Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (2013)

A fast paced, quite enthralling, enjoyable historical thriller (is that even a genre?).  Employs a mixed use of narrative, with alternating first person and third person, with an epistolary narrative interspersed; although I don't think it necessarily added to the novel's impact, it was an interesting approach.  I think Holsinger definitely captures the flavor of the Middle Ages, and his use of the maudlyns (prostitutes) as characters is something unique; most of the time, novels about the middle ages are about the upper classes, royalty and knights, or about upper class "whores" like Katheryn Swynford (such as Anya Seton's famous historical novel Katherine which I've read but before I was blogging reviews). The character of Eleanor Rykener, the transgender prostitute based on an actual person, was the most intriguing, and dare I say even delightful; to have such a character in the first place, then to make them so real and likable; Eleanor isn't some throw away character or a joke; she's actually the most likable character in the whole book.  The lives of transgender folk are hard now, and I can't even imagine what it was like in 1385, but Holsinger gives us a pretty good picture.  I liked Holsginger's use of ancient language, particularly for sexual acts; that gave the book a salty authenticity as well.  My only complaint - and I hate to say it, but it's a big one - was the plot.  The thriller aspect, that whole mysterious Da Vinci Code-ishness, just isn't my personal cup of tea.  The plot was as crooked as Gropecunte Lane (probably) was.  God's bones, it went here there and everywhere, and I hated the ending (or I should say, "endings").  At some point, the book crossed into movie script-dom, and while exciting (I guess) its also sort of lame literature.  I wonder if Chaucer would approve?  

Goodreads has this listed as "John Gower #1."  So we can expect a series out of this, which doesn't surprise me in the least.  Maybe this will turn away from "thriller" into "murder mystery" which I think I personally would have enjoyed more.

I realize that my Goodreads review makes it sound like I liked this much better than I actually did.  Or maybe I really did enjoy it - and even learned something new.  So, plot aside, it wasn't THAT bad.

A Burnable Book (John Gower, #1)A Burnable Book by Bruce   Holsinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fast-paced, enjoyable historical thriller. The storyline is as crooked as Gropecunte Lane (probably was), but Holsinger's wonderful characters more than make up for a knot of a plot.  Real historical characters (King Richard II, John of Gaunt, Chaucer, the poet John Gower) are interspersed with characters from his imagination, including a group of well drawn and interesting maudlyns (prostitutes).  I think Holsinger definitely captures the flavor of the Middle Ages, and his use of the maudlyns as main characters is something unique; most of the time, novels about the Middle Ages are about the upper classes, royalty and knights, or about upper class "whores" like Katheryn Swynford (such as Anya Seton's famous historical novel Katherine which I've read and enjoyed).  Particularly intriguing is Eleanor Rykener, a transgender maudlyn, based on an actual person from the Middle Ages; transgender folk are often throw-aways or jokes, but Eleanor was refreshingly and delightfully real and heroic.  I guess this is going to be part of a series, I must say I'd read on - hopefully the plots get a bit better.


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