At some point, for this book to be funny, it would have to be heartless, and a lot of its charm comes from the sympathy the author clearly has for Philip.
Cute, huh? Throughout the novel, Dads Ghost instructs Philip on how to go about doing this. The problem, though, is that unlike Hamlet, Philip is still a little boy, and so the horrific consequences of his misunderstanding seem that much worse. On another level, it works as a strangely moving portrait of a kid who has experienced a really devastating loss and has to find a way to accept that loss and move on, even if he goes about doing that in pretty much the worst way possible.
Read it if you like: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time , overly precocious pre-adolescent protagonists, modern updates of Shakespeare. No, not because it totally ripped off the title of a short story I wrote years and years ago. Here, that misstep was including the even-numbered chapters. Let me explain. The odd-numbered chapters chronicle the lives of residents of the city of the dead. At that point, you disappear, and that part of the afterlife is a mystery to the folks who live? As the novel starts out, the population of the city and therefore the city itself, as it has elastic properties is growing exponentially thanks to a world that has evidently gone down the tubes—lots of wars, and lots of biological warfare.
After only a few weeks, the city has shrunk to a very small number of people—all of the people who knew the one remaining survivor, a biologist-type named Laura something. Let me reveal a really annoying plot twist: Coca-Cola, in an incredibly lazy turn of events, is responsible for the distribution of the virus that kills everybody.
Now, I hate that company as much as every other good liberal, but come on. This will bother you less, probably, if you have devoted less time to reading about that awesomely barren place than I have. So anyway: the odd-numbered chapters are, on the whole, stunningly beautiful and surprising. You can read the particularly beautiful and surprising first chapter here.
But Laura is dull , and the Coca-Cola conspiracy is trite and irritating, and so in the end I recommend this book with a great deal of hesitation. If you really want to read it, get it from the library rather than buying it, and if you get tired of Laura just start skipping her chapters. Read it if you like: Post-apocalyptic fiction, An Inconvenient Truth.
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Those of you who are regular readers know how I feel about Troy Denning. So you can imagine how unsurprised I was when Invincible , the culmination of an overwhelmingly mediocre nine-book series that takes place after The New Jedi Order , was really really terrible. But what bothered me most was not just that the book was terrible. It was that it violated the most basic principle of Star Wars : that hope is a powerful force in the universe. It is a basic tenet of my faith—not only my religious faith, but the faith that we all have to have in other human beings if we want to remain sane in an increasingly insane world—that all human beings are innately good; that, once fallen, all of us are capable of being redeemed.
What do they teach us if not that? Not that the plotting was lazy—it was—or that the characterizations were shallow—they were.
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But that, in the end, it failed to do the one thing these novels have to do. We whine and moan about Star Wars and its wayward politics, the dubiousness of allowing a class like the Jedi to exist and to help govern, very creepily and undemocratically, by birthright. What they are is yet another incarnation of a very familiar story, and an important one. Even in the New Jedi Order, which everyone complained was too dark everyone except me, anyway , that basic belief in the possibility—the necessity —of redemption remained.
Horrible villains, even, who blew up dozens of planets and killed trillions of beings including Chewbacca!!!! Unusual occurrences are happening in the village of Mauthausen, Austria. People have begun to dance, endlessly and without stopping. They are constantly joined by new dancers, like a plague spreading from one person to next. The villagers are terrified of becoming dancers themselves, believing they have been possessed by demons. This unexplainable phenomenon must be investigated and the truth discovered. Are these people truly possessed, or is there some kind of rational explanation to explain why people are literally dancing themselves to their deaths?
When I started to look at her there was only one reliable biography, by historian David Baldwin, and it was on his biography and my own research that I based this first book in the series that has gone on to be a major BBC TV series. The country has been torn apart by the Wars of the Roses between the royal houses of York and Lancaster.
The old king Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou have escaped to Scotland and the Lancastrian armies have been decimated by the York forces at the Battle of Towton - the bloodiest ever fought on English soil. It's a story about ambition and the price that has to be paid. Warwick believed that he would be in a position to rule England through Edward; when he could not, he began to look elsewhere for power and used his daughters Isabel and Anne to create new alliances.
I love this book so much. To her horror she finds her throne is threatened by a young man who is claiming to be her brother Richard, missing from the Tower of London. Half of England sides with the young man against the usurping Tudor, what should Elizabeth do? I think this is probably one of the most complex historical novels I have ever written - the merging of the personal and the political is very intense, and the blending of the historical research and the imagined psychologies has been a great joy.
Raised in exile in Brittany and having taken the throne with a French and Scottish force, Henry had neither the easy popularity nor the longstanding political allegiances of the House of York. As a result, he had to face repeated rebellions and threats to his throne.
I was fascinated by her background, I travelled to Granada to see for myself her childhood home, the beautiful Alhambra palace, and I became certain that the young woman that she became was far more interesting and active than the picture we have of her of the 'old woman' that would be replaced by the 'young mistress'.
But Arthur's sudden death, followed by his mother's, leaves Henry Tudor with a difficult to decision, to marry his son's wife himself or to arrange her marriage to his younger son. Right up until the last stage of copy editing I was revising and adding material and characters to this dark story. I started it, thinking that it would be a relatively simple telling of the tragic story of Margaret Pole — daughter of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. As the book progressed I discovered that Margaret was a central figure in the Tudor court, and probably actively involved in the endless conspiracies against Henry VIII and his advisors.
This hidden rebellion reached its peak in the uprising of the North called the Pilgrimage of Grace. The pilgrims won their aims of defending the Roman Catholic traditions and the return of the traditional advisors, but Henry reneged on his promises and sent his troops for a terrible persecution to men who held a royal pardon. Margaret, and her entire family, came under suspicion too and this novel moved far from the template of a persecuted heroine and became the story of a merciless murder of a family.
Margaret's betrayer, and her defenders all come under the gaze of a king who was increasingly frightened and, I believe delusional. It's been a chilling and powerful book to write and the image of Henry VIII, composer of 'Greensleeves' beloved of primary school history, will never be the same again for me. He was a serial killer and this book traces his steps towards psychosis.
England is under a Tudor king. Henry VII has two sons with Elizabeth of York, which should have secured his line, yet his court is still filled with fear and suspicion. Plantagenet is a dangerous name to carry and the heiress Margaret Pole is swiftly married off to a staunch Tudor supporter, but her brother Edward's claim cannot be ignored.
Henry executes him on Tower Hill, leaving Margaret to face a lifetime of uncertainty. It was extraordinary to see how the fortunes of one woman rose coincidentally with the failure of another, and how the issues of arranged marriage, widowhood, divorce and re-marriage dominated the lives of all three.
I was also writing very much to the idea of sisterhood — the rivalry, love, pride and jealousy that sisters often bring to each other. I wanted this book to go to the very heart of being a sister, a queen, and sister to a great queen. With her brother on the throne of England and herself on the throne of Scotland Margaret is to ensure a Perpetual Peace between the two endlessly warring countries — a strategy far more easily planned than enacted. It was set in County Durham and Morach's cottage was my home for three years.
I frightened myself in the writing of it so much that I could only write during daylight hours. But I think it is more than a scary book — I think it is also a consideration of how a woman is to be, and who should be her mentors. Keen to reinforce his position as the new head of the Church and to take advantage of the wealth of the Catholic Church, Henry began the Dissolution — the raiding and wrecking of all of the Catholic convents and monasteries in England. In this time of religious tensions and instability, belief in witchcraft and the supernatural began to spread throughout the country, causing increasing concern.
As a result, King Henry decides to introduce an Act of Parliament making witchcraft punishable by death — and making England a much more dangerous place for a young woman without wealth or family. What a world I stepped into! My Anne of Cleves, unlike the cliche of the fat Flanders mare, is a pretty courageous energetic survivor, and my Katherine Howard is not a 'slut' as a modern historian has called her but a young girl foolish and vain as young girls sometimes are, but dangerously ill advised and married more or less against her best interests to the most dangerous man in England.
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I tackle the enigma of Jane Rochford in this novel too. Nobody knows for sure why she would be complicit in the execution of two queens of England - I suggest madness, but readers must make up their own minds. King Henry needed more sons to secure his line and safeguard the House of Tudor, he looked overseas for this next bride and picked Anne of Cleves but would soon be side-tracked by the young, vivacious Katherine Howard. The title for this book had to reflect my real admiration for the heroine, and also the challenge she faced — not just to survive, but also to retain her courage and her power and her vision.
This is so extraordinary I don't know why we aren't all taught her in schools. But what to call her fictionalised biography? Of course, I knew that she had to silence her voice and keep her writing secret during the months that Henry suspected her, and so I wanted something that would acknowledge his power over her. This is not trivial or romantic — this is tyranny to a murderous degree.
And I wanted something which put her in the bitter context of all the other women who are silenced. In this way, Kateryn speaks for all who have not been allowed an education, or to speak, or to write. Then I learned that Nicholas Udall, the playwright, had possibly premiered a play before her called 'Ralph Roister Doister' — a play about a household of women with a woman head and their spirited and violent defence against an aggressive bullying man.
Borrowed by Shakespeare and skewed towards male power this became 'The Taming of the Shrew' — the story of a powerful furious woman who submits to an aggressive bullying man. Only months after the king sentenced his fifth wife to death, he was looking for his sixth, and chose the recently-widowed, thirty-year-old Kateryn Parr, who was planning to marry the handsome bachelor Thomas Seymour. As soon as the king showed his interest in the beautiful widow she had to serve the interests of her family and agree to marry him, become Queen of England and stepmother to his children, and rule England in his absence.
I think people love the character of Hannah, who is invented but inspired by the existence of a real female 'Fool' who served Mary I. If you have a hardback edition you can see the royal picture which is thought to show her in a doorway in the endpapers. Too young to rule, the realm is governed by a Regency Council, led by his uncle, Edward Seymour.
Edward has continued his father's reformation of the church and Protestantism is becoming established, however England is still unsettled with rioting and rebellions common. Edward was close to and well loved by both of his half-sisters: the Catholic Princess Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and the Protestant Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn. However, he and his advisors were concerned that should he die without issue, his sister Princess Mary would return the country to Catholicism.
I knew of Jane before I started research but I knew next to nothing about her sisters and it was a lucky guess that there was more behind the sentimental portrait of Jane that took me to the stories of the three of them. I struggled for a title until I had finished the book and then I chose this ambiguous one. Mary is the last Tudor of the Brandon branch — a fascinating and unknown character to end such a famous line — but Elizabeth is the last ruling Tudor, the throne inherited by a Stuart. But her rivalry and paranoia was too much for her. The stories of the Grey girls show the enterprise and courage of young Elizabethan women who defied two queens, to make their own lives.
This is the darkest portrait I have ever seen of Elizabeth — I have responded only to the facts of her treatment of her cousins, who as kinswomen and heirs should have been under her protection but found themselves at the centre of her fears. The country is ruled by a council of men who jostled for control of the young king. Edward has no male heir, and does not favour his two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. When I was writing the novel it was widely accepted that she had broken her neck as a result of a fall.
It seemed to me that murder was a far more likely cause, and you can read the novel to see who I suspect. It was very exciting when, long after publication, the original documents of her inquest were found showing that she died from blows to the head made by a weapon. Amy Dudley was indeed murdered, but we still don't know who was the murderer. Just nine days after she was crowned, Edward's sister Princess Mary had raised supporters and persuaded the Privy Council to switch their allegiance - declaring her the rightful queen and imprisoning Jane.
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Queen Mary began to reverse the Protestant reformation of her father, restoring Roman Catholic bishops and persecuting Protestants. Despite several reported pregnancies, Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain produced no children. So on her death, her sister the Protestant Princess Elizabeth succeeded her to the throne. In this novel I looked at her long years of imprisonment and the extraordinary triangle that developed between her, her gaoler the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wonderful wife Bess of Hardwick. The dynamic between these three makes this novel not just a historical novel about the times but a psychological study of three people trapped together.
Elizabeth I has been Queen of England for ten years. She is still unmarried, despite considering several suitors and having conducted a love affair with the married Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester — whose wife had then died under suspicious circumstances. With no heir, Elizabeth refused to name a successor — leading to the dissolution of parliament and putting England in a potentially dangerous position. One possible successor to Elizabeth was her first cousin once removed — the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, whom many English Catholics believed to be the true English heir to the throne.
However Mary is under imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle after marrying her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell — the man widely believed to have earlier murdered Mary's second husband Lord Darnley — and she appeals to her cousin Elizabeth for support. While I was puzzling about who would be the subject of a fictional biography I was given a book on plant collectors and gardeners and read of John Tradescant.
It happened that I visited a garden centre, and tripped and literally fell into a tray of Tradescantia. It was enough of a hint! I started research on John Tradescant and found enough material for two books, and developed an entirely new style of writing: the fictionalised biography. In , at the age of 69, Queen Elizabeth died and was succeeded by her cousin King James VI of Scotland — finally uniting the crowns of Scotland and England and beginning the Stuart reign of England.
I was honoured with an invitation into a private home and had a long talk about the history of the people. This book is divided between the two terrible conflicts: colonists against indigenous peoples in America, and royalists against roundheads in England. I met the great historian of the period Christopher Hill and asked him did he think it possible that a man like John Tradescant might leave England to escape the conflict and he laughed and said that any sensible man would leave England in the middle of a civil war - so I felt very justified in my development of John's character and the two locations of this novel of a man divided between two loves.
Charles I is on the throne. He has dissolved parliament for the third time and resolved to rule alone. In order to manage the debts generated during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I and fund his overseas wars with Spain and France, Charles repeatedly invented new and re-established obsolete forms of taxation. This during a time when harvests were failing caused widespread poverty and social unrest.
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Charles had become increasingly unpopular with the English people — his friendship with the assassinated George Villiers Duke of Buckingham had alienated the noble families whilst his failure to successfully support Protestant forces during the Thirty Years' War and marriage to a Roman Catholic French Princess caused suspicion and mistrust amongst his people.
As the country descended into civil war, many chose to emigrate to the recently settled American colonies in search of freedom — despite Charles's attempts to stem the flow. It was very liberating to get away from the royal family and royal palaces and into daily life of aspiring people, hoping to rise from poverty into the New England of political freedoms and opportunities. Tidelands is set in the English Civil War and includes one of the many failed attempts to rescue Charles I before his trial.
This was the first time when the people of England united to control the power of the English king and is a turning point for the men, and especially the women of England.