Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Painted Lady by Edward Marston

Although this book is the next in the Christopher Redmayne series set in Restoration London I felt that it could quite happily be read on its own without previous books.

Every man wishes he could seduce Araminta Jewell. Her beauty is so dazzling that men are willing to wage bets on who will have her first. When she marries Sir Martin Culthorpe many of her admirers are kept at bay. Yet when Sir Martin is murdered the field is left wide open again. Just who has killed Sir Martin and just what do they hope to gain? When suspicion falls on the French artist who has been commissioned to paint Lady Culthorpe's picture, the architect Christopher Redmayne is drawn into the mystery. Eager to clear his clients name and his own Christopher enlists the help of the trusted Constable Jonathan Bale and his own brother, the wayward Henry Redmayne. Can they reach the truth before his client reaches the noose?

I have been a fan of Edward Marston since I read 'The Kings Evil', the first of the Christopher Redmayne series. Since that time I have happily read all the other books in that series and those of the The Railway Detective series. Therefore I expect a lot from Mr Marston. Unfortunately on this occasion I did not feel he managed to deliver. Don't get me wrong, this is an adequate book and a genial read, a perfectly nice book to pass an afternoon with but it was not up to his usual standard. I was not as drawn in as I usually am and felt the plot a little bit weak. Although it started with much promise it did not follow through. I found Araminta a bit two dimensional and after the death of Sir Martin I wondered what the point of the various interludes in the book to her pouring out her grief was. I found them somewhat tedious and did not add to the story in any way.

I also felt Jonathan Bale was not as prominent a figure as he has been in previous books and it is the relationship between him and Christopher that is always of particular delight. The fact that both are moral men in their own ways but are essentially either side of the Restoration divide. I also missed Susan Cheever.

It was a difficult book as there was quite clearly only one motive for the killing, to get to Araminta. This meant that there really were very few possibilities as to 'whodunnit' although I must admit I did not get who it was until almost the very end. It meant that the story had far fewer twists and turns than most murder mystery plots and that there was no real need to get to know the victim or the victim's background. All in all I would hazard the guess that Marston was writing this to fulfil some sort of quota with the publishing house. It certainly isn't his best work and I would advise people to read 'The Kings Evil' or 'The Railway Detective' first if they have not tried Marston before.

Not a bad book but I was expecting so much more.

**3 stars**

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reading groups and my current pile of books

Well I've decided to join a reading group they're starting at work. My hopes that this blog would eventually lead to people making suggestions about other books to try hasn't really worked so perhaps a reading group will. I do want to broaden my range of books because I realise that perhaps I'm very set in what I read. So hopefully, if this group gets off the ground, I will start to review a wider range of books!

In the meantime I have a really big pile of books to read through so you can look forward to reviews of the following books over the next few months!

The Painted Lady by Edward Marston
Chaucer and the Doctor of Physic by Philippa Morgan
Deception Point by Dan Brown
Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
Death in the Setting Sun by Deryn Lake
The Eye of Eternity by Maggie Furey
Heart of Ice by Alys Clare

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Prayer for the Damned by Peter Tremayne

The latest in the Fidelma of Cashel series and therefore may contain spoilers if you have not read any of the previous books yet.

Fidelma and Eadulf have finally lived together for a year and a day as man and wife and have chosen to finally wed. Distinguished guests from all over Ireland including the High King himself descend upon Cashel to celebrate the marriage. There are also those who seek to disrupt the marriage as they believe that the religious should not marry. When one of these dissenters is found dead in his room Fidelma and Eadulf are once again drawn into the search for a murderer. Although the case at first seems an open and shut affair with the main suspect having been seen leaving the room of the deceased around the time of his death, Fidelma is not so sure. But as more people die and deep rooted hatreds are uncovered there definitely is more to this than meets the eye.

Peter Tremayne rarely lets me down. The world of Fidelma and Eadulf is full of colour and depth. For those who have religiously read the previous installments much of the background, the setting and the characters are already known to you. Even so Tremayne does not allow his characters to remain constant. In particular in this book we see Eadulf's increasing discomfort at the differences in rank between him and Fidelma, while Fidelma questions her faith and chosen path in life. Perhaps Tremayne is setting us up for a brand new direction. Whatever his reasons its refreshing to see his characters are real people who evolve with each new experience. It is also refreshing that they are so human, how many grooms get a touch of the 'cold feet' after all!

I can't be completely praiseworthy of this book. There were times when the pace seemed to flag and rather than entertaining twists and turns you felt as if you were wading through mud. Some readers may find the Irish law system difficult to understand and stomach and we are left to question which is better, the Irish tradition of Christianity or the Roman tradition (which of course is the one that eventually triumphed). Although it is perfectly easy to read the book without getting bogged down in the detail it does at least offer the reader the chance to appreciate the story at a different level.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think it perfect for anyone interested in 7th century Ireland, or historical murder mysteries.

**4 stars**

The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

The Sterkarm Handshake is a time travel tale set in the 16th and 21st centuries respectively. The Sterkarms are a family of Border Reivers, a law unto themselves on the English and Scottish Border in the 16th century. Their simple lives of tending sheep, raiding cattle and defending against other bands of robbers is interrupted by the 'Elves'. These 'Elves' are from the future and hope to exploit the seemingly backward Sterkarms, their neighbours and the unspoilt landscape in which they live. As past and future collide, who will win and is it really possible for love between an Elf and a Sterkarm to survive all these odds?

Susan Price is a well established writer and as one might expect has produced a well written, readable piece. The premise of the story is good and has excitement, action, romance and adventure all mixed in. It is an enjoyable read and a good romp, definitely something to try.

Where unfortunately this story falls down is that it has to have one of the most annoying lead characters I've ever come across. The girl has no backbone, is forever incapable of choosing what to do and spends a lot of time whinging or whining. Perhaps Price should be congratulated for the fact that despite this character the book is still readable.

Another problem with the story was the romance side of it. I just didn't understand the relationship between Andrea and Per. I couldn't quite understand why either of them would go for the other and a lot of the time I just felt they were doing things because they had to. I know life in the 16th century is vastly different from today and to be honest I expected there to be more conflict between Andrea and Per. It almost felt as if they were just settling for each other and kept going back to each other even if they weren't wholly suited because they couldn't be bothered to do anything else. Perhaps I was searching for something that wasn't there. Perhaps what I was hoping for was that the relationship would grow, evolve etc.

I would still recommend this book to read, although possibly not as whole heartedly as some of the others I've read lately.

**3 stars**

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Spirit of the Stone - by Maggie Furey

Please note this is the second book of The Shadowleague and may contain spoilers. The first book in the series is 'The Heart of Myrial'.

The Spirit of the Stone takes up where the previous book, The Heart of Myrial, ends. Evil creatures who kill all in their path have descended on Myrial. The Curtain Walls are breaking! All those who survive are huddled in the Temple, one of the only secure places away from the fiends. One small group however has escaped the city and must try and find their way to safety. Meanwhile Loremaster Veldan and her sidekick Kaz have to deal with the problem of the Zavahl, the Hierarch they saved from a sacrificial pyre who just so happens to have the memories of a Dragon Seer in his head. Meanwhile Lord Blade is on a mission to avenge the wrongs that have been done against him.

One of the main problems with Spirit of the Stone is that there are far too many different storylines to follow. By the end of the book some of these are beginning to merge but the action is taking place in so many different locations with so many different characters that it is hard to keep up. In some ways the story is far too complex and perhaps could have been simplified in places. There are storylines (such as the one involving Shree the Wind-Sprite) that are given so little time on paperand appear so briefly you wonder at their relevance. Perhaps the third and final book, The Eye of Eternity will deal with this issue and everything will finally come together.

Another problem I had with the book is that it's almost impossible to know who the heroes are and who you should side with. Maggie Furey is admirable in her attempt to produce well rounded characters with flaws as much as positive traits but by the end of this book I was left confused at who was on whose side and whether the bad guys really were the bad guys. Theres an awful lot of backstabbing or potential backstabbing and switching of allegiances. One particular change of allegiance takes a matter of pages (this is towards the end of the book in a cave) which does not seem right. Surely these particular two need more than just a few lines to form an uneasy alliance? There are also characters that have been built up through the book as heroes that towards the end of the book you see an unsavoury side to that just doesn't seem right or in character. Again perhaps this will be resolved in the final installment?

The book really does suffer from being the second book of a trilogy. There is an air of getting from A to B to facilitate the story moving from the first book to the third book and in some ways it can feel laboured at times. It is still a readable book but unlike the first I wasn't captured by it and I often found myself putting it down and doing something else. I must admit it's not the first time I've tried to read it and I have been dazzled by other books whilst trying to read it and end up abandoning it.

Despite all my negative comments Maggie Furey does build on the characters she introduces in the first book. We learn more about them and several minor characters begin to come to the fore. I am particularly fond of Toulac and by the end of this book I'm beginning to warm to Zavahl. The corruption of several characters over time is well portrayed and she does give her characters room to change.

This is very much a book to read if you read 'The Heart of Myrial' and enjoyed it and want to see the trilogy through. I would not recommend this as a stand alone book given the complexity of the story lines. Am hoping to have my faith restored by the third and final installment.

*3 stars*

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Blade of Fire by Stuart Hill

Please note this is the second book of the Icemark Trilogy. If you have not read the first book in this series, The Cry of the Icemark, do not read the following review as it will contain spoilers. Instead take a look at my review of The Cry of the Icemark.

The Blade of Fire is the second book of the Icemark Triology by Stuart Hill. Set almost twenty years after the events in The Cry of the Icemark, Bellorum is back ready to finish what he started all those years ago. Queen Thirrin and her consort Oskan Witchfather and their children must work together to defeat their enemy. Old allies return such as the Snow Leopards and Werewolves to help to drive back the evil general and his sons. However Bellorum has learnt not to underestimate his enemy and has come prepared. With Thirrin's youngest son escaping with refugees to the Southern Continent and her youngest daughter struggling to choose between good and evil can Thirrin and her friends fight such a mighty foe and win?

Usually I am wary of the second book of any trilogy. Experience has taught me that the second book pales in comparison to the first, either acting as a poor filler to get you to the third book or is the result of the author having poured all their energy and ideas into the first book. I remember being particularly disappointed with Terry Goodkind's Stone of Tears for example. However Stuart Hill manages to escape the curse of the second book. Blade of Fire is just as good as The Cry of Icemark. The characters are so beautifully portrayed and adventure seeps from every chapter. The lovable characters from the first book return to entertain amongst brand new characters like Prince Charlemagne, Princess Cressida and the Tharina of the Snow Leopards. Even Medea, who is one of the darker elements to the book, is skillfully portrayed. Family rivalry, revenge, love and friendship is all accurately depicted.

It's hard to find fault with the book. There is just enough description to sate you but not enough to overwhelm you and loose the plot. The clever idea of moving some of the action away to new and vaguely recognisable lands helps the book move away from being an echo of the first book. However having read this book I do question whether this series is really a trilogy as all loose ends seem to be wrapped up by the end of the book. Perhaps we will have to wait and see.

Another incredibly enjoyable book from Stuart Hill

*4 stars*