Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

country Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

Thank-you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a synopsis of this novel please click here.

This novel tells the story of the fictional Boylston family from Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. It is predominantly a coming-of-age story for the female protagonist Eliza Boylston and her story touches upon the theme of freedom and how fickle it’s meaning can be.

Whilst Eliza’s brother, Jeb, fights for the rebel cause and speaks of freedom for his countrymen Eliza looks closer to home and begins to question the hypocrisy that slavery is rampant in her community. Eliza becomes close to her parent’s slave, Cassie, and the reader is witness to the gradual shedding of mental prejudice that must take place before their friendship can be truly pure. It takes Eliza the majority of the novel to cast off the beliefs instilled in her since childhood. This is miles beyond what any other character in the novel seems capable of. Although many are portrayed as being sympathetic to the plight of slaves, they do not feel it is as important to fight for them as it is to fight for their own sense of the freedom that is to be gained from breaking with British rule. Eliza feels the exact opposite; although sympathetic to the rebel cause it is the everyday injustice of slavery that causes her to take a stand.

I really liked Eliza and everything her character  began to stand for and therefore I greatly enjoyed her story. I appreciate that the author made her a product of her time and not so modern that she becomes disjointed from the time period. Eliza comes to the conclusion that the fight for freedom should include all people due to her own life experiences and not because she was “ahead” of her time. As a Christian people the injustice of slavery should already have been present in the mindset of society, however humans so often turn a blind eye and never think to question something that they take as part of the norm. All Eliza did was begin to question. In many ways it was the actions of Cassie that brought home the truth to Eliza. Cassie embodies all of the qualities that a Christian is supposed to possess. She is patient, kind and compassionate and I admired her character greatly. I wonder if Eliza would have as quickly come to the same conclusions if Cassie had not been such an inspiration.

Although this novel has a romantic storyline also, I feel as though it was the relationship between Eliza and Cassie that held the most weight. Eliza falls in love with her uncle’s slave and similar mental prejudice must be overcome for their relationship to succeed, however it was never as poignantly described as it was with Cassie. I enjoyed the addition of a love story to the novel but I would not say that it was the main theme. In my opinion this novel falls firmly in the historical fiction category, not in the subgenre of historical romance.

An aspect of the novel I really appreciated was how much Eliza moved around the New England area. By moving from Cambridge to Portsmouth to Braintree it allowed me to gain a wider perspective of life at the time of the Revolution. I also liked that John and Abigail Adams became part of the story once Eliza moved to Braintree as they brought a sense of authenticity to the novel. I plan on going back and reading “The Midwife’s Revolt”, Jodi Daynard’s first novel and a companion novel to this one. From what I gather John and Abigail Adams are much more central characters in The Midwife’s Revolt.

Overall I found this to be an interesting read with some very thought-provoking themes. I would recommend giving it a read, regardless of whether you are familiar with the time period or not.

The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

palatine The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

 

Thank-you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a full synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.

This novel is told from the perspectives of three very different women. Julia is the daughter of Emperor Augustus (heir to Julius Caesar), Livia is his wife and Selene is his ward, daughter of the defeated and now deceased Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. All three characters are striving to find their path in the new world of Rome after the civil war and the death of the Republic.

For the most part I found this novel to be Julia’s story. Her character not only had the most prose but was also the most vivid of the three. I came to feel a strong connection to her and therefore her bias became my own. Considering the two other main character’s opinions often conflicted with Julia’s it is quite telling that I sided with her the way I did. I truly felt every heartbreak and pitied every lonely thought that she had. The author states in her author’s note that her “biggest challenge in writing this novel was to portray her [Julia] as a psychologically comprehensible human being”. She absolutely succeeded. Julia’s character resonated with me in a way that the others did not and a very strong empathetic response was stirred. I greatly admire the author’s character development of Julia.

Overall this is not an action-packed novel, rather the focus is upon the three female protagonists and how their lives were affected by the everyday workings of the early Roman Empire. Augustus is portrayed as the personification of the Empire itself and therefore his whims become lore and his moods shape the lives of those around him. Taking up with Julia as I did meant that I did not like the character of Augustus at all. As a father he is a complete failure, regardless of how capable a ruler he was. Julia feels nothing more than a tool in his hand, used to help shape the Empire into what he wishes it to be. It is not surprising why she behaves as she does, a promiscuous wild child searching for the thing that is missing from her life: unselfish love. Once she finally finds it I became terrified that it would be taken from her. I fervently wished that this wouldn’t be the case, whilst at the same time picking up on the undertone of doom the author was filtering into the novel. Julia’s life felt very much like a car crash hurtling towards the inevitable.

Although I didn’t forge quite the same connection to Livia or Selene, I still appreciated what their voices brought to the novel. Livia’s undeniable love for Augustus went a little way towards humanizing a man who would have otherwise come across as completely robotic. Selene represented the mercy he could show and is portrayed as a living reminder of the civil war and the destruction that it wrought. Having lost both parents to this war it is hard to imagine how Selene would have felt towards the victor and subsequently the killer of her parents. In this novel Selene thrives and the author explains this by cleverly creating a memory for Selene of her mother’s dying wish being for her daughter to live. Therefore she strives to do just that. She focuses not upon revenge or hatred but rather upon continuing her mother’s legacy of being a wise and enlightened ruler. Her marriage to Juba and role as Queen of Mauretania allowed her to personify this ideal. It struck me as ironic that Selene’s destiny was both happy and fulfilling and Julia’s was not, considering that one was the daughter of the victor and the other the daughter of the loser.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I will definitely be going back and reading the first novel written by this author, “I am Livia”. Although it takes place prior to this novel I do not believe the order will matter too much and I hope that it grants me a somewhat different perspective of Livia than the one I hold right now.

Seize the Dawn by Heather Graham

dawn Seize the Dawn by Heather Graham

Thank-you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for my e-galley reissue of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is set in the early fourteenth century during the Scottish Wars of Independence. It is based upon two fictional characters, Brendan and Eleanor, however the historical figure of William Wallace is also a central character of the novel.

Eleanor is an English countess, holding land in her own right (not likely) and Brendan is a Scottish rebel who fights alongside Wallace. They make an unlikely couple and yet from the very beginning it is obvious to the reader that their fiery interactions cover up a deep attraction to one another. They must each put aside their reservations about the other’s nationality before they can truly begin to trust each other and it is this that makes up the majority of the novel.

Therefore I would consider this novel an historical romance; the theme is most definitely the developing love between Brendan and Eleanor, but within the context of Wallace and his fight against Edward I of England.

The only qualm I have about the storyline us that some parts seemed a little too convenient and not true to life. I understand that the author strove to create a gripping and intriguing plot by peppering the novel with damsel-in-distress-saving heroics, a “whodunit” style murder mystery, pirates (yes that’s right, pirates) and various other clichés, but in my opinion it was overdone at times.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the relationship between Eleanor and Brendan and found it in itself to be intriguing enough to grasp my attention and keep it throughout. I also enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Wallace, who came across as a normal man with a resolute ideal for his country.

After Wallace’s defeat at Falkirk he flees to France and is received by the French king, who is shown as duplicitous by encouraging the Scottish rebels and then signing a peace treaty with Edward I. The author used this relative time of peace to focus her attention more upon her characters and less upon the fighting. Most of the portrayals of fighting are small skirmishes and not battles. Again, this is another reason that this novel fits nicely within the historical romance genre: nowhere within these pages will you find Bernard Cornwell style battle depictions.

Overall this was an interesting novel with a storyline that was a little too hyperbolic for my taste but that had vivid and complex characters that I enjoyed reading about. The characters themselves were not exaggerated, just the plot, which thankfully meant that I never became alienated from them and instead formed a connection to their plight. I was glad to find that the character of William Wallace wasn’t as embellished as he has previously been in a certain well-known film of the 90’s…

 

Roses in the Tempest by Jeri Westerson

tempest Roses in the Tempest by Jeri Westerson

For a synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.

This was a well-written novel set in the reign of Henry VIII and primarily based upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It is unusual in it’s perspective as it is told from the viewpoint of two platonic lovers, Isabella Launder and Thomas Giffard. Isabella is the daughter of a farmer and Thomas the son of a lord and therefore a marriage between them is off the cards, causing Isabella to choose a nun’s life over marriage to any other man.

 
I was pleased to find that the author chose to portray Isabella’s decision in a positive light with no sense of martyrdom slapping the reader across the face. Instead the reader is encouraged to respect Isabella for her decision as it comes from a place of strength–she wishes to choose her own destiny–and she is not self-pitying with it in the slightest. Thomas cannot seem to let Isabella go however and even though he marries and becomes a well-liked usher to Henry VIII, he still finds himself visiting the convent where Isabella has since become prioress and their relationship continues.

 
Although I did enjoy the perspective of the Dissolution from a nun in a small and poor convent, for the most part I found the pace of the novel to be too slow and a little boring. Isabella’s convent was so far flung from the court of Henry VIII that news of the events transpiring there took a long time to reach the convent and usually came by word of Thomas Giffard. This is no doubt how things actually were for such a backwater place as Isabella’s convent, however it wasn’t great for fictional purposes. The author did succeed in providing the novel with an eerie sense of what was to come but choosing to write of a place so far from the main stream of events just made the novel drag. I was desperate for something more to happen than just another visit from Thomas Giffard. Once Henry VIII’s commissioners eventually arrived and kicked them all out of the convent the novel pretty much ended. Although I felt sympathy for their plight I probably could have felt a lot more than I actually did.

Overall I think this novel had an intriguing premise and some great character development, I was just disappointed with the monotony and slow pace throughout.

 

The Dutch Girl by Donna Thorland

dutch The Dutch Girl by Donna Thorland

Thank-you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a full synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.

This was an interesting novel set in the context of the American Revolutionary War. Whilst this is not the focal point of the novel it does provide the backdrop to the protagonist’s, Anna’s, story.

Anna was a well-written and developed character. Daughter of a tenant farmer on a Dutch settlement along the Hudson River, she hides behind the façade that she has created for herself: that of an English-speaking finishing-school teacher in New York. She is careful to conceal the fact that she used to be Dutch-speaking Annatje and we believe her to be a fugitive in hiding. As the story progresses we slowly find out more about Anna’s past and how it is that she came to be the well-established headmistress of Winter’s Academy.

Unfortunately I became disappointed with the novel about three-quarters of the way through. After the set up was so brilliant and the intrigue surrounding Anna’s past so heightened, the last quarter of the story was incredibly rushed and therefore the climax was lost. All of the answers were just given, the mystery solved, and I felt let down by such a hasty conclusion.

Nonetheless, the story went a long way to making me realize just how complex the Revolutionary War was. The paradox of the wealthy, land-owning patroons supporting the rebels and the disgruntled and poor tenant farmers supporting the British shows that the war was not as black and white as it is often portrayed as being. When the layers of political agendas and varied grievances are piled upon each other only then does the majestic sense of the war start to become clear. There were multiple factors at play, not all of them as pure or simple as one might expect (especially me, British-born and lacking in education about the subject).

Another intriguing aspect of the novel was the exploration of the American-Dutch culture. It is astonishing to me how the culture managed to be preserved even after the British gained the territory from the Dutch in 1664. The patroon system was similar to the feudal system in Europe hundreds of years before that. I had no idea that such a system was ever in place on US territory and it has sparked my interest in the subject–I will absolutely be reading more about it.

Overall I am glad to have read this novel and gained the insight that I have into the patroonships and the American-Dutch involvement in the Revolutionary War. I just wish that the novel had ended with the same promise that I showed throughout the main body of it’s chapters. With a more involved conclusion this novel could have been truly superb.

A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion

boudica A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion

This is an epic novel based before, during and after the time period of Boudica’s uprising against the Romans. It is an incredibly imaginative and moving tale and we are introduced to many vivid characters. What makes this novel even more impressive is that it is separated into multiple parts, each one written by a different author. These are separate stories and yet they weave together to create one vast perspective of Boudica’s rebellion. It is truly amazing what these talented authors have been able to achieve. For reviewing purposes I have chosen to address the sections one at a time.

Part One, “The Queen”, by Stephanie Dray

In the very first chapter of the novel I expected the queen to be Boudica herself but instead we are introduced to Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. In a short period of time the author is able to bring Cartimandua to living, breathing, fire-spouting life. She is portrayed as a strong woman who is fiercely loyal to her people and who would sacrifice anything for them–including her own reputation. She is considered treacherous for allying with the Romans but Stephanie Dray shows us the truth of Cartimandua: she was only doing what she thought to be the best thing for her tribe.

Part Two, “The Slave”, by Ruth Downie

Next we are introduced to Ria, the bastard daughter of Boudica’s recently deceased husband, the King of the Iceni tribe. Her life is very difficult and she feels a profound sense of loneliness, not only as an orphan but also as a slave. Ria’s opinion of Boudica is very conflicted; she both hates and admires the woman who scorned her mother and kept the love of her father from her.

It is through Ria’s eyes that we see the early stirrings of the Iceni rebellion and witness first hand how Boudica suffered at the hands of the Romans. The Iceni tribe are a proud people who have been trodden upon for far too long and Boudica is portrayed as their spirited leader who gave them the motivation that they needed.

Part Three, “The Tribune”, by Russell Whitfield

I found this section to be the most difficult to read. Not only was it full of brutality, told from the perspective of a Roman officer with a legion of eighty men, but it was also filled with foul language and sexual insinuation. I believe the author was trying to create a sense of what it was like to be in the Roman Legions; a soldier’s world where butchery and rapine were shown to be rampant. It came across as incredibly harsh and at times even crude, especially when compared to the other parts of the novel. The story of Agricola and the bloody battles that he and his men fought stayed in the back of my mind throughout the remainder of the novel. It truly brought to life the savagery of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Part Four, “The Druid”, by Vicky Alvear Shecter

This was the shortest section of the novel. Yorath is a nineteen year old Druid-in-training who survives the butchery of his people on the Isle of Mona (modern day Anglesey). This part of the novel gave me the best understanding of the natives of the land–the common folk, not the tribal leaders or warriors. The author portrays the Druids as the wise men of the realm that do not hold allegiance to any one tribe but are dedicated to the land itself. The Druids are respected by all and thus they are a threat to the Romans. However, their attack of the Druids on their holy Isle only infuriates the natives more and causes many to flock to Boudica’s banner. With the loss of the Druids Boudica becomes the hope of the resistance.

Part Five, “The Son”, by S.J.A. Turney

Andecarus was my favourite character of this novel. Son of an Iceni warrior and yet raised by Romans he is able to see both sides of the rebellion. Taken as a hostage after a previous rebellion, Andecarus was trained to fight by the Romans and served time in a legion. However he feels strong loyalty to his tribe also, even though they shun him after his return. He is truly a man with a foot in each world and therefore I found his perspective to be the most interesting. I found myself pitying him and the situation in which he finds himself: caught between loyalty to his tribe and the knowledge that the Romans will eventually defeat Boudica and her rebels. His unique intelligence of the Roman mindset should have caused him to be valued by the leaders of his tribe but instead they distrust him and consider him an outsider. He is the only one that can foresee the end that will come and yet he is ignored and considered cowardly. Eventually Andecarus must decide whether to stand and fight with his tribe or flee to the Romans. His decision proves that he was the bravest member of his tribe all along.

Part Six, “The Warrior”, by Kate Quinn

I would have known this to be Kate Quinn’s work even if it had not been titled. Her writing is pure brilliance and her characters jump to life from the page. She writes of Andecarus’ father, Duro, a man I had come to dislike after his appearance in two of the previous chapters. However after reading this section I came to understand him. A revered warrior of the Iceni and Boudica’s right-hand man, I came to respect him and the decisions that he made.

This part of the novel tells of the epic battle finale between Boudica’s army and the Romans. It is vivid, brutal and shocking in it’s descriptions but not at all distasteful–nobody can write quite like this author. I will admit that it was Kate Quinn’s name that attracted my attention to this novel and as always I was not disappointed. This section of the novel is the most impressive and strikes at the very heart of the matter: why the Iceni did what they did. Through Duro’s eyes the reader is able to see and appreciate what was inside the heart and mind of a true Iceni warrior. I was devastated by the end of this section of the novel and yet inspired too. To fight with such passion and pride for your homeland puts any Roman Legionary to shame, even if the Iceni did lose the war.

Part Seven, “The Daughters”, by E. Knight

The final chapter of this book was incredibly moving. I enjoyed being able to go back in time and learn more about Boudica’s daughters; what they went through and how they felt throughout the war. To be with them at the end was so very sad, I cried buckets (even though I knew what was coming). The author does a wonderful job with her characters and through the eyes of Boudica’s daughters she gives Boudica the warrior’s end that she deserves. To see it through their perspective instead of her own was even more heart-wrenching and I understand why the author chose to do this, even though it meant that Boudica’s inner voice is never heard throughout the pages of this novel. This final chapter is dedicated to three very unique and yet equally strong women and I loved them all.

Epilogue by Stephanie Dray

I was so relieved to find this epilogue. I needed to see Cartimandua once last time before the end of the novel. The story came full circle by leaving the reader in the same place that we began. That’s exactly how I felt after finishing this novel: the same, and yet inexplicably changed somehow. I knew the bare bones of Boudica’s rebellion and I am grateful to these authors for using their incredible talent to flesh this story out for me and for everybody else who embarks on this novel. Please do, you won’t regret it.

In true historical fiction there is always an author’s note at the end and this novel was no exception. Each author has written one, which means the decisions behind each character are explained. I really appreciated this and it brought home just how much collaboration went into this work. This is the second novel written by multiple authors that I have read, the first being “A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii” which has five of the same authors. I really hope there is another one coming!

The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Stephanie Thornton

conqueror The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Stephanie Thornton

Please click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

This is a novel with a very misleading title. “The Conqueror’s Wife” leads the reader to  believe that it will be told from the perspective of one woman: the wife of Alexander the Great. This is not at all the case. The author strives to gain a wider perspective of Alexander by using multiple voices to tell the story. Four voices to be exact. Furthermore, only one of them was Alexander’s wife and it took until page 273 to find out who.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel however, I did, but I found myself boggled by the title. In fact during the first few chapters it actually put me off the story a little. The multitude of voices when I expected just one caused me to find the beginning of the novel somewhat diluted. However I’m glad to say that as the novel progressed I became attached to all four characters and appreciated their varied outlooks upon the events of the novel. They are four very unique and vivid characters that highlighted the way of the world during Alexander’s reign.

Hephaestion, one of the four and the only male voice, was a childhood companion of Alexander that travelled by his side throughout his decade-long conquering campaign. It is amazing just how much Hephaestion, and all of Alexander’s loyal soldiers, were willing to give up in order to serve him. It is as though they truly thought him to be the God he declared himself to be and would follow him to Hades itself if he asked. In fact there are certain scenes in this novel that would make you think they were already there.

The author did a wonderful job of depicting the battle scenes, making them realistic and very fast-paced. I learnt much about how Macedonian battles were fought. I found it particularly interesting to learn that many Indian Lords and even the Persian King of Kings Darius III used War Elephants in battle. Overall I really enjoyed all the portrayals of Alexander’s success in battle. This plus the loyalty of his men gave me a good impression of how Alexander was able to build an empire in a relatively short period of time.

My favourite character in this novel was Drypetis, second daughter to King Darius III. It was her perspective in particular that I clicked with the most and I felt a similar dislike of Alexander to that which she felt. Whilst I could see how he was admired through Hephaestion’s eyes, it was through Drypetis’ eyes that my opinion formed. From the very beginning she showed him to be the most human–not at all God-like–and it was this notion that really came through towards the end. Alexander was just a man, flawed as any man is, and I appreciated the author’s talent in taking him down from his pedestal step-by-step. Nothing felt rushed, rather the story came to a head of it’s own accord and Alexander’s world began to unravel. The end of his reign and the years following were very chaotic and somewhat confusing if you read the history. However the author gives us a concise explanation that was easy to follow and ended her story nicely. She explains why she chose to do certain things in her author’s note, which I always appreciate.

Overall this was a very interesting read and I enjoyed it greatly. I just really wish it had a more appropriate title!