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Phoenix Sullivan

DUAL REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan

DUAL REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan

Dear Readers,

January’s review kicked off quite a discussion here and around the web about this book.  I found the review persuasive, but as the arguments dragged on and became increasingly vituperative, I decided I would have to read it for myself in order to render an informed verdict. So I did. But I am not an expert on medieval history or Arthurian legends, so I recruited Dhympna to join me in reviewing the book. We’re calling this a Dual Review because we converge to the same grades even though we focus on different issues.

Spoil of War by Phoenix SullivanDhympna:  When I first encountered Spoil of War, I was curious about a book that could arouse so much ire in not just the reviewer, but also her readership. This book also engendered some fierce knight–errants. Out of curiosity, I looked up information about the book and often, when discussing this book, the author touted her degrees, careful research, and a tenuous connection to Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Lately, she has lamented that the Dear Author readership wanted her work to be anachronistic and employ some sort of self-empowered feminist historical revision.  I seek neither to revise history nor to promote anachronistic visions of history.

I am a medieval historian. I am also a lover of old bodice rippers, dark historical fantasy, dark fantasy, and historical fiction in general. So, not only did this book tweak my professional interest, but it also tugged at my book interests.  I also often like books that the Dear Author reviewers have panned or given an F to, so when Sunita asked me to do this review, I agreed.

I am going to look at the book from three perspectives—as a work of historical fiction, as a historical fantasy, and as a historical romance.  Now, before you get your knickers in a twist and tell me that I should not be checking historicism (or what some of you call historical accuracy) because it is fiction, please remember that the author has set herself up as an authoritative source and has stated in her product description that some of the unsavoury events are in keeping with the era in question.

Spoil of War as historical fiction:

The one objective question to ask in this review is: how in keeping with history is this book is (i.e. how strong is its historicism)? It is hard to not write a textbook about how insulting this book is. It reads like a freshman final exam in which the student, who has not studied, has included everything she knows about the Middle Ages in the hope of sounding smart and earning a passing grade. Indeed, if this were an exam on the early Middle Ages (only someone who knows nothing substantive about the history of the era calls it the “Dark Ages”), this student would fail.

When I first read the description of the book, I guessed that it was set in the late 5th/early 6th centuries. Later evidence, however, indicated that the book was set in the early 5th century. The female protagonist is described as a Briton or a Celt (you hear about the “Old Blood” all too often) and the male protag is a king who grew up in Genoa and has Roman blood (this is never explained and I was not sure what was meant by this). There seems to be a lack of understanding about the different Germanic tribes that were present in England in this time period.

I pinpointed the era from this quote:

“From my Emperor, Theodosius, aye. From my uncle, Ryan, too, if the cause were favorable. From His Eminence Celestine, certainly, if the pope were to command it.” (p. 231, all references are to the nookbook version).

Theodosius II was the Eastern emperor from 408-450. Celestine I was pope from 422-432. So, from this we can gather the events taking place are during the decade in which Celestine was pope.

All the errors made me wonder if the author just pulled in every medieval factoid she found (keeping in mind that the Middle Ages span over one thousand years), but I will limit myself to some of the highlights.

  •  Oh, the difference one letter makes. Where Rian may be perfectly acceptable and I would say that name is okay, Ryan is totally a 20th century name. I googled it and (given the author’s comment on the Dear Author review) it seems the author considers a questionable baby name website as authoritative. By the way, Oxford actually publishes a dictionary for first names.
  • In the opening of the book Elsbeth welcomes her father home and is asked by a scullion maid if they are to have a welcome feast. El responds:

“No feast. Steak and squash and bread will suffice. “

  • The problem is that squash comes from the New World. Steak is just possible, but roast would be a better word. Steak is from a Norse word and Elsbeth’s family is from a different Germanic language group, not to mention that according to the OED, “steak,” as the author is using it, is from the 16th century (the Norse version means meat on a stick).
  • The idea of Britain as some sort of nascent nation that needs to be united and Leo and El’s constant discussions about Leo uniting Britain. Um. No. There was quite a bit of regionalism in Britain at this time and most of the rhetoric about kings uniting Britain came from later eras. For instance, a writer in the 15th century may try to label someone the first great British King. Indeed, Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain is guilty of this when he, for reasons of propaganda for his monastery, turns Arthur into the first great Christian king. We see this impetus again in the 19th century as historians looking for progress look for a clear progenitor. For more information on this tendency, see Patrick Geary, Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe.
  • Many people take for granted that theology is an ongoing process and things like Purgatory and Hell need to be created. I doubt very much that Elsbeth would be ruminating on the “Harrowing of Hell,” since it is a concept that first appears in the 8th century in didactic art and pastoral texts. Nor would she wish Leo would find himself in the ninth circle of hell, because Dante won’t write the Inferno until the 14th century.
  • I found it odd that Elsbeth and Lynette often talked about sexual sin and other aspects of theology but never said boo about the sin of suicide. The era of the great martyrs had just ended, so the Christian populace would know all about that fine line between the virtue of martyrdom and the sin of suicide.
  • El also begs God and does a “Hail Mary,” but the confession and penitential structure is not in wide use until the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (this is when everyone is required to go to confession).  Mariology is also not popular until the 10th century. Evidence for “Hail Mary” as a devotional practice does not exist until the 10th and early 11th centuries. And Marianism is adopted differently in different regions.
  • Why is a Briton/Celt praying to Norse deities, especially ones for which we only have textual evidence in the 8th century?  Now, I get that it is hard to keep all those pesky little Germanic tribes straight, but the Britons/Celts did have their own pantheon(s), and we have information about them. The author seems to think that Celt=Norse or Germanic tribe=Norse, which is not the case.
  • Finally, I had a good chuckle when Gareth talked about the longboats coming down the waterways to raid (he says, “I hear there are barbarian invaders to the north who ride about in longships attacking villages as they go.” p. 74). The Norse actually don’t start raiding the Anglo-Saxons regularly until the 700s. While it is probable that some Norsemen moved around in the 5th century, there seems to be confusion between this era, known as one of the greatest eras of people moving about (the Great Migration Era), and the height of Viking culture as the author is using it. It is dangerous and insulting to conflate differing Germanic groups, Celt, Druid, and Norse theologies. Syncretism did exist, but not like this.
  • Castles like the ones described in this book are purely out of the 12th century. Now, I get that this is an easy mistake to make since most of the well-known Arthurian legends come from this era or later and Camelot is often described as a kingdom out of the High Middle Ages, but still.  Elsbeth’s father would have lived in a long hall and Elsbeth probably wouldn’t have had her own room.

Now, remember that quote I started with? The one where Celestine is pope?  Towards the end of the book, Leo says:

“Pope and Rome have given their consent. Emperor Theodosius put his seal to it at Michaelmas and Constantine blessed it the day after the Feast of St. Luke.” (p. 717, my emphasis)

Normally, in a case like Leo’s, he may seek papal dispensation for his marriage (actually it is more common in the High Middle Ages, but since the author is disregarding what era her characters are in, well…in the 5th century, I am not sure the Pope or the Eastern Emperor care).  Notice that the pope changed?  The problem is that Constantine I was pope in the late 7thand early 8th centuries.

—Grade F 

Spoil of War as historical fantasy:

This book focuses primarily on Elsbeth and her constant wanking over how she feels for Leo. It contains few political machinations and if it had been labeled as such, I would have felt compelled to write a letter of complaint and request my money back because the book is heavily structured as a historical romance.  I felt the “Arthurian Legend” bits were used as window dressing for the angsty wank between Leo and El. Get rid of Uther and Cameliard and the story really has nothing to do with Arthurian legend. I was also confused to comparisons that author made between her work and Mists of Avalon—I just don’t see how they are comparable.

—Grade F

Spoil of War as historical romance:

This is the genre that Spoil fits the best.  It really appears to be a formulaic late 80s/early 90s diet bodice ripper. I say diet because it lacks colour and any sense of the vibrant effervescence that is characteristic of books from that era. El was boring, her internal whining was tiresome, and the continual “big misunderstandings” that kept her and Leo from an ongoing, frenzied bonk-fest (because when they weren’t fighting they were having very boring, very vanilla vaginal sex) threatened to turn me into a drooling narcoleptic. Seriously, the “love” scenes between Leo and El were a steady diet of lackluster “insert tab A into slot B.” If you are going to have your characters going at it like rabbits in early spring—well, rabbits in any season really—then at least shake it up and include some variety. Different locations do not count.

—Grade D-

Overall:

I was very disappointed with this book. From the disjointed, choppy writing style where the author uses faulty descriptions (smoke as thick as cheesecloth?), to the poor use of language—I felt like I was reading an essay where the author desperately wished to convey how smart she was, which meant that not only did the descriptions fail but I was left sincerely wondering about the author’s voice.  I was expecting a dark look into the baser, dank recesses of the human nature, but instead of teeth and grit, I got an old man who forgot his dentures and was gumming on my finger. This book promised a dark and gritty story and it failed to deliver.

And what was up with BDSM Uther? It would have been nice to have seen the political complexities of The Pendragon, crafted into someone who oozed evil (if you wish to go that route), rather than turning him into a comical 8-bit villain. It was all too predictable.

[Note 1: For the purpose of this review, I am defining the Early Middle Ages as 400-1000, High Middle Ages 1000-1315, and Late Middle Ages as 1315-1500. There is much debate among medievalists about how to chronologically define these eras, since eras tend to be cultural constructions that are applied by later generations.]

[Note 2: There are many other examples of word mis-usage and historical mistakes, but to list them all would have made the review even longer. These examples, as well as the primary and secondary sources used in the analysis, are discussed here.]

 

Sunita: Needless to say, I was prepared for the drumbeat of rape, violence, rape, violence, war, war, rape, violence. What I didn’t expect, given the rape/violence/war emphasis, was that the story would be so. damn. boring. Yes, boring. Even rape, violence and war are dull when the reader is forced to see them through the Elsbeth, the narrator’s, perspective. This is because Elsbeth is an annoying, tedious, immature heroine.

Elsbeth clearly sees herself as an intelligent woman, because she has long conversations with King Leo, the putative hero of the story, about the place of women in her society, how Leo’s Roman society treats women, the prevalence of war, her misery at being a captive, etc. etc. etc. When Leo isn’t around, she talks to anyone else she can find and conducts internal monologues on the same topics. But Elsbeth is one of those unfortunate people who is not nearly as smart as she thinks she is, and as a result these passages read a bit like bad high school history lectures:

Only now did it occur to her that Leo’s victory over her father had had an effect far more insinuating than she had let herself first believe, reaching into generations yet unborn, generations not yet dreamt of. Would even the child of Ruth’s child still be gnashing its teeth in anguish over Leo’s conquest? Or would the world by then have moved on, leaving some history-shaped thing abandoned on the wind-swept moors to bother one no more? Minoa had blossomed for a time, then Egypt and Greece, and no one mourned their passing save for philosophers looking for a Golden Age that had never been and now would never be. Heroes fallen, dynasties tumbled, whole peoples crushed or absorbed into the vast world scheme as the Norns kept spinning fate and weaving life and death out of the very fabric of existence.

This has nothing to do with the story, it just serves to try and convince us that Elsbeth is intelligent and well-read (how she would have come by this knowledge is its own mystery). It would be more effective if we were shown these attributes through Elsbeth’s actions. Alas, we more frequently read musings like this:

The idea of lying with the man who had warred upon her father reviled [sic] her, though reason and logic had softened her repugnance some. War, she reminded herself, was an inevitable part of life.

War may be an inevitable part of life, but getting the hots for the man who killed your beloved father and burned down your home is not. Why is she debating whether or not to lie with Leo when she succumbed to his overwhelming hotness the day after he conquered Olmsbury, when she felt “peculiar sensations through her abdomen and loins?” And a few days later she has similar sensations at Cameliard:

She was trembling again, but this time it was not from shame nor anger nor hatred. Here before the queen, before a hall full of nobility, she suddenly felt a warmth, a tensing in her loins.

There has been considerable debate about whether this book should be classified as historical fiction or historical romance, but I honestly don’t see how it could be categorized as anything but romance. I don’t know of any historical fiction written in third person POV that spends the entire book in the female protagonist’s head; not Penman, not Dunnett, not Heyer’s medievals, not Chadwick, not Pargeter. And historical fiction generally has, you know, stuff happening. In this book, exciting events occur off-page, but we don’t experience them because Elsbeth doesn’t. Almost everything we see is something that happens to Elsbeth, and that’s mostly sitting around, talking to people, having sex with Leo, or getting raped by not-Leo. Toward the end of the book Elsbeth stupidly gets caught in a big battle, but unfortunately she does not die, she just gets captured and raped again (with some gratuitous BDSM-as-perversion scenes to add insult to the tedium).

And yet, despite the utter banality of most of her thoughts and conversations, Elsbeth is seen by everyone in the book as beautiful, intelligent, brave, knowledgeable, articulate, and irresistible, essentially embodying a Mary-Sue level of perfection. Even Patrise the Welsh villain, who supposedly hates her because she sees through his ruses, was smitten from the first:

She’s a prize to turn any man’s eye. How could I resist?

Of course, Leo is the most smitten of them all. A man who loses his intelligence, sense, and backbone when he’s in the presence of the heroine may be some readers’ idea of the perfect hero, but I prefer my ideal man to have a working brain that lives north of his navel.

–Grade D- 

Sunita

 

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REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan

REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

When Jane put out the call for site improvements, I saw several people suggest more ‘Indie’ reviews. And I was inspired. I’ve been suffering from some lackluster reading, and I thought that reading and reviewing some Indie books would be an interesting challenge. So I started with yours.

Spoil of War by Phoenix SullivanYou might want to stop reading right about here, because this is not going to be pretty.

(Also to anyone else: if you are easily triggered by rape discussion, you might also want to stop reading.)

I don’t know how I happened upon your book, but I do remember being struck by the cover (and the dead-eyed stare of the couple).  I was intrigued when I skimmed the blurb and saw that this seemed to be historical fiction mixed with romance, and the hero was King Leodegrance of Arthurian legend (Guinevere’s father). An Arthurian prequel. Interesting. The reviews were universally positive on both Goodreads and Amazon, and I skimmed the pages and it started out in an interesting manner and you seemed like you could write, so I purchased. There was a warning about adult situations, but I don’t expect historical fiction to be all sunshine and puppies, so I was fine with that. Perhaps this would be one of those ‘Indie treasures’ everyone keeps talking about.

I was wrong.

Before I get into the story itself, I did want to comment that editing always comes up in conversations about Indies. Upon reading this, I felt it was obvious you had not hired an editor. There were commas in places that should not have commas, random capitalization, and misspelled words like “probbing” instead of ‘probing’ and an egregious “fagging courage”, which should have been “flagging”. The errors aren’t ugly enough to make one stop reading, but they did jar me from my reading on a regular basis. Luckily, the grammatical errors were overshadowed by the terrible history this ‘historical novel’ has, and the awful, awful storyline.

This book is the story of Elsbeth, and set in the preceding years before King Arthur unites Britain. Sort of. I’ll get into the historical timeline later. For now, go along with it. Elsbeth is the daughter of a duke who is at war with the new king, Leodegrance. King Leo lays siege to Elsbeth’s castle and kills or enslaves everyone there, and Elsbeth herself is taken as a ‘spoil of war’, hence the title.

This story starts out with a heroine that I thought would be strong and likable, and quickly descends into “what the fuck did I just read” territory. This book was so bad I emailed friends and told them what I was reading, just because I had to share the sheer insanity of what was on the page.  There are so many things wrong with this storyline I don’t even know where to begin. When the castle is being conquered, Leodegrance’s men (and Leo is the hero, mind you), murder people left and right, and the ones that are left are ‘enslaved’ to take back to Cameliard  aka Camelot. Her nursemaid’s dead body is defiled by a soldier, and our hero tells her:

“It’s the nature of war, my Lady.” He laughed, and the sound was not pleasant. “Truly you can’t be so naïve?”

“But she was old and – and – “

“Dead? She’s also still warm. Some men prefer women with the fight taken out of them. And some men will use whatever’s available to quench the passions aroused in them by the fighting. Get used to it, Lady. It’s the way of war.”

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

It gets worse – there is an eleven year old girl in the castle named Ruth. Ruth is raped by someone in Leo’s army when they enter the castle (I guess all the dead old ladies were taken), and the king sees that she is pure up until that first rape, so he decides to save her as a gift for his true friend, Ector. Ector, you see, likes them young and “before their womanhood” so Leo saved her for him.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Despite these charming qualities, Elsbeth is attracted to King Leo and they share a few smoldering glances over dinner, even as she is torn over what is to happen to her. They are heading to her chambers when Leo is called away. He sends her back to her rooms with one of his guardsmen, who is drunk. The drunk guardsman then proceeds to throw Elsbeth down on her father’s bed and rapes the hell out of her. Leodegrance returns while the guard is raping Elsbeth. And when he sees this, he is annoyed.

“The Duke’s daughter is mine,” Leodegrance told him. “Go find a scullery wench to sate your appetite.”

While Elsbeth is still sitting on the floor, sprawled, Leo notices her virgin blood staining her thigh and then he gets mad.

“Trystan, get this traitor out of my sight. Take him anywhere, I don’t care. And know that he’s no longer welcome in Cameliard.”

So to recap: rape is just annoying, unless you took her virginity before the king could. Then it is a real offense.

At this point, I’d like for the heroine to stab the hero’s eyes out with a hot poker. But instead, he gets into bed, and lays his sword down between them. Instead of taking this and carving out his liver, she lays down into bed next to him and tells him her name.

I would say this is spoilery, but we are only in Chapter Two.

From here, the “what the fuck” continues to get worse. King Leo is smitten by Elsbeth, and vows not to sleep with her until she won’t fight him. She doesn’t have to be excited about it, just not fighting him. Elsbeth declares she will never sleep with him because he killed her father and enslaved her. I rally, thinking she is going to show some sense.  The next morning, our heroine is out in the courtyard and views what is left of her people.

Today, the sun looked down on the tattered remnants of a conquered people. Miserable as her night had been, theirs would have been far worse. At least she had slept on a bed beneath a warm fur. At least she hadn’t been hurt – not physically anyway. And what had happened to her had no doubt happened to every female above the age of ten. Every male, too, if the rumors she’d heard were true.

You will recall she was raped savagely the night before. I guess that does not count as being hurt.

As they ride away from the now-destroyed castle of her father, Leo puts Elsbeth on the horse in front of him and as they bounce along…she gets turned on.

Elsbeth, sitting sidesaddle, grabbed at [the horse’s] mane to steady herself. Found herself steadied instead by Leodegrance’s strong arm which circled her chest. Circled her so that the full swell of her breasts rested against his forearm.

She gritted her teeth, hating the king even more. Knowing he could have asked his horse to change to a smoother gait. Knowing why he didn’t. Hating him because the rising and falling of the horse’s stride, coupled with the jouncing of her breasts against his arm, sent peculiar sensations through her abdomen and loins. Sensations so powerful that she had to press her thighs together to keep from crying out.

Nor was Leodegrance indifferent to those same sensations that burned through her. She felt himself clutch at her, drawing her against his iron strength, matching himself to the rhythm of the horse.

You will recall she was just raped the night before. And before that, she was a virgin. And now she is dry humping her captor on horseback.

They make it to Cameliard and Leodegrance introduces Elsbeth to his wife. I’m going to let that sink in for a moment. His wife. He makes it painfully obvious that Elsbeth is going to be his mistress, and the wife is okay with it, because she doesn’t want the attentions of her husband. She’d rather sit up in her rooms and read Sapphic poetry.  Elsbeth is moved into posh quarters of her own, and 11-year-old Ruth (remember her?) is moved into the room next to her. This is critical to remember, because as the mental will-they-wont-they continues between Elsbeth and Leo, every night, Ector the guardsman goes to 11-year-old Ruth’s room and rapes her. Every night. And Elsbeth can hear it, since their rooms are adjacent. Her reaction?

Invariably, each night before he left, Ector would call out, “God grant you a good evening, Lady.” And invariably, Elsbeth, hidden behind her door, would blush, knowing that Ector knew she could hear.

Part of the blush was infuration, too. Knowing that she could hear every groan, every slap of flesh on flesh, nearly every drawn breath, still he came and still he went as if he were but a doting grandsire visiting his grandchild. No decency, no modesty, no Christian humility.

And she hated him, too, because no matter how hard she tried to ignore what was going on each night in her antechamber, her body wouldn’t let her. It yearned for the feel of another’s flesh on hers. Yearned for the breaching that made Ruth gasp each time it happened.

Recap: our heroine gets off on hearing a man rape a child.

We are only on Chapter Three at this point.

I won’t go line by line through the rest of the book, though the insanity never stops. Instead, I’ll give you a brief recap of the rest of the story because I would not wish this book on anyone.

You will be relieved to hear that the 11 year old gets pregnant by the much older Ector, tried to stab her uterus with a hot poker to kill the baby (but was prevented from doing it), and then a month later dies of a miscarriage. So now Elsbeth, who was having feelings for the king, no longer loves the king because of Ruth’s death. He then whines to her that his wife is less to him than a jaded whore, and can’t Elsbeth just sleep with him? He has needs.

Eventually they kiss and make up. Later in the story, a young, handsome knight named Patrise shows up while the king is gone away doing war things. The queen falls in love with him, but he wants Elsbeth. And when he gets his first chance, Patrise rapes Elsbeth.

The queen walks in mid-rape and Patrise says Elsbeth came on to him. The queen blames Elsbeth and they are no longer friends. When the king goes off to war, Elsbeth is scared to be left in the castle with evil Patrise, so she asks to stay with the camp followers and tag along in the war party. Patrise goes with the war party as well, finds her with the camp followers and rapes her again, and this time, Leo finds them mid rape. Elsbeth declares that the hero should not be mad at her, because it’s not what it looks like.

Leo is, of course, mad at her and ignores her for days. Elsbeth decides to leave the camp, so she steals a guy’s armor and dresses up like a boy, and gets caught up in the battle, since there is a war going on. She is discovered by the enemy, so they capture her and drag her to their leader, Uther Pendragon, who is an old and crusty man who is into BDSM. At this point, her newest captor holds her down so crusty old Uther can rape her. Repeatedly.

And then Uther ties her to a mattress in his tower and whips her and rapes her for several days, sometimes in front of his men. She is left tied to the mattress at all times. After days of this, the castle is taken by King Leo’s men and Leo walks in with his new best friend, Patrise. They kill Uther and discover Elsbeth still tied to the BDSM bed. Leo realizes when Patrise grabs her boob that Patrise is not his buddy after all, and maybe he should not have blamed Elsbeth for all the rapes.

So THEN they fight, Elsbeth helps the king kill Patrise, and they all return to Camelot. The queen hears about her love Patrise’s death, flings herself from the castle wall, which leaves Leo and Elsbeth free to marry.  Epilogue is her pregnant with Guinevere, the future queen of Camelot.

The end.

Despite this horrible, horrible storyline, there were two other major things that bothered me. One – the rapes. Not only is she raped by every primary male character in the story except for the pedophile and the hero, she is dismissive of it, thinking it happens to everyone. Or when it does happen, she shows no reaction. For all that she cares, they might have sneezed on her. I kept reading, waiting for her to show reaction of any kind – anger, violation, sadness – but she never seems to register any sort of emotion until the hero blames her for it, and then she gets mad at him.  If anything, the multiple rapings seem to make her more turned on, which totally baffles me. After she is raped, she gets turned on every time she hears someone having sex. At one point, after she has been raped twice and is following the war party with the camp followers, she is turned on yet again.

The smell of sweat and lust assailed her, wove its way into the symphony of passion that surrounded her, infiltrated her, touched her very core. She rode the crescendo as it swelled around her – eyes, ears, nose overwhelmed by the insistent, rising tide of a magic as old as life itself. Then by touch, too – her own – was she overwhelmed, plunging her into a sweet pleasure, relieved only when the wings of sleep at last closed over her.

Nothing makes me want to touch myself quite like camp followers, after all.

The rape in this book is bad enough, but there is blatant victim blaming as well. When Leo discovers Elsbeth being raped by Patrise for the second time, he turns and leaves in a fury. Elsbeth follows him to try and explain that she didn’t want Patrise’s attentions, and Leo slaps her across the face.

(Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.)

The other thing that bothered me with Spoil of War was the awful historical accuracy. You tout this book as a historical novel. Your website mentions you have a minor in history. And yet…there is nothing even remotely accurate about the history in this book. Most Arthurian history is fairly ambiguous due to the different versions of the legend, so I let the references to dukes and kings and pageantry slide. I blame Malory for that, not the author. I do blame you for the attempts at historical accuracy that have nothing to do with Malory, however.

I had a terrible time trying to place the history of this book.  I felt like I came closest when Elsbeth and the queen are discussing Dido, the legendary founder of Carthage. One character states that Dido lived 1800 years prior to them. I did a quick wiki check and learned that Carthage was founded approximately 825 BC. Fast forward 1800 years and that places us around 1000 AD.

This is about 500 years later than most ‘true’ Arthurian legend is thought to be, but let’s roll with that.

Very late in the book, Leo states:

Leo’s eyes blazed into hers. “Just so, my Lady. Now I will bend my blade and sweep all of Britain before me. Then I will lay a land of wealth and greatness at Theodosius’s feet.”

There are three Theodosius (Theodosii?) mentioned in history. Wikipedia shows me:

Okay. I still don’t know which one it is. Throughout the book, though, Leo and his people are referred to as Romans. They have darker skin and black hair. They follow the edicts of Rome. Rome fell around 400 AD, remember? There is no ‘consul’ to report back to, as the book references, if they are in medieval times.

Elsbeth is stated to be of ‘old blood’. She has red hair and pale skin and her mother was Celtic. Often in this book, Celtic is confused with Norse, and both are referred to as if they no longer exist. She follows a mishmash of Celtic and Norse gods, referring to Loki and the Norns repeatedly. She curses and rails against the ‘new’ religion of Christianity.

The heroine also dresses in houppelandes, which are late medieval dresses that appeared in about 1380. When the castle is taken, the king calls for his “Carthaginian skald” to sing him a lay.

Carthage fell in 146BC and was razed again in 698AD. A ‘skald’ is a Norse bard (nowhere close to Carthage, I’m afraid) and the Norse were prominent around 800-1100 AD.

‘Roman’ king Leodegrance  has a wife from Constantinople in the Byzantine empire. At one point the queen is reading Sapphic poems. In a book. Actually several people have books in this tale. Books would not have been commonly available until after the printing press (~1450).

This feels like historical nit-picking but all the time period confusion had me googling to try and determine when and where this ‘historical novel’ was occurring.

My best guess is that you were attempting to set the story around 1000 AD, but that makes the heavy, heavy use of Romans as the enemy (and your reference to Londinium) as grossly incorrect. I finished the book and frankly, I’m still baffled as to what time frame you wanted this to be in.

I’m sad to say that this book was a failure on all angles for me. Your writing was easy to follow and the story flowed, but I found myself reading more from sheer horror and disgust at the trainwreck unfolding rather than any real desire to find out how the story ended up for the hero and heroine.

I really wanted to give this a better grade, lest all the January reviews seem like endless hate. But I can’t give a higher grade, sorry. If anything, it should be lower. Can you give a grade lower than an F? I am leaning toward F——-.

All best,

January

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