I always love to read the books of people I know, but often that wish is tinted with some trepidation that it might be absolutely awful. After all, what on earth do you say then? Even worse, if you are a reviewer how can you be absolutely honest in your review and yet maintain that friendship. For a view from the front line on this issue see Susan’s post on the topic. So, having known Brian from blogging, it was with some nervousness that I started to read Within the Fetterlock. But, as it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried at all – it was marvellous! As some of my fellow bloggers have already reviewed this book, I won’t go into great detail.
In a nutshell, it is about Constance of York – the wife of Thomas Despenser (Hugh the younger’s great grandson). The novel starts in the year 1396 – during the reign of Richard II – and documents the turbulent relationship between Richard and his followers, and those of Henry of Lancaster. Constance, a relative of both Richard and Henry is caught in the middle of the court politics as the succession to Richard’s throne is fought over by Yorkists, Lancastrians – and the Mortimers. Of course poor Thomas gets beheaded in the end (it’s always a dangerous business being a Despenser in troubled times!) and Constance is left to fend for herself in a world where nothing is as it used to be. And to add to her woes she has a duplicitous brother who seems to cause trouble for her no matter who is in power.
Brian has done a fantastic job in bringing this era to life and keeping me hooked on reading what was going to happen next. His historical detail is well-researched and I learned a great deal about this period. As with any novels set during the Middle Ages, there is always the problem of several characters having the same name. And in such a setting there are also alot of players on the stage. In short, it can become confusing, but Brian has managed to steer his ship safely around these sandbanks by having a comprehensive character list at the beginning, so that if at any time you are unsure as to who is related to who, it is an easy task just to look them up at the front.
I also thought that Brian had captured Constance’s voice well – no small task for a man to write a woman! My favourite characters though were Edward of York – Constance’s slippery brother. He was just such a bad boy, and well, you know how I like those! And also Edmund Mortimer. I never thought I’d hear myself say that I grew attached to a Mortimer – but there you go! As well as good characterisation, the dialogue flows naturally and develops both the scene and the characters (anyone who has been taught creative writing by me knows just how much I loathe exposition when the same object can be achieved through dialogue, action etc). Finally, the other thing that I thought worked well (as it does in any historical novel), were the notes at the end. There Brian makes clear which parts were actual history and which were supposition on his part. I won’t get into the whole historical accuracy debate – but as a reader I was really glad of this end section.
All in all then a super read from an accomplished writer.
You can view Brian’s wonderful blog at http://yorkistage.blogspot.com