Review: Will in Scarlet - Matthew Cody

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody.
ARC provided by Net Galley, Random House

The 13 year old heir of Shackley Manor, William isn't eager to leave his days of mischief and play behind. But one fateful night, when December's cold is so deep that wolves are pushed to desperation, Will Scarlet becomes Lord William, Wolf-slayer. Leading the entire serfdom doesn't seem so terrible, eve ig it is a bit boring. As questions come to the castle from a pretender testing his uncle Lord Geoffrey for his loyalty. Will knows that King Richard and his father will be home soon, putting an end to the talk. But as Lady Katherine says to her son, 'England is plots within plots'.

Attempting to make the best of his diplomacy lessons, Will is instead embroiled in the very plots against the king, putting not only his fathers life in danger, but his own! Tragedy strikes and those loyal to the crown are forced to flee for their lives, Will separated from his mother and is nearly killed by bandits in the notorious Sherwood Forest, the home of wolves and worse. 

Nursed back to health by a small boy, Much the Miller's Son, and the drunkard Rob - they all have secrets they would rather keep. Among the Merry Men of Gilbert the White Hand, Will is as likely to be killed as held for ransom, so he concocts a tale to let him live long enough to get him revenge. What he doesn't count on is the world he is shown and the friendships he makes along the way. In the end saving not only himself, but the people whom he has come to care for.

Will in Scarlet is an unusual retelling of the popular Robin Hood myth; a notorious bandit who stole form the rich and gave to the poor. After all, we're introduced to the man by one of his younger accomplices, Will Scarlet, when Robin's almost entirely given up. What Will brings is more than a mission, because when the young boy's eyes are opened, he brings the honorable thieves back to Sherwood forest, and begins cracking the glass walls he's been living behind his entire life.

Matthew Cody's retelling is also a bit bloodier and political than the Disney classic of the same myth, but it succeeds in balancing historical accuracy with a good feel for words and fun. But for all the contrivances of bad guys and murder and pillaging, there was quite a lot of fun to be had. The story is one of action and rebellion, Will's story is one of social reform and, dare I say it, usurping the entire system when you have nothing to lose. And that might be a hard selling point, but one that I feel really enticed me. After all, stealing from the rich, giving to the poor, living in a selfless community, sounds a lot like... And he's scarlet? Maybe that was just a coincidence, said the naïve intern.

While the strings were almost all nicely tied up in the end, this reader can't help hoping that Matthew Cody is already working on a sequel. The only complaint: how short it was. I want more, Matthew Cody! In fact, I liked the proof eBook I was provided with by Net Galley so much that I'm going to preorder a hardback as well. Here's to hoping my brother will stand some cajoling to read over the holidays.

If you've read this, tell me why you liked or disliked it! Tell me whether you think there was some smooching, and whether that detail about the Italian chair maker was really necessary. If you haven't read this: how have you taunted, teased and tricked your non-bookworm acquaintances to read? I need some new tactics.

272pp. Random House. 8th Oct. 2013

Review: The Romance of Tristan and Iseult - Joseph Bédier

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bédier.

The story of Tristan and Iseult was known to me because it was a bedtime story of mine. It's a tale which belongs both to the French and the British as part of their confusing entwined history due to the huge amount of ships which crossed the channel in both directions. I grew up believing it went a little differently than Monsieur Bédier here relates it, but I am satisfied and confused in new ways now that I've read the original translation.

Historical opinions on religion, filial piety, woman's roles, disease and racism aside, this story perplexes me because of the narrators deep sympathy for the characters. Perhaps I do not know about French stories, and perhaps this, like Le Morte d'Arthur, is merely the fashion, but I cannot reconcile the story that has survived until today with the sensibilities of those days.

Tristan is a blessed son of kings, and after a childhood spent in hiding, he returns to the lands of his uncle, King Mark, and becomes the Lancelot to his Arthur. Tristan cannot be defeated, in music, in combat, he is champion and is cherished and loved by all but four barons whose jealously or chivalry bring them to unfold some wicked plots against him.

Showcase Sunday #4

Showcase Sunday is a feature on Vicki's book blog, Books, Biscuits and Tea, which shows off the books which one has acquired in the past week, from any and all sources. Whether purchased online as an ebook or in hardback from a brick and mortar store, received for review or as a gift, it's just another way to make all your blogging acquaintances jelly.

I've been overseas for two months and have successfully amassed an auxiliary library while I was away from the internet. Hold onto your brains, it's going to be a long one.

City of Lost SoulsCity of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare.
Bit of a no-brainer since I bought the first three already. I have reviews in the pipes for the first two I've read, and will be reading the third one soon. Not much else to say, Cassandra Clare knows how to entertain.
How about that movie, huh? 

Not pictured: Time-traveling children detectives.
Now granted, this looks like a mess, but its mostly the books acquired at the annual flea-market in town. I'm going to not mention most of them, children books and two mystery classics, because the picture is so big, you can zoom in and see them if you want. Notables incude:

Pippi Langstrumpf by Astrid Lindgren

Die Märchen von Beedle dem Bard by JK Rowling

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
A German classic I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into. Yay for depressing classics!

Aimée & Jaguar by Erica Fischer
The tragic love story, told in letters, of a Nazi's wife and a Jewess.

Die Wilden Hühner in der Liebe by Cornelia Funke
Perhaps not widely known outside of Germany, this series of books is about a group of friends, illustrated by the author, calling themselves The Wild Chickens. It is also the only Cornelia Funke book I could lay my hands on at the flea market. It's the second in the series. Pooh.

Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks
A spur of the moment purchase, another author from Australia, and apparently the books are slow to be published overseas! I think this one came out in 2005. The title was what caught me, but it's about a young boy who goes on terrific adventures in those turbulent middle ages. Sounds good!

Lots of ebooks as well, most of which I've already devoured, and may not review, or else I'll try mini-reviews, or six-word reviews, if I dare:

Wicked Sexy, Wicked Bad by R.G. Alexander
The Chancellor's Bride by Kirsten Saell
Ménage, the first two were... novellas. I'm hoping for an improvement to romance level plot in The Chancellor's Bride. The first two... were a little light on that aspect.

Without Reservations, With Caution, With Abandon by J.L. Langley
From Langley's With or Without series, conjuring strains of that U2 song, every time.
I started with With Abandon and am skipping over the first one, With Love because apparently it was pretty boring, and the characters were totally different. I may regret this.

Captain's Surrender by Alex Beecroft
Described to me as: Master and Commander if it was gay.
Possibly my favorite movie, one of the best friendships I've seen portrayed on screen, and combining it with historically accurate forbidden romance? Be still my beating heart!

Oh, I was going to mention this cool coffee table book I got, but I was so excited about Alex Beecroft that I, ah, I need to go listen to Bach's prelude for Cello Suite nr 1. (Since we're here, I think Paul Tortelier plays the definitive version, and his master class on it is superb, making you appreciate the music in a whole new way - provided you watch it with subtitles or have a decent grasp of French.)

I'm afraid to say I have more books on the way, which means, more reviews soon, and another Showcase Sunday next week!

Super Sweet Blogging Award

Just before heading to bed and to read some more romance, I got an email to let me know Buffy from Storytime with Buffy nominated me for a sweet little award. Thank you, dear!

The Super Sweet Blogging Award

Being nominated means I have some responsibility.

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
2. Answer 5 Super Sweet questions. These can be found down below.
3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging Award in your blog post.
4. Nominate a baker’s dozen (13) other deserving bloggers. (Pssst…some do less and nothing bad happens.)
5. Notify your Super Sweet nominees on their blog.

1. Cookies or Cake? Both? Cake, but I wish there were more options, fruit tortes and tarts and other things exist, too, you know...
2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla because you can never over do it, and it tastes wonderful with fruit...
3. Favorite Sweet Treat? French pear cake, Gargoulliau, or any sort of fruit torte, or panacotta with fruit, or honey drizzled fruit, I mean, strawberry anything...
4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? After I've had a savory meal.
5. Sweet Nick Name? Süsschen, Sweetness.


I will be the first to say that my list is pitiful, but being away from the blogosphere for weeks has rendered me a little helpless in terms of who I am reading. I read lots of blogs whose authors are aloof, and while not unkind, are not the type up for a Sweetness Award. These two lovely ladies, Keertana and Sarah, are sweet and post lovely reviews! Check out their blogs! :)

Review: The Assault - Harry Mulisch

The Assault (De Aanslag) by Harry Mulisch.
Translated by Claire Nicholas White from the Dutch.

I will quote for you the blurb:

“It is the winter of 1945, the last dark days of the war in occupied Holland. A Nazi collaborator, infamous for his cruelty, is assassinated as he rides home on his bicycle. The Germans retaliate by slaughtering an innocent family: only the youngest son, twelve-year-old Anton Steenwijk, survives.

The Assault traces the complex repercussions of this nightmarish event on Anton's life. Determined to forget, he opts for a carefully normal existence—a prudent marriage, a successful career, and colorless passivity. But the past keeps breaking through, in relentless memories and in chance encounters with the other actors in the drama, until Anton finally learns what really happened that night in 1945, and why.”

Once again, this novel's magic lies in the author's handling of the narrator. Published in 1985, I have no idea why we didn't read this after reading all those heavy holocaust novels, perhaps because in this novel, there is no easy discussion in the classrooms. But because of the large room of thought this novel creates, I feel it is all the more important.

When I say The Assault is though-provoking, I am freely invoking that cliché. Perhaps you know how deeply personal The Assault was for me as it dealt with things that German children must cope with on their own, guilt, the past, ignorance, excuses, avoidance, et cetera. I'd never inspected my coping methods as acutely as when confronted in spectacular luminosity the way in which Anton avoids the past his entire life. But like the Greeks, he is always facing it.

The Assault reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day its quiet narrator who reflects on events typical of the second world war, but there the similarities end. Had this been eligible, The Assault would have won the Booker prize, but what are awards anyway? Where Remains had been affable in it's avoidance, there is no pretension about what Mulisch and Anton conspire to do. Anton refuses to remember, forced down 'memory-lane' while it is his subconscious that lures him into not turning away the unwanted guest, yearning to be fulfilled.

A reader might be tempted to pity Anton from the blurb, as one freely did after reading Remains, but pity or hate the butler, Mulisch does not bring us through these moments, titled 'episodes', to make us feel sorry. Mulisch, in actuality, feels sorry for us, the readers. But he does not pose questions of morality to us with apology. These are things we all must face in our lives, unless we are like that aloof butler traveling the countryside.

This novel isn't cynical, nor is it hopeful in the way The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherril is. The heart races as the events in Anton's life come to a head, but we do not pity him, not because he is unsympathetic and 'merely' the child of fate, but because Mulisch has written a concise novel that does not have room for misplaced tears. We mourn the lost child, the one whom Anton has forgotten, who died along with the rest of his family. Perhaps because Anton has been indifferent for so long, that when he finally concludes this history and looks to other memories, we only feel immense satisfaction.

I am letting myself imagine, now that the book is shut, that Anton has begun to come to his own conclusions about the many questions that Harry Mulisch poses, as I must now attempt to do. But further, that Anton changes his life, going home and finally climbs up into the cockpit, and finally opens up to the person that he once was.

While I will not answer any of the questions posed within, dealing with our history, the morality of causalities, the innocence of the guilty, I am curious about your own thoughts. The tome is not very long, and it is a fabulous piece of literature, important for many reasons, and I encourage you to read it, if not immediately buy it. Once you have, come back and let me know your thoughts. I gladly welcome discussion in the comments.

185pp. Random House. 1985.