Format: Trade Paperback
Juvenile Fiction - Action & Adventure
I wanted to really like this book. It's medieval + magic + YA + young male character, everything that I've enjoyed from similar books in the past. However, I just couldn't get into it.
The plot confused me. Which is an odd thing to say, because the characters spend a lot of time talking about the plot, or thinking about the plot, or thinking about the role of the other characters in the plot. But in the end, none of these threads really came together. There was a lot of build-up for an emotional upheaval which, as it happened, neatly solved itself within a page. I can understand the purpose of slight misdirection and veiling of details in a book to keep the reader interested, but when the truth was revealed it felt hollow and/or nonsensical. I don't want to go into detail for risk of spoilers, but by the end I was left hanging, and not in a good way.
The characters were, in the end, a bit bland. I think this problem is mostly due to the very plain prose which tends to explicate too much. "Show, don't tell" is a standard rule in fiction writing, and the author often broke it. Though, as I said above, the characters spend a lot of time talking or thinking about the plot, they also psychoanalyse their problems to an unbelievable degree and tell their reader about it in essay form. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if what they were explaining was interesting or relevant to the plot, but too often it was not.
The author clearly researched the Middle Ages for the book, but in the end I felt like he put too much of that research in the book and in a rather anachronistic way. At one point the character's walk by Tanners, for no apparent reason other than the author wishes to tell us what a nasty work it was. Yes, it was a smelly job, but to the people in the 14th century who chose to make it their profession they were accustomed to the sights and smells of the process, and probably ceased to have the revulsion towards it that a white-bread American would. There are more examples of things like this, and while I appreciate the author did not try to "romanticise" life in the the Middle Ages, the way he dwelled upon the aspects that we today would find "backwards" and "dirty" felt like what CS Lewis once described as chronological snobbery.
The most glaring case of this was the focus of the book, the main character's religion. I found his atheism to be utterly unbelievable. A person in the 14th century who decided to turn against the Catholic Church would not become an atheist, they would have become either a version of a Arian-Christian-Gnostic or a Fatalist. It would have quite believable, guessing that Thomas's background is what the author seemed to suggest, that Thomas would be a Fatalist with a Stoic spin. But instead we get a Dawkins-esque clone who has a nearly non-existent conversion.
And, in the end, I found most of the way he presented society in the Middle Ages to be quite wrong. Newer research has shown that people were more literate, more well-travelled, and more religious, than the author presents in this book. His treatment of the clergy and the church was rather unsettling, and the reader is left to assume that all monks in the Middle Ages were greedy and maybe witches. The one good person I think was a member of the clergy did not escape the greed charge, but seems to be a good person, despite apparently being the rector of the church in the city known to be full of dark magic, or at least terrible tyranny, for the last twenty years?
The reason I found it all so disappointing is that it had the potential to be really great. The plain prose made the interesting characters thin, the anti-mediaevalism made it's interesting setting yucky, and the anti-Catholicism made what promised to be an interesting showdown between the Christian faith and Druid black magic just - disappear, literally, into something tepid and merely pedestrian. I wish I could recommend this book, but I can't.
Juvenile Fiction - Religious - Christian - Fantasy
Fiction - Christian - General