Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: No Dark Place, by Joan Wolf

It’s 1138, and at the Battle of the Standard during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, Hugh Corbaille’s foster father, Ralf, has died. A knight in passing notices Hugh’s striking resemblance to a feudal overlord who was murdered fourteen years earlier, his son mysterious kidnapped. Hugh soon realizes that the Earl of Wiltshire was his father—and that he is the heir to one of the more strategic holdings in the war between Stephen and Matilda. Hugh soon finds himself embroiled in an investigation of the murder, although he has no recollection of his past.

The story seemed very promising. But there were a lot of things that were wrong with this book. I have mixed feelings about the loss and regaining of Hugh’s memory. On one hand, I liked the theme; but on the other hand, I felt it was a bit too modern for the 12th century. The characters don’t have much depth, and it’s hard to feel much sympathy for our hero, who never seems to show much emotion (except when it comes to Cristen). Even in his relationship with Cristen, there’s very little passion; one minute, they’re indifferent friends; the next, they’re pledging undying love for each other. It just didn’t seem consistent to me.

The story, however, is somewhat enjoyable, although Hugh wasn’t a very good detective—or the villains very bad, if Hugh could tell just from facial expressions who was good and who was bad! And I noticed that the author kept using the same imagery over and over again—to describe a frown, a person is described as having “a line like a sword” between his eyebrows. The writing style’s a bit choppy, with lots of short, one-sentence paragraphs that I kept mentally rearranging—never a good sign. Maybe this book was written more for the YA market? In any case, as I said, I enjoyed the theme of the book, but there were other factors that kept me from fully enjoying the book. It was a quick read, but there are much better mysteries out there about the medieval era; I recommend anything by Ellis Peters, Candace Robb, or Sharan Newman. All of those authors can tell a better story, and their research on the period is top-notch.

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