". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Reading Wednesday - The Siege Winter

It is sad that Ariana Franklin, author of the popular English medieval mystery Mistress of Death series, died in 2011 before she was able to finish writing The Siege Winter (2015).

Her daughter, Samantha Norman, took on the task turn Franklin's drafts into a finished novel.

  Not a part of Franklin's Mistress series, The Siege Winter takes place during the terrible time known in English history as "Christ and his saints slept":

Empress Matilda
Empress Matilda (mother of he who becomes Henry II) and Stephen, Henry I's nephew, fighting for the crown of England over a period of years, each employing rapacious mercenaries.  Order in the kingdom broke down, nothing and no one was safe from predators, whether four-legged or two.

The novel has two plots that converge, then diverge, neither of which have that much to do with each other, partially due to the differences in rank of the characters, and partially due to uncertainty of plotting. There is also an uncertainty as to just what sort of book Siege Winter is intended to be: medieval mystery like those that make up the Mistress of Death novels? [check the Cadfael mysteries] straight-up historical novel? medieval] romance?

One converging plot stream concerns a monk-serial rapist-torturer-killer of young girls with red hair, and the other is of a young girl who comes to power as the chatelaine of an out-of-the way small castle.

The novel is filled with anachronistic usage, such as –  opening a paragraph describing scorn for something-or-other, with a single word, “Hello?”  That contemporary adolescent sneer-tone is particularly jarring because we are in the midst of extended scene in which a young girl (one of our several protagonists) is run down, horrifically tortured, gang raped, and left for dead.

There's a lot of that in this book, meaning the grisly, inappropriate tone and anachronism.

Among such is in the other plot, which has Kenniford castle always serving brandy . . . in 1141.  Well, this is barely possible, as the distillation process long pre-dates the “Burned Wine” /  brandewijn, which was introduced and spread widely across northern Europe by the Dutch in the 16th century, who learned of it in Spain.  In the 8th century, Irish monks learned of it in Spain as well, where it was introduced by the Moors; the monks brought the process back to Ireland.  But still, this “brandy” is highly unlikely in a mid-12th century domain that is a small castle belonging to a family of middling sort of rank.

Recommendation: read Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995)  instead.

No comments: