Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles)

Folville’s Law (The John Swale Chronicles)
By: David Pilling
(http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/)
Musa Publishing 2011
an historical fiction review

Queen Isabella of England prepares to attack her husband Edward II with the aid of her lover, Mortimer.  England’s lords and law keepers scramble to make the most of the weak king’s corrupt reign.  Hugh Despenser the Younger, the king’s favorite, feels his world threatening to crumble.  Hugh’s one loyal night, Sir John Swale, sets out on a simple mission and finds himself caught amidst outlaws, family feuds, and increasingly lethal encounters.  It’s the year 1326 and the law of the land is simple: there is no law, only different masters.

            Folville’s Law takes readers through many different perspectives.  Everyone’s world is narrow, full of their own ambitions and motivations.  David Pilling does an excellent job at keeping his audience abreast of circumstances from the individual to the international while juggling storylines and his characters’ perceptions.  All of the voices Pilling uses to tell his tale are strong, consistent, and eminently human.  No one is concerned with an overarching history more than their own welfare; no one is outside their immediate surroundings and limited knowledge.  Royals, bandits, and widows all show glimpses into different lifestyles, giving Pilling’s book a more up-front and direct feeling of authenticity than many.

          Folville’s Law fights and schemes through its pages, maintaining a quick and exciting reading pace.  The ensemble cast and swiftly switching perspectives draw readers into the history and action of the plot, but also make it difficult to connect to any of the characters.  The many actors and subplots make Pilling’s debut novel engaging, an excellent lead work for a series (now in its seventh book).  Throughout, Pilling wields a distinctive tone, a knack for explaining complications with flair, and a strategically balanced sense of pacing.

In a nutshell, Folville’s Law is a gritty, well-researched adventure without a hero, just an array of humans.  If you’re looking for romance, this is not the book for you.  For historical interest, action, and intrigue, I recommend this work.  It’s always good when I’m left still wanting to know what happens next.

The Master of Verona

David Blixt,
The Master of Verona
(St. Martin’s Press, 2007)

 

Finally, five years later, the two sequels to this book have been released!  It’s been so long they came out at the same time, together with the republishing of The Master of Verona as an ebook.  All are available and I cannot wait to dive, FINALLY, into the new material!  However, it has been five years, so first I reread this one.  I can not tell you that even knowing the ending and answers to the mystery, this book loses none of its power.  Best of all, now I can go straight on to Voice of the Falconer without waiting.  Hurrah!


The ambitions and fears of the Italian city-states of the 1300s have become so fierce and entangled that people look toward the stars and prophecies to find the man who can save Italy. Pietro Alighieri knows his father, Dante, believes that man to be Cangrande della Scala, the “Great Hound” who is The Master of Verona; and Pietro is about to meet him.

A wanderer with his exiled father, Pietro never felt the rigors of battle, or realized how far loyalty could push him. Yet, within days of his arrival in Verona he finds himself following others into war and making decisions that will keep him in the thick of it. Unbeknownst to Pietro, other choices will also place him in the midst of one of the most famous conflicts of all time: the feud behind the story of Romeo & Juliet.

Like Shakespeare, Blixt doesn’t just lay down his scenes, he masters them. The pacing is practically flawless, an amazing feat for a debut novel, but perhaps to be expected of a Shakespearian actor and director. Blixt offers each character a moment for sympathy, to be understood, but allows no one’s passion to overpower the momentum of his book. What readers need to know they find out with no confusion or overlong expositions, in defiance of the complicated details of the plot. Blixt also provides a level of intricacy in his combat scenes that gives them an intensity, a vibrancy that’s both rare and spectacular.

From envisioning his historical characters brilliantly and imbuing them with so much strength that readers can feel their presence even after the final page, to refashioning Shakespeare’s famed entities so cleverly that the details seem truly their own, Blixt’s cast demands both attention and emotion. It is not difficult to remember individual personalities in spite of the large number of characters and the varying titles accorded some of them. What is difficult is having to wait for the sequel, The Voice of the Falconer to arrive this fall.

Be wary of thinking a knowledge of Shakespeare will prepare you for all of the twists in store, as this story turns around mystery as well as fate. Moreover, the bard shares the page with Dante’s Inferno and its effects, which inevitably leads to literary analysis. Peppered with literary references, the historical stage of Verona’s golden age remains the prominent theme.  Here politics claim precedence even over love, where Blixt’s book treads rather lightly for a novel inspired by Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy. A genuine pleasure to read, The Master of Verona takes a city at the height of its power and breathes life through it from Hell to the stars.

The Borgia Bulletin (Truth and Spoilers)

Ah, my Borgias!  I missed it sorely this last week!

 

On Juan: Goddammit, Juan!  You’re making it so that killing you would be a mercy, and I want it to be shocking and dramatic, even tragic.  *le sigh*  Oh, well.  I suppose you’ve got opium for your problems.

 

On Lucrezia: Man, this show has so many useful lessons with dessert!  Next time I’m in need of a little prodding or learning, somebody bring me delicious sweets to prove the point, please!  Also, I am very pleased that her skills in subtlety have improved since Paolo.  Look at her, all grown up and getting lectures about having “room for two” in her lusts/loves.  Truth be told, it is much more in accord with traditional chivalry that marriage be confined outside marriage, so.  Chivalry thrives, encouraged by the Borgias!

 

On Savonarola: I am highly amused by the Pope’s possession of a “holy” curse to send someone to hell.  I still say threatening to place all Florence under excommunication would be more effective, but damned if that isn’t fun, too.

 

On the Pope: Oh, Roderigo, I felt for you this week.  Surrounded by people who miss the point.  Sons who just bicker and miss reaching their established goals, cardinals who miss the respect due the French king, a daughter who keeps missing the necessity of having to remarry…his cup runneth over with irritations.  At least he has cigarillos, now.  The scene where he visits the fallen chapel to ponder and receives Benito’s story so tenderly places him in the position of being the most morally righteous person in this whole episode.  On odd position for him, but he makes it work.

 

On Michiletto: Is he attracted to Benito, do we think?  Or is he just going slowly over the edge, what with spending so much time in anti-sodomite Florence?  Or is he really just speaking sense about the boy needing killing and since he’s Michiletto it comes out like this?  In any case, the poor man needs some rest.

 

On the Spanish captain: Good man!  “I wish to leave now, before you find my body floating in the Tiber.”  Hurrah for sensible decisions.

 

On the betrothed: Who gives their prospective bride a model of a boat?  I see the significance for proving to the assembly that his house has power and wealth enough to marry with the Pope’s family, but shouldn’t it have been filled with something more for Lucrezia to enjoy?  On the other hand, you personally take care of the panther.  The panther seemed quiet and content with you.  If you have the approval of PANTHER than I salute you, sir, and hope to see you leave Rome with your skin intact when this betrothal gets shot to hell as history dictates it must.

 

On Della Rovere: Well, if that isn’t a case of secretly trying to get someone killed off while convincing yourself that you’re not doing it, than Daedalus’ nephew lived.  Sneaky bastard, you!  No wonder you sit there poisoning the boy over and over if you want him to do ALL your dirty work for you.  The fact that the kid succeeded does give the edge back to your plan, though.  Plus, the fact that this has been your plan for weeks, if not months, and you just now started speaking about the problem of the Pope already having a taster makes me sure that your plan was to get the boy to kill him the whole time.  If you keep up this influence of leading kid with Luke Skywalker hair along to the dark side before sending him off to die, then at least I’ll be able to respect your manipulation.  If you back off now you’re all dead to me.  That’s the deal.  Also, I am not pleased that it was your scene that got to end this episode.  I would’ve preferred something we hadn’t seen coming the whole time.  Perhaps the return of Benito, since it was a real possibility that he wind up dead.

 

On Cesare: Wow, did you get diplomatic.  Played Benito just right, careful modulation to both Juan and Roderigo…I guess all you really need in order to maintain your composure is to stab the hell out of the man who hurt your sister.  Right, then.  Carry on.