Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Daughter of Camelot by Glynis Cooney

Title: Daughter of Camelot
Author: Glynis Cooney
Publisher: Mabon Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is less detailed so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more in-depth than you'll typically find elsewhere!

Errata in galley ebook:
p92 "There was a distant clash of a symbol..." should be "There was a distant clash of a cymbal..."
p97 "...reflecting he thick gold..." - "...reflecting the thick gold…"
p104 "…stone alter…" should be "…stone altar…"
p108 "…the horrors of loosing those I loved most." should be "…the horrors of losing those I loved most."
P110 "…as if seeking out it's own…" should be "…as if seeking out its own…"
p135 "I never knew a feeing..." should be "I never knew a feeling..."
p193 "Shall I swear and oath?" should be "Shall I swear an oath?"
P362 "My tongue felt think in my mouth…" should be "My tongue felt thick in my mouth…"

I have to remark that I found it a curious coincidence that I was reading two books about twins simultaneously (Erasing Time was the other one). This one is the "Empire of Shadows" series, book one, and I recommend it! You can download the first three chapters for free. I was unable to find this book on either Barnes & Noble or on Amazon so I have no idea how you'd actually go about buying it. I honestly think that Cooney made a mistake with the title of the novel, since there are several others already hogging that title. Another writing issue! When is it wise to change your title as opposed to determinedly going ahead with the one you set your heart on?! I'm facing this very challenge with a novel I'm trying to finish (and have been trying so to do for some time!).

But back to the twins! I felt when I started this novel that if Cooney knows her craft, it cannot be that there's no reason for twins to be featured in this novel. I had the feeling that Deidre was going to replace Rhys either because he dies or because he is captured or incapacitated, and Deidre takes up the sword without anyone knowing she's not Rhys, but I read the entire thing and nothing like that happened, so I was left wondering: why twins? The other side of that coin is of course, that it's nice to have a novel which features twins but made no big deal out of it. Perhaps real life twins would appreciate that.

Anyway, Deirdre is the daughter of a chieftain and she's a tomboy. Why did I use that term? What does it even mean? Is there such a thing as a tomgirl? A queengirl? A hengirl? A henboy? I suspect not! But we meet Deirdre sword-fighting with her brother (using safe swords, but going at it). It's their birthday shortly, and Deidre is granted a new horse as a present. This struck me as bizarre; did people really celebrate birthdays back in sixth century Britain? I somehow doubt it, but that's just my feeling. So herein lies the writing issue of the day: just how historical do you make your fiction?!

Deidre receives bad news, however. She's fourteen now and it's long past time for her to be presented at court where she fears she will die of boredom sitting in sewing circles and listening to gossip. She demands adventure, but she ain't gonna git it. Or is she?

I don’t know if Cooney did this knowingly, or if it was purely accidental, but on p79, there's a choice paragraph right at the top of the page where she writes, "…lambskin satchel…looked at me sheepishly…". I couldn't help but smile at that. If Cooney did it on purpose, then I love her dearly because it’s so sneaky. If she didn’t, then I can only reiterate that writers need to be aware not only of what they write, but also of how it will be read! (And especially how it will be read by people with minds that are as warped as mine is!)

Cooney seems to take a lot of liberties with the era in which this novel is set. I don’t know if this was deliberate or if there is some confusion about what fitted where (or if I'm just ignorant of the era!). For example, she talks about armor as though the knights of King Arthur's time were just like in the fairy tales: clad with shining silver armor, awash with gallantry and chivalry, but "King Arthur" (or whoever it was who gave rise to his legend) was little more than a warlord or a chieftain. There may have been chain-mail available in Wales at that time, but there was nothing like we saw, for example, in the TV series Merlin.

Religion, too, in that era, was a melting pot of paganism and Christianity. The latter had barely begun to creep in via the Roman occupation, which ended before the Arthurian era, and which wasn't well represented in Wales, so it was hardly likely that King Maelgwyn would have been off at a monastic retreat at that period in history. Again, that's just my PoV and I could well be wrong. One final whine: I find it odd that they have to go to the village fair to buy horses! Surely a chieftain would have his own breeding herd? He wouldn't want to be dependent upon strangers. However, you have to let these peeves go if you want to enjoy the novel, and so that's what I did!

Back to the tale, which I have to say became more and more intriguing and entertaining as I progressed. Talk of war fills the air (Sir Lancelot, among others, is fomenting against King Arthur, evidently) and Deidre discovers to her horror that she and Rhys will be separated. Rhys must travel to Camelot, whereas Deidre must accompany her sister Nia to the castle at Degannwy. Deidre is immensely resentful at this, but she's forced to adjust her attitude rather quickly. On the first night of the two-day journey they're attacked by thieves! The younger of the two knights who are supposed to be protecting them (and hardly more than a child himself) dies from his wounds. The older knight, Ioseff, who Deidre had maladroitly dissed earlier, proves himself to be a formidable opponent and the thieves are repelled, losing three of their number.

Deidre's friend Ronan shows up. He was tasked by Rhys to follow Deidre. They will be separated at the castle and he will have to reside with servants, but he doesn’t mind and Deidre is glad to have him close by. Nia gives her a gorgeous green dress which she has made for Deidre's birthday, which happens to be the very day they arrive at the castle. Deidre is shamed and embarrassed by her behavior towards Ioseff, towards her sister, and her scared behavior during the attack by the thieves. She apologizes to Nia and to Ioseff.

At the castle she realizes just how little she really knows about court life and conduct and the wider world outside of her relatively sheltered existence. And I have to interject here that "long horsy [sic] face" (or variations thereon) is a cliché that needs to die from being kicked to death by mules! On another non-sequitur, I have to remark how odd it is (not to be confused with 'oddities'!) to be reading about activities in the castle at Degannwy when I'm also listening to Kushiel's Dart on audio book, which has reached the activities in the Skaldi great hall during the "all-thing"! (Note that Kushiel's Dart is not a YA novel!

In case you're wondering, the Latin on p96 de profundis clamavi ad te domine domine exaudi vocem meam is nothing more than Psalms 130 verses 1 & 2. Note that there are no accents in Latin, so why Cooney uses them here is a mystery. It seems she wants to help with pronunciation, but if helpful is what you want to be, then why not have Deidre give the Psalm as well? You may recall if you follow this blog that I rail against slipping foreign phrases pretentiously into the text. They're useful if there is good reason, but as I said, I doubt that Catholicism would have entrenched itself so deeply into Wales in such a short time. But with regard to writing, here is a really good case where it could have worked quite well. By using the Latin and then having the character recall (or fail to recall) that it’s a psalm, it both provides a means of translation of the language, and it tells us something about the character. Note that I studied only two years of Latin, so I'm as far as from expert as you can get! Again this is all just my personal opinion!

I became somewhat disappointed in Gwen at the castle. I know she's only fourteen and a bit of a tear-a-way, but you would think she had a little more wisdom about her, being the daughter of a chieftain. At court, she is extremely foolish. She does not listen to advice and warnings, and against her older sister's stern advice, she starts flirting with one of the less reputable knights named Einion. This brings her into conflict with one of the other ladies at court - an outright bitch who evidently has the queen's ear.

On the other side of the coin, she is befriended by a woman named Sioned who recognizes a medallion Deidre wears - something which was given to her by an old crone during the visit to the village to buy her new horse. The medallion, we learn, is a talisman of a Welsh goddess called Rhiannon who is associated with a horse goddess called Epona. Sioned warns her, just as Nia did, to keep the talisman hidden at court because the King is highly Christian and she would be resented were she thought to be a worshiper of a pagan goddess.

Deidre runs afoul of one of the knights who isn't at all knightly, and consequently, she's very effectively kicked out of the castle. Sir Einion, who I detest, invites her to visit his own domain, Din Arth, since he's leaving, too. Deidre decides, based on something she overheard the night that Sir Tomas almost raped her, that her destiny is to follow Einion to Din Arth, to learn all she can about who is plotting against King Arthur and report back to her father. She sends Ronan off to relay her plans to her dad, and travels with Sioned to Einion's home, with great trepidation - and so she should considering that she addresses Queen Awel with: "Of course, Your Grace."! Nope. That form of address is reserved for the clergy. There was a time when Scots monarchs were addressed that way, but I'm not aware of any usage of that in Wales for the monarchy. Again I may be wrong; I'm hardly an expert on the Dark Ages in Britain!

On page 292, Cooney reveals herself to be yet another one among several writers I've read lately who doesn’t know that there's a difference between stanched and staunched! As frequently as I've seen that lately, it has become painfully apparent that the English language is changing under my very nose, but I refuse to use staunch in place of stanch! I will be a staunch opponent and I will stanch the bleeding of our English tongue!

The ending of Daughter of Camelot felt a bit weird for me, but it was a decently good one, as was the novel overall, despite my gripes above. (On that score, don't forget that this is a reading and writing blog so I would be doing readers a disservice if I avoided addressing topics that others might find digressive or even obsessive! As for rating this novel, I don’t do stars. A novel to me is either worth reading or it’s not (it's worthy or it's warty!). I don’t see how you can rate something, say, three-fifths worth reading! Nor do I see how someone can write a review that completely tears a novel apart (reviewing only a relatively unimportant two percent of it in the process!), but then still rates it two stars! That's just bizarre. I've read a review exactly like that on Goodreads of late (not about his novel)! But in summation, Hail And Well Met! I really enjoyed this novel and consider it a worthy read.