Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Spies and Sneakery in Mediaeval Wales - Charley R Reviews "The Good Knight", by Sarah Woodbury

Woohoo! My first guest post invitation! Lights! Camera! Actually...  - my views on how adaptations of our favourite books need not always be on the silver screen. Thanks to the awesome Liam for allowing me to invade his lovely corner of the blogosphere.

In the meantime ... it's time for Charley's first book review!

"The Good Knight", by Sarah Woodbury.


Intrigue, suspicion, and rivalry among the royal princes casts a shadow on the court of Owain, king of north Wales…
The year is 1143 and King Owain seeks to unite his daughter in marriage with an allied king.  But when the groom is murdered on the way to his wedding, the bride’s brother tasks his two best detectives—Gareth, a knight, and Gwen, the daughter of the court bard—with bringing the killer to justice.
And once blame for the murder falls on Gareth himself, Gwen must continue her search for the truth alone, finding unlikely allies in foreign lands, and ultimately uncovering a conspiracy that will shake the political foundations of Wales.
I was gifted a selection of Sarah Woodbury's books by the lovely Mark Williams to tide me over during the trials of my Lower Sixth year. However, I only got to reading them two weeks ago during a long stretch of study leave between my penultimate and last exam. Four days is a long time to spend loitering, and where better to disappear into than Mediaeval Wales, on the trail of a murderous mystery!

The story kicks off in media res, and we are given quick, easy introductions to most of our main characters right from the off - even if we don't see them at the scene of the events directly. Though I'm not normally a fan of abrupt starts, I enjoyed this, as the characters were clear-cut and easy to recognise, and the mystery was quickly introduced without the need for an over-long buildup.  Our two narrators take the story from there, with each character narrating a chapter one after the other, keeping the pace just as quick and clean as it started. The ancient setting is described in a smiliar fashion; brief, with little elaborative or descriptive language, but with enough detail to give us the right sense, and allowing our imagination to fill in the rest.

The characters themselves are well-crafted and engaging right from the off. Gwen, our heroine, manages to be competent and likeable without falling prey to Rebellious Princess Syndrome, while her male counterpart Gareth keeps a distinctly different, but no less interesting, narrative tone. The elements of the mystery are brought together relatively quickly, but rather than abandoning the characters' own stories for the sake of a purely plot-driven construction, the author has made excellent use of the third person narrative style to meld the characters' intrepid sleuthing with their own thoughts. My brain cells positively purred at the ease with which the old relationship between Gareth and Gwen was brought to light piece by piece, with no brain-battering info-dump, remaining relevant to their actions in the story, rather than being a hastily shoehorned attempt at attaining sympathy.

The secondary characters, too, are lovely. From the whining, sneaking Cadwaladr (about whom I entertain pitchfork-and-entrail-related daydreams); snarky, dangerous Cadfael; Owain's adorably labrador-like heir Rhun and - my personal favourite - his cunning, understated brother, Hywel. The inter-familial links, and everyone's somewhat confounding names, take a bit of time to wrap your head around, but once one gets the hang of it there is a fantastic sense of political inter-relationship. Even Gwen's role as Hywel's spy - something which I, admittedly, found out of place for the period - becomes more clear as we learn about the motives and personalities of each of our key players. 

On the other hand, I did find one small component of the narrative to be slightly off. After an interesting start, and the amalgamation of the evidence regarding the painful end of the murder victim Anarawd, the lead suspect seems to catch on a little too quickly to Gwen and Gareth's snooping. The story shifts rather abruptly from a covert mystery into a more thriller-esque style of story involving sea-crossing, kidnapping, sieges and Vikings (not quite in that order). Thought the narrative remains taut and interesting, I found the jump a little hard to get round at first, and felt that our supposedly dastardly suspect could have taken a little more care.

However, the novel ends on a magnificent high - a plot twist that made me wriggle with glee. We know from the story that our narrators are far from thick, but when, at the end, a seemingly inconsequential item leads to quite the eye-opener, and I at least was left snorting with glee at the thought of how little of the political backstabbery and sneaking we had really seen - even though there is plenty of exciting double-dealing and tongue-twisting to keep us on our toes. 

Although I found some of the motive-related revelations to be a little tenuous - especially those regarding the murder with which the story begins, with regard to the personality of the revealed killer - I liked the twist itself as a game changer. Rather than simply letting the story crawl into the expected box for catalouging, it turns around and makes a vicious attack on our toes before sprinting into another box, on its own terms.

You can find links to "The Good Knight" in all its available formats on Sarah Woodbury's website, as well as a link to its sequel, "The Uninvited Guest".

All in all, a fast-paced entertaining read, especially for afficionados of plot twists, murky politics and mediaeval settings.

47 comments:

  1. Sounds quite intriguing! :} I might have to pick some of them up, if only just to see how a dual male / female narative is done.

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    1. It's an interesting read, I'll give it that. You might enjoy it :)

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  2. Ah, I was gifted this by Mark too, but haven't got around to it yet. As you seem to like it, I may have to :) (Though I don't quite trust your judgement any more!)

    Perhaps a post on Rebellious Princess Syndrome would be interesting, as one of your writerly guides. It sounds like something Aifa may have although, to be honest, she's fun how she is and I'm not changing her ;)

    Also, not your first guest post ... you guested on my blog in January, remember? I can't remember what you talked about, but you did. Honest. I'm not going crazy. Am I? *hunts for post*
    No - no - I'm not! Here it is! http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/guest-post-charleys-hidden-words/ TA DA.

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    1. Hehe, never trust my judgement. What can I say, I can turn a blind eye to creepy things. But don't worry - there be no creepy stuff in that one. It's definitely PG 13 xD

      Rebellious Princess Syndrome is one of the key features often exhibited in Mediaeval Mary Sues - the typical "i don't wanna be a royal, 'cause I'm tough and awesome and ridiculoudly over-important and the audience will love me for it!" Okay, not always, but it often goes that way. Watch out for other Suey traits. They sneak in easily.

      Oh yeah, that! Sorry - the first guest post I've done in a long long time. YOU KNOW MY MEMORY SUCKS! xD

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    2. Indeed your memory sucks. You made me think I was going crazy there!

      Ha ha, yeah, sounds a bit like Aifa. Only she's more like, "I don't wanna be a royal because my dad is evil and keeps trying to kill my best friend so I'm gonna get a sword and go fight him with it yeah!"

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    3. Okay, she has a right to her Rebel Syndrome. She's just not doing it out of a distaste for an arranged marriage or dresses. She's alright :)

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  3. Oh, isn't medieval fiction a delight? Some teenage girls are like "ew, no, it's too close to HISTORY, let's get out our sex novels instead!" but I am somewhat in love. Have you read the Icemark series by Stuart Hill? It is pretty magnificent (:

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    1. Yes, a long time ago. I really enjoyed them at the time - Thirrin kicked ass without being annoying! And I adored the snow leopards. I want one of those! xD

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  4. Sorry-- didn't read much more than the first paragraph. I'll do that later when I have more time.
    You're welcome for the guest post. It was my pleasure. Also, I've just nominated you for a couple of awards:
    http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/severe-trauma-oodles-of-awards/
    Your awesomeness just demands all this.

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    1. Aww, thank you! I feel loved and valued *hugs you*

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    2. *stands there stiffly* I heard this was one of the newer endurance tests on Survivor. I shan't give in!

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    3. You will - *cackles* - you will...

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    4. No! No! *breathing hard* I refuse! No!

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    5. *cuddles harder* KNEEL, PUNY MORTAL!

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    6. Because you do what you want! ;)

      Every time. Every - single - time.

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    7. *in third person* But the Head Phil stood, fists clenched, teeth gritted against the onslaught. He would not submit, he told himself over and over again. He threw back his head and laughed at the starry sky, defying those who had sent this thing to torture him. Bracing himself against the rock under his feet, he stood firm against those who tried to hug him. He laughed again, a terrible sound echoing through the night.

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    8. @Miriam - Loki quotes. For the win. Forever.

      @Liam - *third person mode activated* The little ball of evil clung tighter, and wrapped her legs around the Phil's torso, squeezing with all the might she had. The laughter spurred her on in her mission, sending bolts of fury through her mind. Who was this puny, insignificant creature to defy her? She would not be defied! She was Charley of Nowhere In Particular, and she was burdened with a glorious purpose ... to hug and subjugate all who stood in her path. And she would. Not. Fail.

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    9. Cursing the villain colorfully for her lack of grammar, the Head Phil remembers that he forbade cursing from the Phils' ranks and curses again because of it. Breathing hard, he pushes at the evil monster, but was unable to break the deadly embrace. He tried to bite her, kick her, punch her in her little evil face, but nothing worked. Gasping for breath, he said, "I won't give in to you, evil one! I'd rather die!" So saying, the Head Phil, in a moment of stupidity not to be imagined by anyone sane, runs and throws himself from the precipice.

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    10. *third person mode ON*
      Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the Head Phil had not looked before throwing himself from said precipice, and so found himself a moment later almost entirely submerged in the swimming pool of the TARDIS, parked there by Miriam, who is not-so-secretly also the Doctor. And Sherlock.

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    11. The villain is now very confused, and very wet. She just hangs on, holding her breath. Grammar has been tossed all asunder as she fights to complete her mission!

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    12. The Head Phil shakes himself, one last effort to dislodge the evil mimicker of cling-wrap before he must swim to the water's surface for breath.

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    13. The cling-wrap-imitating villain laughs hysterically and hugs tighter. She has an incredible lung capacity for her size. She can hang on. But whether her victim can is another matter...

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    14. Struggling for the surface but pulled under again by the sodden mass that embodies evil, the Head Phil mentally does some logical calculations. If this is evil, what is holding him here, it is also wet and disgusting. Therefore, evil is disgusting. He already knew that. Also, it has been scientifically proven that hugging is disgusting. A=B, B=C, A=C; hugging is evil. Logically triumphing over his doubts (though not quite so much over his breathlessness), the Head Phil pushes at the evil mass once more, sliding it down to his legs and kicking it against the pool floor.

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    15. The evil did not take to being slid, and swiftly tangled herself in his legs as hard as she could, thinking heavy thoughts and plotting evil designs on the midriff when she could get back up there. A small green spork slid out of her sleeve, and she smirked - though the evilness of the effect was somewhat ruined by the bubbles that erupted from between her teeth. Time for the Subjugation Spork to do its worst.

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    16. The Head Phil saw the spork and made a muffled grunt, bubbles escaping his lips as he did so. As the evil's bubble encountered his nose, he smelled the distinctive scent of badly-cooked lamb with a quite revolting sauce. Resisting the urge to hurl, he remembered that it probably would help him in his battle. He emptied his guts over the head of the evil mass.

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    17. The evil mass exploded into a writhing ball of angry. She didn't like the smell of lamb. She didn't eat any lamb. She didn't even like lamb! And yet this mere mortal, this puny, insignificant creature which had dared defy her, had now taken it upon itself to empty this foul substance upon her? It was more than she would stand for.

      With a roar, she catapulted out of the water and hovered, daemonically, over the spot where the Head Phil was about to surface, waiting with a vicious grin to dive upon his head and subjugate him ... or end his miserable existence once and for all.

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    18. Miriam rotates the TARDIS so that gravity is going in a normal direction and walks into the swimming pool room. On spying the confrontation taking place, she walks immediately out again, closes the door, and puts on her helmet. (Because she is helmet backup.) Then, with a slight smirk, she walks over to the console and begins pressing buttons at random.

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    19. The Head Phil gasped air as the pool suddenly emptied through a drain in the floor. Someone very bored had obviously been pressing buttons. The Head Phil didn't blame them, especially as he saw the evil mass hovering over him. He ran for the pool wall, jumping and clambering over the edge.

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    20. The Spork of Subjugation flew from the evil monstrosity's hand and embedded itself in the Head Phil's elbow. The evil being raised her head to laugh, but a sudden lurch from the TARDIS sent her flying into the wall so hard she left a spreadeagled dent around her. With a hiss, she removed herself and made to dive upon her prey's head.

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    21. Writhing in agony from the spork's attack, the Head Phil lost his grip and fell back into the empty pool. He yanked the spork from his elbow and flung it in no particular direction. The spork had wanted to be a boomerang when it grew up, so it flew down toward him again. He rolled away just in time, grabbed it, and sent it spinning toward its previous owner, spearing it in the midriff as it tried to fall on the Head Phil.

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    22. With a screech that probably would have broken any non-TARDIS-like structure, the evil thing fell face-first into the floor, leaving another highly amusingly shaped dent in the floor. She whimpered and decided to stay there until she could unbork herself and play out the doom thoughts in her head against the Head Phil.

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    23. The Head Phil used the evil as a sort of springboard to clamber out of the pool at last. He walked to the closed door, limping for special effect, but the door was locked. He tugged on it in vain.

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    24. The evil began to snarl and rise out of the floor like a malevolent ghost. Slowly, inexorably, she began slithering across the floor towards him, growing larger, angrier, and a less flattering shade of green with every snarl...

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    25. The Head Phil heard a curious kind of hacking from behind him and turned to see the evil rearing its by now quite ugly head. Before he could decide whether the evil was trying to cough up a hairball or was just speaking Polish, it struck. The Head Phil bonked it on the head with a conveniently placed pool chair.

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    26. The evil finally gave up. Two holes in the wall, a soaking, and now a vicious bonking with a piece of beach furniture that she hated above almost all others. It was too much for her to take. With a noise somewhere between a howl and a wail, she dived back into the empty pool and curled up at the bottom, stewing in evil, anger, thwarted-ness, a pinch of sadness ... and a good deal of dried chlorine.

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    27. The Head Phil laughed in triumph. He had succeeded in complimenting Charley and resisting her evil hug.

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    28. The evil Charley let out a snarl and vanished in a puff of faintly gym-sock-scented smoke. The Phil had won this battle ... but her war had only just begun.

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    29. The Head Phil smiled at the place the evil had been, and began looking for another place to compliment it.

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  5. Awesome review, Charley! It was very well-written and thought out, and The Good Knight sounds like a really interesting book. I've added it to my Goodreads to-read list, thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. I enjoyed it - I hope you'll like it too :)

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  6. Like Liam, I've nominated you as well for the awards. I hope this doesn't mean you have to do double of the requirements!
    ~Seana

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    1. Aww, thank you very much! Don't worry - I'll mention you both and say how lovely you are, no fear ;)

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    2. Well, you indeed deserved the award! Your blog always makes me laugh. Really, really hard. =^o^=

      And your review sounds very interesting. I'll be sure to scour the ends of the earth (well, my library actually) and poke around for this book. Good timing with this book review as well (gotta give credit where credit's due) since my "Read this book NOW" list has been dangerously low. *writes The Good Knight on list* And now my list is happily one book longer. Yay. =^o^=

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    3. Thank you! I've just filled them all in in a manner I hope is most amusing, heehee! You'll see it on Thursday, if you'd care to stick around ;(

      I'm not sure if it's out in print - I got it in ebook form. Still, I may be wrong, and I hope you find and enjoy it! :)

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    4. ebook, eh? Well if I can't find it out in print, I can always wait. I'm good at waiting. (Note my use of sarcasm.) And yes, I do suppose I can make time to check back here on Thursday. (:

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    5. I suspectificate you can get it as a PDF download for a computer in some format or another, depending where you buy from - not Amazon, perhaps, but one of the other providers. Best of luck finding it!

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    6. You can get a Kindle version that you can read on Kindle for PC (which is a free application). Or as Charley says there are probably other formats. Or if you have a smartphone, you can get a Kindle app and buy it for that :D SO MANY OPTIONS.

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