Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Friday, December 18, 2009

A wonderfully "noirish" medieval noir

Westerson, Jeri
Serpent in the Thorns
Minotaur Books, New York, 2009
276 pp.
ISBN 978-0-312-53498-1

Jeri Westerson has done it again! When I read kVeil of Lies, I was impressed. Ms. Westerson writes very well. But some people didn't think Veil of Lies was"noirish" enough, or at least, being set in the Middle Ages, couldn't possibly be a "noir" type novel.

This, of course, is a matter of opinion. To me, "noir" can be set in any time period as long as the person has been "cast outside" in some way. The hero, Crispin Guest, certainly has, though he also most certainly has people on his side, including his (sort of) servant, a boy named Jack, and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. The only trouble is, the king isn't on his side, because Guest supposedly did a Very Bad Thing(you'll have to read the books to find out what the Very Bad Thing was; I'm not giving this away).

Unfortunately, Crispin Guest is also in a Very Bad Position, though he has friends on various sides, and needs them. And, if anything, he needs friends more than ever in Serpent in the Thorns; in this book, it at least looks like everyone is betraying him, even though he knows, or thinks he knows, who kille a French envoy(he turns out to be wrong on this, but that was due to the fact that the person who came to him in the first place. . . . well, never mind. Again, you'll just have to read the book to find out more.

Westerson does several things I wish I could do, but don't quite seem to be able to manage. First, she writes with "economy". Her novels aren't all that long, but they're very satisfying, and because she is writing a series, she can explore Crispin Guest and his times in more depth than I think a lot of "short" books do. The second thing, which I may get better at over time, she conjures up a "flavor" of fourteenth-century London in a way that is rare, even for people absolutely steeped in the history and culture of some past time.

This, I think, is truly a gift, and Ms. Westerson writes so well, it's a pleasure to read her offerings, and for this reason, I am looking forward to her next Crispin Guest novel with anticipation. She hints that it might be "a little different". I don't know. I'll just have to wait and see.

If there is any flaw in this book, I think it is a minor one -- at the beginnning, it was a little hard to get into, for some reason I can't really articulate. I have no idea why. Perhaps I just had too much on my mind at th e time. However, I got past this rather quickly, and after that, Jeri Westerson's wonderful story simply took over.

Anne G


Joansz said...

Your review makes me want to read the Crispin Guest series, thank you!

I also sometimes find it hard to get into some novels--both in the writing and reading. It's often tricky to find the right beginning for a book, which as a writer, I am sure you are aware. I rewrote the start for my current novel six or seven times before I was satisfied that I began it in the right place. Still, some readers have thought that the start was slow.

I think the perception of a slow start may be a combination of what each reader is expecting based on the book's genre, blurbs, and reviews, and the need for the author to set the stage properly so the reader isn't permanently at sea.

I have found that some of my most satisfying reads overall have been with those novels that had slow starts for me, such as The Time Traveler's Wife and The Secret Life of Bees.

Anne Gilbert said...

One novel, which is sitting on the shelf waiting for me to finish my medieval opus, has openings which I've changed several times, and plan to change again, because I've dreamed up something which I think will work better. The opening page of the first book of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece, more or less remains unchanged, though the first book was drastically rewritten to make it conform better to the known history(so far as it is known.
Anne G