A few weeks ago I won a book from Deborah, and when it came in the mail I read it. Now some books are so bad you never talk about them, and some are so good that once you start talking about them you never stop, and some you should talk about to explain what was good and what wasn’t and why. And as this book was a gift, perhaps I owe some people — the authour at least — my thoughts, since nobody got any monetary gain from me getting the book.
It turned out more romantic than I’d first thought (there wasn’t even a knight anywhere on the cover, and though you can’t judge a book by its cover, the cover usually provides some hint about what’s inside), which I wasn’t prepared for, so that threw my expectations a little off. But that’s partly my own fault for not reading about the book first. As far as the romance went, it wasn’t too bad. I am awfully snarky about romances even in real life (at least one person has called me, and I quote, “a salty old maid,” even though I’m too young for the old maid part to be proven), so for me to give a romance my full approval is very rare. I didn’t this one. Partly that was because I have a quarrel with people falling in love because of looks, and being all about kissing each other (though the part where Colin lost his memory and remembered kissing her when he hadn’t was funny). But I did like that most of it, on Colin’s side, was because she was surprisingly capable and brave. And I liked on Margaretha’s side that though she was protecting him originally, he was able to pay that debt by the end. Otherwise it seemed a bit shallow. Or maybe being raised on the really great romances has ruined me for ordinary things.
I didn’t like the villain one bit, by which I mean he wasn’t well done. Villains are (usually) just as human as the protagonists are, and setting them up like a shop-sign that says “I am Evil! Ahahahaha!” is no way to provide the kind of opposition to the good folks’ goals that a reader can take seriously. I knew who the villain was as soon as the authour started describing his chaperone (a kind of hat in this case), and he never developed beyond that. I’m almost as picky about antagonists as I am about romance, and I like them to have a little depth, a good reason for being evil, or at least a decent explanation as to how they got that way.
On the historical side of things, well, I do sometimes go a bit crazy with detail. It helps that one of my best friends in the SCA, her persona is in that very century, so I know a thing or two about it that casual research won’t discover. For the most part, the authour had done a good deal of research. (And being the dabbler in dyes that I am, I could tell you what combinations of plants and conditions in the pot would result in that spotty green and yellow that poor Colin had to wear. Only I don’t know why she didn’t overdye it with something else, as that usually helps.) I only noticed two big things, besides the girl’s dress on the cover, which is not historically accurate for any period I know of, but you can not judge a book by its cover, so that doesn’t count. One was that “humour” in that period meant one of the four elements said to control the human body, being phlegm (so hard to spell), blood, black bile, and yellow bile. Someone with too much of one of these was said to be humourous. But Margaretha calls Colin humourous and means that he’s being funny. The other was that, though the authour knows the difference between a cotehardie, a kirtle, and a sideless gown, she mentioned in the same chapter in which she displayed this knowledge that the middle and lower-class folk all wore drab-coloured clothing. That is one of the most common myths about the Middle Ages, and one very easily refuted. Given the depth of her knowledge in so many other areas, I was a bit surprised that she missed two such obvious anachronisms. But then I’m probably the pickiest audience she gets in that area, so. . . take that for what it’s worth.