Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review of Marilla of Green Gables, by Sarah McCoy

I won a copy of Sarah McCoy‘s Marilla of Green Gables through Goodreads. I then took it to book club with me and the group chose it as our November book.

Description:
Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

Review:
I devoured this, but had a mixed reaction to it. I loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it as a teen. It would be difficult for this book to compare. I admit that up front. Having said that, I think that if I hadn’t been invested in Mathew and Marilla from their association to Anne, I’d have been bored to tears by this book. As it was, I appreciated the stellar writing and thought McCoy gave Marilla an unexpected history, but never truly lost myself in it.

Mathew and Marilla are quite characters. That’s established canon. They feel deeply, but express little. And essentially that’s where this fell down for me. This book follows 40 or so years of Marilla’s life and we finish the book not really knowing anything more about her than when we started. She’s emotionally stunted and unwilling to go after what she wants. Does she do something heroic once in her life? Sure, but mostly that’s just arranging for someone else to do all the work. I suppose I had hoped for a bit more than 300 pages of Marilla’s stoic navel gazing.

I rated it highly though, because disappointed in it or not, it’s beautifully written.

Review of Ironfoot (The Enchanter General #1), by Dave Duncan

I borrowed a copy of Ironfoot, by Dave Duncan, from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:
It is 1164, and for a hundred years England has been ruled by the Normans. A young Saxon boy named Durwin, crippled by a childhood accident, had caught the eye of a Norman sage teaching at a rural school of magic. Realizing that the boy had promise, Durwin was made stable boy, and eventually allowed to attend classes.

Now twenty, Durwin is proficient enough that he is assigned to teach, but the other sages refuse to promote him and he is hassled by the Norman juniors for his disability. But those troubles turn out to be the least of his worries when he manages to corrects errors in an ancient corrupted spell, which promptly prophesies murder.

Sure enough, word soon reaches the school that one of the local count’s house sage has died, perhaps slain by black magic. Durwin is whisked away to the family’s castle, only to find that one death was only the beginning. The young sage quickly learns of a dizzying plot to assassinate King Henry. Dropped into the middle of the complex politics of England’s royal courts, can Durwin stop them in time?

Review:
I found this surprisingly enjoyable. It’s much more a mystery than anything else, so it’s not action packed, but it kept me interested and I really enjoyed Durwin and William. I’ll admit that I found William’s quick capitulation a tad hard to believe and, considering how much Durwin seemed to be discriminated against, he faced very little notable resistance. Plus, he’s just a bit too good at everything. But I liked the writing, the magic system and the plot. All in all, I just plain had fun with it and look forward to more.

Review Unicorn & Dragon, by Lynn Abbey

Lynn Abbey‘s Unicorn & Dragon is one of those books that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. The darned thing was published in 1987. I’m fairly sure I bought it at a used bookstore simply because it looked interesting.

Description from Goodreads:
Wolves are loose in the English countryside. A dying monarch cannot enforce the laws, and his heirs are circling like vultures. The small castle that is Hafwynder Manor is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a mysterious young stranger, too badly wounded to explain his plans. The forces of 11th century history invade Hafwynder Manor. Its safety—and perhaps the fate of all England—may depend on the deeds of the blonde, impulsive Alison and her sister, the dark-haired and cunning Wildecent. With the forces of the outside world raging at the castle walls, the two young women must learn to shape their own destiny!

Review:
I would have been greatly assisted in reading this book if I had a firmer grasp of the 11th century politics of the Normans, Saxons, English and French. I was able to follow the plot, but there was definitely a whole element I was locked out of, seeing as knowing at least the rudiments of this history seems to be assumed. As it was I thought it was interesting, but never truly felt I got to know the characters and at the end was left wondering, “Eh, what was the point?” Perhaps it become clearer in future books. This one wasn’t bad, but it didn’t sizzle for me either. Maybe it just hasn’t aged well, being published so long ago.