Review – The Briton and the Dane

“Gwyneth walked towards the formidable Keep, nodding to the guards patrolling the wall-walk once she reached the top of the tower. She breathed in the sea air, admiring the beauty of the land as the sun disappeared below the horizon, mesmerized by the rich and colorful hues of the darkening sky. She was comforted by the melodious sound of breaking waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, which was a calming respite from the throes of a violent world.”

This is the start of  “The Briton and the Dane” by Mary Ann Bernal. I downloaded this book some time ago (June 2015, Amazon tells me.) I got 18% into the book, before giving up – it was so bad. Looking for something to review this week, I decided to give it another try. After all, Amazon’s reviews for this book average 9.5 stars. The reviewers rave over it. Was I missing something?

I pressed on to about 50% – My opinion hasn’t changed.

Let’s return to Gwyneth in her castle. Not a bad start, a bit dramatic, but you need to hook the reader. She sees a wounded stranger, wandering the beach. She rescues him, patches him up and “the sight of his bulging muscles caused her heart to beat faster” and she instantly falls in love with him. A bit quick but this is Historical Romance. Actually I would have liked a picture of the bulging muscles on the cover – it would have helped to relieve the tedium!

We meet Gwyneth’s family: her father Lord Richard, her brothers David and Stephen. Gwyneth does not know that her father has arranged a marriage to another man, she runs away, etc. There are other characters all in love with or married to the wrong man. There are political complications. The language is a type of cod medieval that I last heard in (very) old films. A phrase picked at random, during a fight to the death:

“Lord, please spare David,” Gwyneth silently prayed, “and end this fight before blood is spent!” (In fact, typing it out, I’m not sure what this means!)

None of this would necessarily put me off, except for one thing – Remember? I am writing a series of posts on the subject of Anglo-Saxons and (in this case Romance). This book is set in the reign of King Alfred. The bulging muscles belong to a Dane called Eric, but you would never have guessed from the other names, that they are Anglo-Saxon. These Norman names would not appear in England for more than two hundred years.

It is set shortly after King Guthrum’s defeat by Alfred and his conversion to Christianity. Lord Richard is the Lord of Wareham. Now I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to Wareham, I might well have passed through it on holidays in the area, but I am pretty sure there are was no Anglo-Saxon castle (with keep) on the cliffs there. In fact, there are no cliffs, rocky or otherwise. A quick check on Wikipedia would tell you that:

“The town is built on a strategic dry point between the River Frome and the River Piddle at the head of the Wareham Channel of Poole Harbour. The Frome Valley runs through an area of unresistant sand, clay and gravel rocks, and much of its valley has wide flood plains and marsh land. At its estuary the river has formed the wide shallow ria of Poole Harbour. Wareham is built on a low dry island between the marshy river plains.”

Yes, King Alfred built earth ramparts round the town and it was occupied by the Danes in 976. But sorry, no “formidable fortress sitting atop the rocky cliff”. There were no stone castles until the Normans built them 200 years later. Just a few ruined walls left by the Romans.

For me this book failed on every level. The plot is difficult to follow – people tell each other what is happening, repeatedly and there are unexpected flashbacks to explain what happened in the past. The setting was wrong and there was absolutely no sense that these characters were living in the ninth century.

As for Gwyneth and Eric, I have no wish to find out if they live happily ever after. I assume they do as the series continues for two more books, with what looks like a spin-off, plus a time slip novel. There are many, much better, books out there to read instead.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this, I wrote 6,541 words last week (with this post that means I’m over my weekly target of 7k!)

 

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Jumping Genres.

I quick post because I have missed two weeks, and I don’t want you to forget about me and wander off to look at other blogs.

First, the excuses! I missed blogging two weeks ago, because I was proof reading again. My second attempt after the first turned into a massive re-edit due to “Editor Problems”. It has now gone back for a professional proof read, after which it will be set in stone. I am now completely sick of the book. The ad from Amazon recommending it to me suffered short thrift, I’m afraid. It took several days to recover, with a bit of reading and catching up with the rest of my life. I even managed an afternoon of gardening – that put paid to last weeks post.

I have been trying to catch up with some of the books on my TBR pile, which resulted in some interesting thoughts. Why do I enjoy some books and not others? Some of the books were by local fellow writers, that I “had” to read.

The first was a romantic novel. The author is doing well, this is her third book and it was even on sale in Sainsburys! It had one of those covers with pastel colours and a title in swirly writing It was well written, entertaining, but I was unable to write a review. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but to write a review you need to compare a book with others of its type and I don’t tend to read this sort of book. Why? I like a bit of romance as much as the next (wo)man – I am starting to worry that too much romance is creeping into my own writing – but it has to be accompanied by some history. Not just boy meets girl, boy looses girl due to some innocent misunderstanding, boy finds girl and they live happy ever after. The sun always shines, unless a shower of rain or a blizzard is needed. Perhaps I need blood, violence and a touch of jeopardy to add spice to the mix.

Another book I read recently was set during the Second World War, but on the home front. People die, but far away. It has a local setting, so it is interesting to recognise places. There is a lot of detail about the daily life of the time. Perhaps I would enjoy it more if it was set further back in history. This is that awkward period, before my time, but familiar from my parents memories. I wouldn’t normally read about this period. The First World War, possibly, but for me it has to be set at least three hundred years ago.

I don’t spend all my reading life in the past. I enjoy a bit of horror, Stephen King for example, and some crime/mystery novels. A while ago we were discussing writing in the present tense and someone mentioned Elly Griffiths. I have been working through her Dr Ruth Galloway books. Is it the solving of clues to identify the murder I enjoy, or is it because the sleuth is an archaeologist? I don’t think it’s the second, but it certainly helps.

I think I’d better stop there, or I’ll be here for hours – time when I could be reading something set in the Anglo-Saxon period. Or, to be honest, writing my own.

I am back editing book two, chopping out all that romance, adding a touch of blood and guts.

Class started again in September. Since there are a few new students, we have begun with some basics. Already the exercises we have done has helped crystallise some new characters in book three. It (almost) helps me forget it is still four months to publication day.