At its new home! If you haven’t already, please visit my new website and re-subscribe to this blog so we can continue the conversation. Hope to see you there!
Time to move on….
I always like to do many things at once. That’s why this week I will be moving – houses and websites. Luckily, I’m not asking you to help pack or unpack any boxes.
All I need you to do is to visit this blog at its new home. As of next week, you can find this blog on www.rhendersonpalmer.com, my brand new author website. There, you can find more info about me, my current projects, events, reviews, and more. The site is a work in progress, but I hope you will stop by and visit me. Tell me what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to see more of.
Don’t miss out! Please visit www.rhendersonpalmer.com to read and re-subscribe to the blog. I hope to see you there!
Amazon link for the book is here.
Kearsley’s 2012 novel, The Shadowy Horses, follows archeologist Verity Grey. Lured by a mysterious job offer, she treks north from London to Rosehill, a house in coastal Scotland where she meets Peter Quinnell, a rich and eccentric man who has lost the respect of the academic establishment because of his unorthodox methods. Intrigued and charmed by Peter, Verity takes the job, despite the fact that the only reason Peter chose the site was because of the visions seen by a local 8 year old boy with psychic abilities, Robbie. Based on nothing besides Robbie’s visions and interactions with the ghost of a Roman sentinel, the team pushes forward, trying to prove the long-disputed whereabouts of the lost Legio IX Hispania (Ninth Spanish legion). But the ghost appears to follow Verity and seems to be warning the team of impending danger, and at night, the “shadowy horses” gallop across the fields, disturbing Verity’s sleep.
I loved the archeology aspect and the descriptions of a coastal Scottish town. I was disappointed, however, that there wasn’t more archeology in the story. I thought the focus would be around the site and the finds there – that the finds would be more integral to the story. Rather, Kearsley focuses more on Verity and her relationships – the dig provides the ghost and the background for the story, but not much more. In other words, the ghost and the rest of the story could exist even without the archeological dig. I also thought the book would be more suspenseful with the supernatural aspect, and the “danger” is resolved quickly, which is disappointing.
Kearsley is a solid writer. I enjoyed the dialogue and characters very much. Her words flow effortlessly. I found Verity to be a great heroine, and I especially enjoyed Verity’s interactions with “Granny Nan”, another strong-willed woman. I think this book is a little mischaracterized. From the jacket excerpt, you expect this to be a plot-driven book: action, suspense, discoveries, supernatural, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Instead, it’s much more character-driven. It’s more Verity’s love story/adventure, with an ancient ghost thrown in for flavor. Not that that is bad, mind you. It’s just not what you are led to believe when you start off. The book is very enjoyable, so long as the reader goes in with that in mind. But as the cover and descriptions go, it’s easy to be misled!
This past Saturday, October 19th, the Great Lakes chapter of the Historical Novel Society met in historic Ft. Wayne, IN. Our meeting took place in the Allen County Library, one of the nation’s largest resources for genealogical research. There we planned future meetings, listened to author Anna Lee Huber discuss cross-genre writing, and covered upcoming newsletter editions. The group was represented by people from an astonishing SIX states, including OH, KY, WI, MI, IL, and of course, IN.
After the meeting, we visited the Old Fort, pictured above and below, which is a reproduction of the last American fort (~1815) in the greater Ft. Wayne area, although many prior forts, both American and French, existed around the region. That last fort, a frontier outpost, was eventually torn down, but this reproduction is accurate down to mere inches.
Here, the doctor’s quarters are pictured, complete with casket just in time for Ft. Wayne’s Fright Night and lantern tours of the fort. Across the parade grounds, men slept four to a room. A military outpost against the natives, the fort saw only sporadic action (most notably a siege in September 1812 that resulted in an American victory), although many succumbed to illness here.
As the Indian threat died down after Tecumseh’s defeat at the Battle of the Thames in late 1815, so did the need for frontier outposts such as this. The fort’s timber was used to build a few houses that still exist in the city to this day.
The Great Lakes chapter has planned our next meeting for April 2014 in Columbus, OH. So if you’re in the area and are interested in historical fiction, be it reader, writer, or enthusiast, we hope you will join us!
Amazon link for the book is here.
Elizabeth Fremantle’s debut novel focuses on Katherine Parr (Kit), the only of Henry VIII’s wives to escape the marriage without being divorced, abandoned, and/or beheaded. Fremantle tells Kit’s story from various perspectives: through the eyes of Kit herself, her faithful servant Dot, and one of the king’s physicians Dr. Robert Huicke, a confidant of hers. Fremantle’s Kit is a woman of great fortitude, loyalty, intelligence, and sense of duty. The story covers the death of Kit’s second husband, Lord Latymer, through her marriage to the king, and until her death as the wife of Thomas Seymour. Heartbroken when the king’s eye falls on her as his next queen, she makes the best of a terrible situation, taming her natural intelligence and vivacity to be the loyal wife and nursemaid of a cantankerous old tyrant. She plays the games of court politics well, succeeding at a high-stakes game for her life and brilliantly outmaneuvering her Catholic enemies who would have her tried and executed like the others before her.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the situation through the eyes of Kit’s loyal servants, Dot and Huicke. Fremantle tells their stories as she weaves Kit’s tale, demonstrating Kit’s inner facets from others’ points of view. She was obviously a caring woman, bending over backwards to ensure the well being of her stepchildren. She was also a formidable and crafty opponent, as her enemies eventually discovered.
Fremantle attempts to make a case for Kit’s attraction to Thomas Seymour and handles the situation as well as she possibly could, but even this account seems somewhat forced. It makes sense that a woman so devoid of love and passion in her life would rush toward any chance of it once she had the opportunity, but Seymour is such a shady character and a questionable choice for a woman always known to be thoughtful and level-headed that their romance hardly makes sense. From everything historians have told us, this is exactly what happened, but all accounts I have read have make this relationship seem forced and totally out of character for the queen. Perhaps that’s because it really was.
There is nothing surprising or terribly revealing in this story, but it is a faithful tribute to an often overlooked figure in Tudor history. I did like Fremantle’s inclusion of Kit’s stepdaughter Meg Neville, her deep friendship with Dr. Huicke, the time spent on Kit’s interests in reading and writing, and her struggles with her faith, especially material that occurs before the book’s opening and reveals a lot about Kit’s current beliefs. A revealing portrait of a strong historical figure, I am interested to see which subject Fremantle will choose next.
This weekend, I was reading David and Goliath, the newest book out by journalist and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. Without giving away too much of Mr. Gladwell’s amazing book, his overly simplified premise is that underdogs are not as disadvantaged as one might typically assume. In fact, Mr. Gladwell argues that underdogs win more often than you would normally expect them to. So why is that? Mr. Gladwell argues that it is because the so-called “disadvantaged” actually have some very real advantages that aren’t obvious at first glance. Those advantages may take ingenuity, creativity, perseverance, and a whole lot of hard work to come by, but they are advantages all the same, advantages capable of turning the tide of a conflict. Mr. Gladwell’s primary example, the Biblical story of David and Goliath, shows that someone seemingly handicapped (David – smaller, weaker, inexperienced, young, and lacking typical weaponry) can overcome a “superior force” (Goliath – enormous, strong, experienced) because David used his wits and played the game by his own rules, using a fast and accurate weapon (his sling) at a distance that protected himself from harm while effectively killing the slower, massive Goliath who was prepared for hand-to-hand combat, not a hurtling rock.
I thought about that a lot on a long car ride and began to apply it to my current area of research: the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. That was certainly a case of an underdog prevailing against a “superior” force. While exact numbers are unknown, it is thought that Henry Tudor (eventually Henry VII) had one half to one third as many soldiers fighting for him as King Richard III did. Richard’s force was disciplined, experienced, well supplied with the most up to date weapons, armor and shields, possessed a large cavalry and artillery, had rich and experienced northern lords to command his army, and had the “home team advantage” of being the anointed king instead of the usurper. Henry, on the other hand, had spent virtually no time in his native land, spoke Welsh better than English, bribed nobility to join his side, and had essentially no military experience himself. And yet Henry prevailed and with what scholars today believe to be relatively minimal loss of life. Why was that?
As with most historical underdog victories, the real reason may be hard to ascertain, but I have some theories. First of all, however unprepared Henry’s men might have appeared when compared to Richard’s army, Henry had hired professional fighting men and paid them well, so they were financially motivated to see their employer win the fight. They were scrappy and had more varied experience from their fighting careers on the continent than Richard’s troops did. Richard, on the other hand, relied solely on the loyalty of his men as their sovereign and found that in the end, loyalty alone was insufficient motivation to keep his men on his side and in the battle.
Henry’s men were smaller in number and more nimble. They could move quickly and eventually out flanked Richard’s vanguard in the earliest stages of the battle, which gave the momentum to the rebel force. They also used the geography to achieve this, using the marshy land between the armies to protect their flank, to avoid the direct line of fire from Richard’s artillery, and to spin Richard’s vanguard around by attacking their far right flank, flipping them around, and attacking them from behind.
I found it intriguing to apply Mr. Gladwell’s theories to a historical issue and see how they align. I think this case fits his book’s premise very well. The “disadvantaged” may not be as weak as they initially seem. By using some cunning, extraordinary effort, and persistence, the underdog can, and often does, come out on top!
Is there another historical event that also supports Mr. Gladwell’s theory?
Amazon link for the book is here.
Susan Higginbotham weaves a familiar Tudor tale but uses unusual voices as her narrators, namely Jane Dudley, the Duchess of Northumberland, and Frances Grey, the Duchess of Suffolk, two women who are rarely given a voice in other fictional portrayals of the time from Edward VI to Mary I. Through these women and their children, we get a quite different view of the story. From the coronation and untimely death of Edward, to the coronation of Jane Grey, to the eventual reign and revenge of Mary, this book tells the story strictly from the perspectives of these two women, wives, duchesses, and mothers that they were.
In using these narrators, the reader gets a novel take on events. I particularly enjoyed the depictions of John Dudley and Frances Grey, which deliberately countered the typical portrayals that exist in novels. In most books, John Dudley is made out to be the ultimate villain – a cruel manipulator of the young boy king, religious zealot, and voraciously ambitious traitor – Higginbotham treats him very differently. She details his strong affection for and devotion to his wife and children, his deep loyalty to the king, his concern for the people, and his enduring friendship for his boyhood friend and current political rival Edward, Duke of Somerset. Even his last minute conversion to Catholicism is shown as an act of compassion for his children rather than the futile attempt to save his own neck, as readers are typically told.
Frances Grey is often portrayed as a callous, unstable woman, who with the assistance of her conniving husband, is willing to do anything, including physical abuse, to propel her daughter all the way to the throne. Often described as a woman of more beauty than intelligence, Frances is frequently presented as heartless, cruel, fiendish, and power hungry. Higginbotham throws this image on its face, showing Frances as a self-conscious woman who struggles to make a bond with a scholarly daughter who is her father’s favorite, a self-important and overly opinionated girl who spurns her mother and mouths off without much thought of the consequences. This Frances is married to a man of wealth and intellect who has everything but common sense, and Frances is compelled to follow the king’s wishes for her oldest daughter, rather than being the author of them. After members of her family die on the block, she is not depicted as the wonton woman who sneaks off with a servant, rather she is shown as one who grabs her chance for a happy marriage, one that will keep her safe and far away from the throne and politics of the court.
Higginbotham gives us a fresh perspective and does not create these new personas out of thin area; in fact, her careful research provides ample support for her theories, which makes the book all the more interesting. I like it when an author goes against an established norm, putting the character in a fresh light and allowing the character a new, perhaps more accurate, voice. It is far easier for an author to reinforce a cliché, having the character play the same, tired role over and over again, than to creatively reimagine the reasoning behind a person’s motivation. For a retelling of this well-known tale in a new way, I think this book is a great choice.