Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Martyr by Rory Clements

Rory Clements' first novel, Martyr, is an intriguing crime thriller set in Elizabethan England. John Shakespeare is one of Francis Walsingham's intelligencers, charged with tracking down Catholics and protecting Sir Francis Drake as England approaches war with Spain. In this novel Shakespeare investigates the mysterious death of one of the Queen's relatives and this drags him into the murky underworld of London and pits him against another of the Queen's powerful agents.

I have been a fan of detective novels since reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager but have grown slightly tired of the standard crime novel recently so this mystery with an Elizabethan twist was a nice change. In this period there are no need for arrest warrants, information can be extracted through torture and threats while suspects can go missing without trace in the squalid prison system. The reader will find no subtle and scientific inquiry methods here, just rudimentary investigative skills, brutality and corruption; a wonderful change from jaded cops and high-tech forensic experts.

In Martyr the author does a wonderful job of recreating the political intrigue surrounding the execution of Mary Queen of Scots setting this alongside the filth and deprivation that most of England's inhabitants lived in at the time. This serves as an interesting backdrop to an intricate and well-developed plot in which Shakespeare gradually unravels the mystery surrounding the death of a noble lady while at the same time trying to protect Sir Francis Drake from assassination.

Many of the characters within this novel are memorable and engaging although it is a little frustrating at times that the main protagonist, John Shakespeare, is bested so frequently. However, having a slightly incompetent main character allows the author to use this to create suspense in what is a very enjoyable book which leaves this reader looking for the next book in the series.

I would recommend this book to those who like historical novels and to those who like mysteries but are slightly tired of the hackneyed way in which many of these are written. This is a well-written mystery, thriller with an interesting portrayal of some historical characters (the personalities of Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare are rather surprising), the squalor of Elizabethan England as well as some bawdiness.

Score: 9/10

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Siege by Jack Hight

Siege is author, Jack Hight's, fictional dramatization of the real-life fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. In this novel historical characters are portrayed in the years preceding the battle of Constantinople and the defense of the city.

This book tells this historical tale from several years before the events of the battle and the author builds the political intrigue well and introduces a set of characters that the reader can believe in as well as care about on both the Christian and Islamic factions that are a part of these events. Even though the events preceding the battle perhaps occupy too much of this book, this part of the novel is well-written and the reader becomes engrossed in the small events that shape the lives of the main protagonists.

The plot of the story, of course, is rather pre-ordained by history but the author does well to build up the suspense in a number of ways with political tugs-of-war on both sides of the conflict, traitorous scheming and   romantic sub-plots that keep the reader wondering how the lives of those involved will play out after the epic battle.

For those who love novels which describe historical battles, this book will be very enjoyable as many episodes from this historic siege are included in exciting and dramatic detail, although some are totally fictional and are extrapolations on what is known.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I had about "Siege" is that the actual siege itself is rather long in arriving; whilst the suspense is built up throughout the book, the reader is perhaps ready for the main event long before it is served up by the author, although this does allow for interesting characters to be outlined, around which a story is woven and this prevents the book from being a simple description of historical events.

I would recommend "Siege" to any readers who like historical novels, particularly those who enjoy medieval history. Also readers who would like to try out this genre will perhaps find this book a good place to start.

Score: 8/10