mary Anne Yarde

The stories of King Arthur and his Knights were a big part of Mary Anne Yarde’s childhood ~ growing up in the shadows of Glastonbury, England, it is hardly surprising. Yarde’s fascination with this time period spilled over into her adult life and she has been chasing Arthur’s shadow ever since. One day, maybe she will catch him!

You can purchase The Du Lac Chronicles Book 1 here.

Website: https://www.maryanneyarde.com/

Blog: http://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryanneyarde/

Twitter:  @maryanneyarde

 

 

Transformations in Writing, a guest blog by Richard Abbott

Transformations in Writing

A Guest Blog by Richard Abbott

For a whole variety of reasons, I have been recently reading some late 18th and early 19th century literature. It’s been quite an eye opener in several ways. For one thing, the Victorian stereotyping of gender had not yet appeared, and women writers could flourish without having to disguise their true self by an assumed or ambiguous name. Also, genres had not developed anything like the separation that came later.

The particular area I want to write about today concerns the crossover between travel writing and fiction which was happening at that time. Even today, in an age when global travel is common, and images from every country on Earth are easy to access, good travel writing is widely appreciated. How much more was this true when there was no internet, no photography, and most people travelled only within their locality. Soldiers and sailors might well experience something of other countries, but they had no choice of destination, and were hardly going as tourists.

The emerging middle class craved the experience promised by travel – the word “tourist” for such an adventurer first appeared in writing in 1772, and within a few decades the noun form “tourism” was established. But the destinations available to most such people were limited to places fairly close at hand, so they used their skills of literacy to read of the delights and terrors of other more exotic locations.

Authors were quick to meet this demand, undeterred by the minor problem that for the most part they had no greater personal experience of the places they portrayed than did their readership. There were a few recognised sources of information – often artists or those of a radical political disposition who financed their trips by producing descriptive books. But an author’s skill lay in turning these disparate sources into something both accessible and gripping to their voracious public.

So, the gap between travel writing and fiction was very small. The most successful fiction writers were able to describe foreign locations sufficiently well that readers believed that the story was based on real experience. Journeys to places that were impossible to see for real, were vicariously possible through fiction. Many authors presented their material faithfully, but others resorted to pure invention. Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, rose to fame in the mid 19th century with some highly romanticised accounts of Polynesian life. These were based very loosely on real experience, but had been heavily embroidered to titillate his audience.

The English novelist Ann Radcliffe blended travel writing alongside her Gothic novels, and in the process became the best paid author of her generation. Reading her fiction, it is very hard to recall that she had no personal experience at all of most of her settings. The sense of place – not just as geography, but also as a human environment – is very vivid. She was ahead of her time in that she wanted to convey the emotional and spiritual impact of immersion in a strange place, not just its aesthetic qualities. She wanted to describe human geography, and how it was shaped by terrain.

Oddly, it seems to have been a real journey to the English Lake District – recorded in Observations during a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland – which brought about a crisis in confidence in her fiction writing. Her descriptions of climbing Skiddaw, and crossing the tidal sands of Morecambe Bay back to Lancaster, became classics of the genre, and were routinely included in travel brochures for many years. Her route up Skiddaw is easily recognisable to the modern walker. She obviously found this ascent, and the new perspective it provided of the landscape below, to be profoundly moving. The whole account is well worth tracking down if you have an interest in Cumbria.

Her fiction writing more or less stopped after Observations was published. There were several possible reasons for this, and nobody knows for sure which was the primary one. For one thing, she seriously disliked the literary direction that the Gothic novel had taken in the hands of others. She preferred stories where all events had a rational explanation, and where the protagonists adhered to a clear moral framework. But the new crop of Gothic authors was writing for sensation, and exploring the supernatural – a lineage more closely akin to the modern horror genre. There were also rumours – almost certainly untrue – that her mental health had failed, and she had been confined in an asylum.

But as well as this, the personal changes caused by real travel seem to have affected her ability to write about place in her fiction. Perhaps the impossibility of successfully capturing the full impact that a journey might have on a person deterred her. At any rate, her previous steady pace of writing stopped, and she withdrew into seclusion, seemingly to enjoy a peaceful and happy life with her husband.

Travel writing has had to change in a world of global mobility and easily accessed information. The focus now might be on human interactions – quirky and striking characters who typify their home, perhaps. Or an author might put an ecological spin on their writing, capturing something unique about a place which might not survive the next few decades. Something other than simple description of place is needed.

A similar process has happened in science fiction – another genre I love. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, you could put your space adventure on, say, Mars or Venus, and nobody would mind that we really had very little idea what those planets were like. Books as diverse as Sea Kings of Mars and Perelandra could invent whatever they wanted by way of landscape. But now, with high quality pictures and analyses readily available for those planets and others, readers require accuracy. So while writing parts of Timing, I wandered in virtual form around parts of the Martian surface, courtesy of Google Mars. Our expectations have changed.

Transformations like this happen from time to time in writing. In Ann Radcliffe’s day, authentic travel experiences were beginning to supplant literary ones, and authors responded with new descriptive styles. Science fiction has shifted radically in the last fifty years as science fact has poured detail into previously sketchy knowledge. Historical fiction has had to accommodate a growing array of facts.

What other transformations, I wonder, can we expect in the coming years?

About Richard Abbott

Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East – Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes from a Life, The Flame Before Us, Far from the Spaceports, and most recently Timing.


Book Review: Kin of Cain, by Matthew Harffy

Book Review: Kin of Cain, by Matthew Harffy

I have been a fan of the Bernicia Chronicles almost from the beginning, though I was a wary convert.  Usually one to be skeptical of books when one is “supposed” to like it (I generally steer clear of popular best-seller lists, Oprah book club selections, etc.), I prefer to make up my own mind about them.  If a celebrity or a highly paid marketing firm suggests it, my cynic’s mind kicks in.  So when I heard that Harffy’s first book, The Serpent Sword, was compared to one of my favorite authors, Bernard Cornwell, I immediately pushed it aside.  Cornwell has been writing for 20 years or so, and his novels have appeared on the small screen (Richard Sharpe and the Saxon stories).  Cornwell has a huge following and is widely considered one of the best battle scene writers.

But… I wanted to know what the hype was all about.  I’d seen his name pop up within the same social media circles, and decided to give Serpent Sword a try.  And to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

I have already reviewed the main novels in the Bernicia Chronicles here and here, so I won’t reiterate why I love the series.  To summarize for purposes of this review however, I will say that the key to my love is the in main protagonist of these tales, Beobrand.  I love that Beobrand is a hero, but he is also an imperfect hero.  He has a darkness lurking somewhere inside him, and it’s this darkness which propels and motivates him throughout the plot of each book.  He has strengths and weaknesses, just like a real person, and he wrestles with them, second guessing decisions, dealing with past hurts and loves.  He may be a character in a story set over a thousand years ago, but in this, he is just like any modern human alive on the planet today.

Kin of Cain takes a step back in time from the novels in The Bernicia Chronicles.  It is a book set in the Bernicia Chronicles “universe”, but it is a sort of prequel in novella form.  Readers of The Serpent Sword will immediately remember Beobrand’s brother Octa.  The death of Octa (only referred to in that book and not covered in Kin of Cain) forces Beobrand into motion, setting off the series.  Kin of Cain takes a look at one figurative chapter in Octa’s life, before we ever meet Beobrand, chronologically speaking.

The novella is a wonderful story, something I’d expect from Harffy in the style and telling of it.  The pace is good, and the characters are familiar.  I don’t read thriller/horror fiction, so I am probably not doing the genre or this novella justice by using a comparison, but I will.  Because the main action of the story is set at night, in a misty, swirling swamp, and the antagonist of the story commits grisly atrocities, the novella feels like a thriller to me.  Hound of the Baskervilles, anyone? — minus Sherlock Holmes and inserting Dark Age warriors carrying swords and other sharp bits of steel, of course.  It was creepy, but the horror is suggested and happens off the page, making it more thriller than horror.

The only down side to the novella, which really isn’t saying much, is Octa.  Don’t get me wrong: I like the guy.  But because this is a novella, I felt that we didn’t really get a chance to know him very well.  Several times he echoes regret at leaving his mother and little brother at the mercies of his brutal father, Grimgundi, as he goes off on the king’s service, but beyond those reveries we don’t see much of the inner Octa.  I don’t fault the novella for this.  It’s a novella.  There isn’t a lot of literary real estate for such luxuries.  I have just been spoiled by the superb development of Beobrand over the course of several novels.

The novella ends with one little surprise for lovers of classic literature.  I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to read the book.  But this one is a delight, and I have to chide myself for not catching on a little sooner to what Harffy was doing over the entire course of the novella.  Especially when you consider the fact that I remember, in retrospect, his social media posts about the fact that he was going to do it!

I recommend Kin of Cain to fans of The Bernicia Chronicles, but because the story is set independently outside the series, it works very well as a stand-alone.  For this reason, I also recommend the novella to those who think they might enjoy Harffy’s writing but don’t know if they want to commit to a feature-length book.

Kin of Cain was released March 1, 2017.  Make your purchase here.

For more information about Matthew Harffy and his books, visit his website: www.matthewharffy.com