Review 1701: The Wanderers

The Wanderers is the second book in Pears’ West Country Trilogy. After the startling events at the end of The Horseman, 13-year-old Leo Sercombe is on his own. Almost starving, he is rescued by gypsies. Thus begins a wandering life.

Lottie lives an odd life on her father’s estate. She is angry with him because of his treatment of the Sercombes, so she keeps very much to herself. Reluctantly, she engages with society, but she is most interested in studying biology.

Like most middle books, The Wanderers seems a little unfocused because it can’t by definition have a climax. It is interesting enough and devotes the same kind of minute observation as in the first book to such subjects as castrating sheep.

We are obviously working toward the First World War and presumably some kind of reunion for Leo and Lottie as the class gulf between them broadens. And yet, of course, it will soon narrow again.

Related Posts

The Horseman

Tinkers

Lila

Review 1695: The Bridge of the Gods

A friend who knew I was writing a story set locally before the arrival of white men gave me The Bridge of the Gods, which was written in 1899 as a result of Balch’s years of collecting Native American folklore and customs in Oregon. The novel is based on a legend about a bridge of stone across the Columbia.

The novel begins in 17th century Massachusetts, where Reverend Cecil Grey feels the mission to preach Christianity to the indigenous people of the West and dreams of a huge stone bridge over a river. His wife having died, he sets off to do just that, accompanied by his Native American nurse.

Eight years later, Multnomah, chief of the Willamette tribe, decides to test his allies. His tribe is the leader of a confederation united against their enemies, the Spokanes and the Shoshoni. The ascendancy of the Willamettes is prophecied to last until the Bridge of the Gods, a massive stone arch over the Columbia River, is destroyed. However, Multnomah has been hearing that some tribes want to leave the confederation. He decides to summon all of the tribes for a great council on Wappatta Island (now Sauvie Island).

Multnomah has a beautiful daughter, Wallulah, whose mother was an Asiatic princess shipwrecked at the mouth of the Columbia. Multnomah wants to betroth her to Snohomish, chief of the Cayuses, to cement their alliance. Wallulah, having seen Snohomish once, is not averse—until Cecil Grey comes on the scene.

I didn’t expect much from the attitudes of this book, considering when it was written, and I didn’t get much. Despite the young Balch having been interested enough to travel around and interview indigenous people, they are referred to constantly as savages, their traditions are treated with abhorrence, their villages are described as degraded, they are shown as violent and cruel. Even Multnomah, who compared to Snohomish is a good guy, is depicted as obdurate and cruel. Grey’s faithful nurse doesn’t even have a name.

Only Wallulah escapes this treatment, but note that she is half “Asiatic” (and a confused half at that, for her mother is said to have taught the Willamettes something about Buddha but calls god Allah). Her mother is described as white. Wallulah is herself a typical late 19th century romantic heroine, fragile and weak and a completely unlikely indigenous woman.

Although this novel is billed as a romance, Grey’s struggle is between his mission and Wallulah (even though they do not seem mutually exclusive), and since Grey is a zealot, Wallulah doesn’t have much of a chance. This is actually a romance in the older sense of the word, an adventure novel.

Since Balch went to so much trouble to personally speak to indigenous peoples and collect stories, I was hoping this book would be a little more enlightened—say, perhaps, written by someone who actually liked the people. It wasn’t. If you’re interested in an older book based in the life of indigenous peoples, I recommend The Loon Feather.

Related Posts

The Loon Feather

Caleb’s Crossing

One Thousand White Women

Review 1692: The Horseman

I was in the midst of putting a hold on Tim Pears’ The Redeemed to read for my Walter Scott prize project when I noticed that it was the third in his West Country Trilogy. The prize judges have an annoying habit of picking books for their shortlist that are well into a series, and I have paid the price before of trying to read just the nominated book, which you would assume would stand on its own. But sometimes not, so I went ahead and got the first two books of the trilogy as well. The Horseman is the first.

It is 1911. Leo Sercombe is the son of a carter on Lord Prideaux’s country estate in Western England. Leo is twelve and speaks seldom, but he has a strong love for and interest in horses. He frequently slacks off from school to help work on the various farms that make up the estate, and he is beginning to attract the attention of the estate’s head groom for his talent with horses.

Sharing his love of horses is the lord’s twelve-year-old daughter, Lottie, whom Leo occasionally encounters.

The novel minutely observes everyday life in an early 20th century rural setting, particularly the work. Although it is occasionally lyrical, the writing is mostly spare. I wasn’t sure how much I was enjoying it but somehow kept reading, even though terminology and process sometimes escaped me. I was actually intending to read a completely different book next, as I often do with series, but the ending, which is sudden and unexpected, made me want to read the next book immediately. If it’s a fast-paced novel you are looking for, this one is not for you, as it is more concerned with detail.

Related Posts

All the Birds, Singing

Independent People

Tinkers

Review 1687: The Sea-Hawk

Sir Oliver Tressilian is in a good place. As one of Elizabeth I’s privateers, he has made a fortune and gained the Queen’s favor. He is also engaged to marry the woman he loves, Rosamund Godolphin, or at least she has promised herself to him. When he calls on her brother Peter to ask for her hand, though, Peter refuses it, determined to keep up the feud begun between their parents. Indeed, he is insulting to the proud Sir Tressilian, so much so that Oliver would have killed him had he not promised Rosamund he would not.

Peter’s refusal seems of little moment to Oliver, because Rosamund will soon be of age. When Oliver’s brother Lionel returns home, however, he has fought with Peter without witnesses and killed him. Oliver promises to protect him but later learns that the wounded Lionel left a trail of blood to his door and everyone thinks Oliver murdered Peter. When Oliver tries to speak to Rosamund, she refuses to hear him. He is able to prove he is innocent to a magistrate and a minister because he has no wounds, but Rosamund will not listen.

Lionel becomes frightened that Oliver will tell the truth, so he arranges with a shady sea captain, Jasper Leigh, to kidnap Oliver and sell him into slavery. Jasper Leigh actually intends to let Oliver buy himself back, but their ship is taken by Spain and both Oliver and Jasper end up as galley slaves.

When next we meet him, Oliver is named Sakr El-Bahr, the Sea-Hawk, for his famous acts of piracy. He has adopted Islam and is a chief of Asad-ed-Din, Basha of Algiers. He learns that his brother and Sir John Killigrew have had him declared dead and Lionel has taken over his property and his former fiancĂ©e. Upon hearing this, Sir Oliver sends a messenger to Rosamund with the proof of his innocence in her brother’s death, but she throws it unread into the fire. Oliver is overcome with anger against both Lionel and Rosamund. How will it end?

I thought this was a very interesting swashbuckler, mainly because both the hero and heroine have more dimensions than in the usual adventure tale. There are times when both of them behave very badly, and I especially disliked Rosamund for much of the book because she was so quick to distrust Oliver. However she is also more brave and self-possessed than the majority of adventure story heroines. They get into some seriously exciting situations.

This is my last book from my second Classics Club list, which I have finished a couple of weeks late, so I’ll be publishing another list tomorrow.

Related Posts

The Lovers of Yvonne

Blood & Sand

Treasure Island

Review 1676: The Last of the Wine

It’s the fifth century BC, and the Peloponnesian War has been going on as long as Alexias can remember. As a boy almost reaching manhood, he is more interested in his training as a runner and the teachings of Sokrates. He is often at odds with his father, who has a poor opinion of the Sophists, in which group he includes all the philosophers. Alexias is a beautiful boy who fends off in disgust the advances of his father’s friend Kritias, but he eventually falls in love with Lysis, a man about 10 years older than he, and they form a fast friendship.

Things change as his father Myrom is dispatched to fight against Syracuse. The city of Athens has approved an attack proposed by the charismatic, mercurial Alkibiades. Then, shortly before the fleet is due to leave, someone destroys all the Herms in town, and Alkibiades is accused of this impious act. He leaves with the fleet and is found guilty in his absence without a trial, so he flees, leaving the fleet without the only leader who could have prevailed. Myron is sent with the second wave of warriors.

Before Alexias has even reached his official manhood, he goes off with Lysis to fight Spartans encroaching into the Attican farmlands. The Spartans attack every year to steal or spoil the harvest. The novel follows the two in war, under siege, in famine, and in civil conflict through 10 turbulent years in the history of Greece.

As usual, Renault’s novel is meticulously researched and elegantly written. After so recently reading her Alexander trilogy, though, I began to feel a sameness about her writing. The narration from book to book sounds the same to me, not like different characters (except the one narrated by the Persian boy), and she examines the same themes in Greek culture, although the books are set in different times. Maybe I’m just a little tired of ancient Greece. I read this book for my Classics Club list.

Related Posts

Fire from Heaven

The Persian Boy

Funeral Games

Review 1671: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

In 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars , Captain John Lacroix returns from Spain ill and wounded. As he recovers, something is troubling him, but we don’t know what. Before he has fully recovered, he is summoned back to his regiment, but instead of returning, he sets out on a journey to the Scottish islands.

Back in Spain, a tribunal is being held about the sacking of a Spanish village by British troops. On the word of one man, Corporal Calley, the tribunal finds Captain Lecroix guilty of being the officer in charge of those troops and the man who cut off the hair of an innocent woman. The Colonel then sends Calley to find and kill Lecroix accompanied by a Spanish officer, Lieutenant Medina, to make sure he does it.

As Lacroix unwittingly travels to a small island and becomes involved with the people living there, Calley pursues him, behaving like a deranged animal to the innocent people he thinks may know where Lacroix is. Lacroix certainly has a shameful secret about war, but is it what he is being pursued for?

This novel is atmospheric and deeply engaging. As it nears its conclusion, it is also truly exciting. Although I did wonder how likely it was that the army would have sent an execution squad against one of their officers, the novel is a wonderfully written adventure story that reflects on the nature of war and redemption. I read it for my Walter Scott prize project.

Related Posts

Pure

The Twisted Sword

Blood & Sand

Review 1668: The Vicomte de Bragelonne

My edition of the Collected Works of Alexandre Dumas explains that The Vicomte de Bragelonne was originally published as a massive work but is traditionally published in English as either three or four separate novels: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. I read the first book, which was quite long in itself.

I felt I was at a disadvantage in reading this book because it is one of the D’Artagnan novels and I haven’t read The Three Musketeers for many years or Twenty Years After ever. Although all four of the original characters appear, I felt that I didn’t understand their relationships to each other. As for the title character, who is the son of Athos, although he makes a couple of appearances, this first novel in the set is about D’Artagnan.

In the beginning of the novel, Louis XIV is a young king, but he has been under the control of Cardinal Mazarin for most of his life. D’Artagnan is the lieutenant of the musketeers, and he overhears when Charles II of England comes penniless to the king to ask for money and men to take back his kingdom. Louis’s finances are kept strictly in the Cardinal’s hands, so Louis goes to the Cardinal to ask for the money or men. The Cardinal, who has made himself wealthy at the kingdom’s expense, tells Louis there is no money and he can’t spare any men. When D’Artagnan sees Louis send Charles away with nothing despite wanting to help him, he resigns in disgust, determined to help Charles.

D’Artagnan’s friend Athos, now the Comte de la Ferre, also wants to help Charles. He was present at the beheading of Charles’s father and knows the Charles I buried a million livres at Newcastle. Athos determines to fetch the money.

This novel seems disjointed. More than half of it deals with the two missions on behalf of Charles, while the rest deals with Louis finally coming into power and sending D’Artagnan on a mission. Perhaps as a complete work, with all its parts, it would seem more coherent, but at this time I was not willing to put in the time to read the whole thing.

I read this for my Classics Club list.

Related Posts

The Black Tulip

La Reine Margot

Captain Paul

Review 1664: Greenwood

Greenwood starts with an image of the cross-section of a tree trunk, this showing the novel’s structure. The novel begins in 2038, the outer ring of the tree, and visits four different years in the past, the center being 1908. Then it returns through each of those years to 2038.

In 2038, Jake Greenwood is an overqualified scientist working as a forest ranger in one of the few forests left on earth after the Great Wilt. She is glad to have the job in a world of excessively rich people and have-nots. Greenwood Island is a sort of private park that entertains the very wealthy by touring them through the forest.

Jake doesn’t think her family has a connection with the Greenwoods of the island, once owned by the fabulously wealthy lumber baron Harris Greenwood, but a lawyer arrives saying that she may have a claim to the island.

The novel returns back in time to visit Jake’s ancestors at important events in their lives. In 2008, Jake’s father Liam’s girlfriend leaves him and then lets him know she is pregnant. Later, doing a carpentry job, he has a serious accident.

In 1974, Liam’s mother Willow, an environmental activist, lives with Liam in her van and travels around sabotaging logging equipment.

In 1934, Everett, who makes a little money tapping and selling maple syrup, finds a baby hanging on a tree outside his cabin. Although he at first tries to give her away, he begins to think she’s in danger.

In 1908, two nine-year-old boys are the only survivors of a massive train wreck. When no one claims them, the town puts them in a cabin and provides the bare minimum of their needs, the boys growing up almost feral. The boys cannot remember their names, so the town calls them Harris and Everett Greenwood.

The novel is beautifully written and like The Overstory is concerned with trees and their impact on the world. Its descriptions of forests are lyrical. The plot itself is at times so involving as to read almost like a thriller. This is an unusual and absorbing novel.

Related Posts

The Overstory

Maddaddam

The Sunken Cathedral

Review 1662: The Poison Thread

Dorothea Trueblood is a youngish Victorian heiress who prefers to spend her days pursuing charitable causes rather than in socializing. Her conservative father wants her to marry as highly as possible, but she has secretly engaged herself to a police constable. Something keeps her from breaking the news to her father, even though she is of age.

She is fascinated by phrenology, so one of her charities is Oakgate Prison, where she visits prisoners in hopes of measuring their heads. Therefore, she is excited when Ruth Butterham, a young maid who murdered her employer, comes to the prison.

Ruth begins to tell Dottie her story, and it’s not long before Dottie realizes that Ruth is telling her she killed people by putting bad thoughts into the sewing she was doing for them. Dottie doesn’t find an enlarged organ of deceit in Ruth, but she can only assume she is lying.

This gothic novel has quite a lot going for it. It pins you to the page while you wonder where it is going. I was suspicious of Dottie at first, thinking her interest in Ruth a bit salacious. But I liked Ruth more. This is quite a nice dark book.

Related Posts

Akin

Burial Rites

Dark Enchantment

Review 1655: Warlight

In 1945, Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents enter their young teen children into boarding school and leave for a year in Singapore. Hating school, the two children run away and end up at home in the care of their parents’ friend and boarder, whom they call The Moth.

Their lives become chaotic. Their house is filled with eccentric people. Nathaniel and Rachel grow apart, Rachel going off on her own while Nathaniel skips school to help the mysterious man called The Darter engage in low-level criminal activities.

They never see their father again, and it becomes apparent that their mother is engaged in some sort of espionage, which eventually proves dangerous for them.

This moody novel is intricately plotted, so that its secrets are revealed slowly, like peeling an onion. As Nathaniel becomes a man, he begins to look into the truths behind his formative years. What really went on? What did he know but forget? What was he oblivious to? This novel is dark, enigmatic and deeply engaging. I read it for my Walter Scott prize project.

Related Posts

The Cat’s Table

Manhattan Beach

Abigail