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Monday, September 24, 2018

The Lost Queen: A Different Approach To Arthurian Legend

I have an interest in the legends that inspire us including those that are collectively known as the Matter of Britain.   Most people call them Arthurian although some of these stories deal with figures who were only parenthetically involved in the tale of King Arthur.

Signe Pike decided to re-examine the Arthurian Mythos when she learned that a man who appears to have been the historical Merlin had a twin sister.  A novel focused on Merlin's twin sister would certainly be covering new ground.  That's why I agreed to review The Lost Queen by Signe Pike when the publisher made a review request.  I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Net Galley and  this is my honest review.

What sets this Arthurian novel apart is Signe Pike's source of inspiration.  She wasn't inspired by earlier Arthurian fiction, but by a history book called Finding Merlin by Adam Ardrey. Ardrey's Merlin is an individual who actually lived in 6th century Scotland.  If I had the time, I would have read this book and evaluated it as a work of historical scholarship before writing this review.  Since I am trying to keep my commitment to the publisher who entrusted me with an ARC for review before The Lost Queen's release, I decided to look for independent confirmation online instead.

 The search that I conducted first led me to a site called Undiscovered Scotland which has a page that I've hyperlinked devoted to a man who lived during the same period and in the same location, but didn't use the name Lailoken which Ardrey associated with his Merlin.  Yet I also found a book by historian Tim Clarkson called Scotland's Merlin which was published a number of years after Ardrey's.  It did use the name Lailoken.  Based on a review of Scotland's Merlin which I found on History Scotland's website here, Clarkson dismisses the idea that Lailoken was a Pagan.  The review states that Lailoken's story can be found in medieval legends dealing with St. Kentigern, one of those who is credited with having been involved in the process of converting Scotland. Lailoken is portrayed as a contemporary opponent of St. Kentigern in The Lost Queen.  The Christian conversion of Scotland is known to have taken place during a period of two centuries during which Scotland was in a state of religious transition that involved a great deal of conflict.  Stories associated with St. Kentigern are likely to have been hagiographic (celebrating his saintliness).  So the perspective they convey might be very biased.  Winston Churchill said that "history is written by the victors".  I believe that this quote applies to the medieval source about Lailoken mentioned in the review of Scotland's Merlin.

The existence of Lailoken was confirmed by my research, but readers should decide for themselves whether to believe what the supporters of St. Kentigern wrote about him. Signe Pike's protagonist, who is Lailoken's twin sister Languoreth, is portrayed in the novel as defending her brother from slanders that were written about him.

Languoreth is not portrayed as a medieval feminist.  As a  woman who was a daughter of a King, she was constrained in her choices.   She married the man that her father chose instead of the man she loved.   She did this for the sake of her family.   There was a great deal of tragedy in Languoreth's life.  I felt compassion for her, and tried not to judge her.  

This novel is compared to The Mists of Avalon because it takes the perspective of a woman, and portrays the struggle between Pagans and Christians that was taking place during that period.  Since it's the first volume in a trilogy, I will be interested in seeing how Signe Pike will put her personal stamp on her version of the Arthurian legend in future books.




Monday, September 10, 2018

The Spying Moon: An RCMP Police Procedural

When publicist Wiley Saichek invited me to select a title for review from the upcoming releases of his client, Down and Out Books, I chose Spying Moon by Sandra Ruttan.  I'd never read anything by this author previously, nor had I read a police procedural dealing with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  The  only crime author that I've blogged about who writes books that take place in Canada is Ausma Zehanat Khan whose protagonists work for the Toronto Police.  (See my review of Khan's The Unquiet Dead here.  I considered it the best mystery I read in 2017.)  The RCMP is a national police force.  I knew very little about them before starting this book.  I received a free copy for review from the publisher via Wiley Saichek.


 The title is apparently derived from a legend about the North American indigenous trickster deity, Coyote, replacing the moon and spying on people.   I found a similar tale to the one mentioned in Spying Moon here.  You will need to scroll down to find the story.  It's credited as a myth of the Kalispel people  who have a reservation in the U.S. state of Washington.

Ruttan's protagonist is an RCMP constable who is female.  According to the RCMP Official Website, there were women working for them as constables as early as 1900.  Currently, one fifth of RCMP officers are women.  The central character Kendall Moreau was assigned to a town called Maple River which seems to be fictional.

Moreau's missing mother was of First Nations descent.  This is how Canada refers to its indigenous population.  Moreau was a child when her mother disappeared, and she had no other family that was known to the authorities. She was placed into foster care. This means that she knows nothing of her First Nations heritage.  In a more typical narrative centered on a character with this background, Moreau would have been studying with a medicine woman in order to get back to her roots.   This doesn't happen in Spying Moon.  Although Moreau was disappointed not to be in a position where she can work on her mother's very cold case, readers can expect her to be a professional who is focused on solving crimes.  She doesn't allow any prejudice or harassment that she encounters to stop her from doing her job.  I found her admirable.

The male partners that Moreau works with in her assignments are more ambivalent figures whose motives become  more clear over the course of the narrative.

Since Moreau is dealing with multiple investigations simultaneously, there is a large cast of  minor characters.   Sometimes Ruttan reminds us briefly of the role that they play, but not always.  There were a couple of occasions when I needed to page through my notes to refresh my memory about how these miscellaneous individuals fit into their respective cases.  This is my only criticism of Spying Moon.

I learned all sorts of interesting details about police procedures.  For example, CSI didn't just bag the contents of a victim's high school locker.  They removed the entire locker to dust for fingerprints and test for DNA.   There were also numerous plot twists and dramatic confrontations.   Ruttan is an experienced writer who knows how to build suspense.

I look forward to reading future novels about the adventures of Kendall Moreau in the RCMP.  Perhaps she may investigate cases that involve First Nations individuals or communities.  Yet she could be dealing with numerous types of ethnicities that reflect the diversity of 21st century Canadian society.  I have confidence in Moreau's ability to handle all the situations that might arise in the course of her career, and Ruttan's ability to portray them.





Saturday, September 8, 2018

Her Fear: An Amish Romantic Suspense Novel That Should Have Been Wonderful

I was a recipient of an ARC of Her Fear by Shelley Shepard Gray which I won in a Goodreads giveaway that was sent to me by the publisher, Avon Inspire.  This is #5 in the Amish of Hart County.  It should be considered Christian romantic suspense.  I have in the past read a number of Amish novels in this category, but none were in this series by Shelley Shepard Gray.

As someone who had experience with a minority culture that found modern life problematic (Orthodox Jews) , I have an interest in how the Amish are dealing with the 21st century.  Christian writers who have done their research are more likely to be authentic in portraying Amish characters than those who aren't Christians. That's why I prefer to read Amish novels by Christian authors like Shelley Shepard Gray.


 What I liked most about this book is that Gray doesn't portray the Amish as uniform in their beliefs and practices.  The Old Order Amish that I read about in novels by Beverly Lewis still exist, but there are also New Order Amish and other distinct flavors of Amish that represent a variety of approaches.  Gray has done her research.  She includes notes on a couple of different topics that are relevant to this book.  I was surprised to learn about the New Order Amish attitude toward alcohol use.

 After reading this book, I looked at a chart on Wikipedia  here about the adoption of technology in different sects of Amish and discovered that the most widely adopted technological device among all varieties of Amish is the electric washing machine.  I would speculate that the need of Amish women to do laundry for large families is what drives the Amish embrace of washing machines.  I also read the text of a radio interview on NPR's website here about Amish being selective in their adoption of technology based on whether they believe it will support or harm the Amish community. The Wikipedia chart shows that they have made a variety of such decisions depending on their particular beliefs.

I appreciated Shelley Shepard Gray's characterization in Her Fear.   The slow development of  Sadie, the female protagonist, toward independent judgement and the evolution of her attitude toward the male protagonist was very well handled.  I considered all the characters and relationships in this novel credible.  There were some very emotionally powerful moments.

I also thought that the investigation of the murders that were happening among Sadie's relatives led to surprising revelations.  So I would evaluate the suspense aspect of the novel as successful as well.

I was considering giving this book five stars on Goodreads until relatively late in my reading process when my evaluation changed.

Unfortunately, the ARC edition that I received from the publisher contained errors that went beyond ordinary typographical mistakes.   The most serious was an inconsistency in describing the relationship between Sadie's family of origin and her cousins.  Were they related to her mother or her father?  The first is more likely, but the second is possible and would alter my entire view of Sadie's father. The implications of the Kentucky cousins being the family of origin for Sadie's father involve a major shift in character dynamics.   It would make Sadie's father a more complex character with understandable motivations who becomes somewhat more sympathetic in retrospect.  In some ways, this would be an improvement in the novel, but it does seem more likely that the original idea that they are related to Sadie's mother is what the author intended.  I have no idea if this inconsistency exists in the finished book.  I did see another review from someone who received a free copy on Goodreads who complained about this error and others that were less serious.  Since it is a significant inconsistency, I can't in good conscience give this book a five star rating.

Publishers ask professional reviewers to consider only the text in finished copies even if they received an ARC.  They are expected to consult the published version before finalizing their reviews.   I feel that readers who aren't writing professional reviews shouldn't be expected to consult anything but the edition in their hands. I myself am in the category of non-professional reviewer.   I'm just a blogger, folks.   I do this in my spare time.  So I'm telling you about the copy of the book that I read, but for the sake of accuracy I'm notifying readers who are considering a purchase of this book that the version for sale may be a corrected text without the errors that I found in the ARC.

I'm really sorry that the early edition of such a good book had such a serious problem.