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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Review: The Immortals, S.E. Lister

I was incredibly excited when Sophie asked me if I would like to read and review the novel ahead of its September released. I absolutely loved her debut, Hideous Creatures, available here:

So, The Immortals. The protagonist, Rosa Hyde, is the daughter of a time-traveller - she and her family are stuck in 1945, forced to relive that year over and over again. As she grows older, she longs for something more, even if it means breaking away from her family.

Eventually, she manages to do just that and her first taste of a new time takes place in our very own. Equally fascinated and terrified, she spends a great deal of time in London before slipping away to a previous century. Here she meets Tommy Rust, a veteran of time travel, who shows her the ropes. They slip in between decades and centuries, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Their journeys are vast and breathtaking, but eventually they take their toll, no matter what Tommy thinks, certain of their immortality.

The premise of the story is bold and ambitious, and it does not fall short of the mark. The journeys Rosa and her fellow time travellers undertake are as complex and rich as the characters themselves. One minute, you're in a feasting hall watching Rosa teaching her hosts about the wonders of the future, and next you're at the beginning of the world, freezing and desolate, thinking about life and what it all means.

There are so many layers to this story that S. E. Lister weaves in so effortlessly it's almost unfair. The yearning to belong somewhere, with someone, while wrestling to be free. The fun and fanfare of fabulous riches and adoration while you wonder if there is more to life. The difficulty of facing your own mortality. In Rosa and Tommy's case, this becomes far more painful when they've lived their life on a plane far different from others'.

The novel is awash with beautiful descriptions and strong settings of place, so even when it's time to move on to the next destination the reader has a keen sense of what has been left behind, sometimes mourning for it like Rosa does. I had no idea how a novel like this could possibly end, but Lister handles it brilliantly. It's a fitting close for a story that dared to do and show so much.

Review: Godiva, Nerys Jones

Britain, 1045. A mere 21 years before the Normans storm the UK, and Britain is a hotbed of conspiracy and ambition. Godiva and her husband, Earl Lovric of Mercia, are drawn against their will into the games of King Edward the Confessor and must fight for their family and their lands. 

The novel opens with a murky, almost despairing description of Coventry and the daily toils its inhabitants face. As if using a bird's eye view the reader is taken to the manor at Cheylesmore, the dwelling of Godiva and her husband, Lovric, whom has just returned home. His news for Godiva includes relating that their sons are in danger, and that King Edward the Confessor has demanded her presence in Winchester. Their journeys back and forth test loyalties, bring up conspiracies, question their very faith, and above all measure their ability to play the game that they have unwittingly been placed into by their King. 

Godiva is a brilliantly crafted character in this book. Not only ruled by passion for her family, she channels that into being the leader that her town really needs her to be. She is plagued with anxiety at the thought of being a pawn in Edward's game, and is constantly second-guessing herself, but she keeps up business for her people, putting them first in a way that many as rich as her would not. Her husband, Lovric, is similarly complex. He is a warrior, but he knows that cannot always be the first course of action. A man of many secrets, he loves clearly loves Godiva and is unlike most men of the time in that he lets Godiva seemingly be the leader in Coventry. 

Edward the Confessor was the most interesting character for me. Since he is usually little more than an acknowledgement in the story of the Norman Conquest, it was surprising and fascinating to see how the author had fleshed him out. He is not simply a pious man as History titled him. In fact, it was difficult to know whether he was pious at all, or whether it was just all a veil. 

Where characterisation soars, however, the use of language sometimes seems quite clunky. Adverbs are strewn all over the place, and quite often there is the dreaded use of "telling, not showing", which didn't seem consistent with the otherwise sophisticated and clever narrative. 

Overall, however, this book was an interesting and enjoyable read. There doesn't seem to be much historical fiction about the Middle Ages, so this retelling of a myth that has endured for nearly a thousand years, in a way that is compelling and invites the reader to discover the truth, was a very welcome discovery.