Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Black Death, Epic Church Building, and Killer Unicorns

So, for my history course on the Black Death, I'm reading this book and reviewing it. Small crisis surrounding this; didn't realize my critical review of it was due today in class until yesterday when I was going to work. I hadn't even started the book. I genuinely thought the book was going to be the last text read in class and the review was due sometime in November. Thankfully, my professor was very understanding and lenient, especially since this is a grad class (albeit mixed with undergrad). He's letting me turn it in Friday for a late grade. I was half expecting to be denounced as a heretic and burned at the stake for suggesting such a thing. All my professor said was "Friday?" Anyway, started the book last night when I got home, and decided I don't like. It's boring and Lame--note the capital L.

I think Hatcher is a historical snob--especially reading his preface. The book is a rather dull read and Hatcher keeps beating you over the head with the same words and themes over and over. He's trying for a blend of fiction and history and failing miserably. He doesn't seek to try to develop his characters (because oh no, that's going into the bad, evil, dirty territory of "the novel") and really doesn't allow for them to be even human. It's realistic to believe Master John (the main character and a fictional one)  was a devout priest, strictly by the rules, kind of guy. However, for him to never get irritated with his congregation--who act like a bunch of scared, dumb sheep, wailing and lamenting all the time--or think about anything other than his congregation and the plague is silly. At some point, he has to think of himself, if only in the sense of "I'm hungry and need sleep." Hatcher is trying to be too objective and so focused on historical accuracy, that he can't even create interesting dialogue. Everything sounds like something that was previously written down in a sermon or parish court or manorial court document.  There are many historical books that can read as easily as fiction or blend the lines between, for example Four Queens by Nancy Goldstone. There are other novels that are very grounded in history for example Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Really, Hatcher doesn't provide the reader with any more insight to the mind of 14th century witness to the plague than any other well written history book on the subject. He really should just have dropped the pretense of fiction altogether and written a history book. He could have left out Master John and everything would've been about the same. I could have read the parish and manorial court documents myself and gotten the same story.

Moving on to another Medieval book that is fiction but well grounded in history is Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth. It's about the building of a major Cathedral in a town called Kingsbridge and the interactions between the people involved in building it. I've been intrigued by this book for a long time, but daunted by its size. I believe it's 900 pages. The book has great renown among the mainstream readers and apparently historians too. The book was brought up in class today as an example of a novel that succeeds in keeping true to history. I've been looking for a good Medieval novel to read (as I keep reading a slew of bad ones: The Illuminator and Mistress of the Art of Death; granted I haven't finished the latter, but so far I'm unimpressed) that has a merging of romance of action with strong female characters. This just might be what I'm looking for! It has the added bonus of smut--LOLZ. Apparently, there's also an 8 hour tv series being made based on the book; here's a link to the site. It looks very impressive and grand scale! Anyone read this book and if so, impressions?

Lastly, I was in the bookstore the other day looking at the Tamora Pierce books trying to find one in a size big enough to turn into a purse. I saw this book entitled Rampant which had a woman, a sword, and unicorn on it. For a moment, I thought it was an awesome new cover Tamora Pierce's Lioness Rampant. As many of you know, Sword +  Woman + Unicorn = instant win for Lan. I was intrigued, so I read the summary on the inside of the cover. It's about KILLER UNICORNS and a girl who slays them! 

Official Summary:

Astrid Llewelyn has always scoffed ather eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend in the woods – thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to prom – Astrid learns that unicorns are real and dangerous, and she has a family legacy to uphold. Her mother packs her off to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

However, at the cloisters, all is not what is seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to – perhaps most dangerously of all – her growing attraction to a handsome art student… and a relationship that could jeopardize everything.

I grew up with image of magical, beautiful, sometimes dangerous, but never evil unicorns. I'm very much steeped in the tradition of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. I'm not gonna lie, I'm still very much a little girl at heart when it comes to unicorns. I love them and always will. However, this is a story that is supposed to, when reading, create a strong dislike if not hatred of them. I don't know how I feel about this. Confused, afraid, angry. How dare you turn unicorns from shining, beautiful, wondrous creatures to venomous, blood thirsty beasts? Though now that I think about it, that's kind of how the unicorn hunters view the unicorns in Bruce Coville's Into the Land of Unicorns series. Anyway, it's different, so maybe I'll give it a shot. Though, I'm not sure how I feel about the modern setting. This book could go terribly wrong or could be a distinct work of genius. Again, any readers with opinions to share?

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