Author: Jay Lewis Taylor
Publisher: Manifold Press
Cover Artist: unknown
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Late twelfth-century England: a country of divided loyalties while the Lionheart is on crusade. Hugh de Barham, master mason at Wells, walks a dangerous path between Glastonbury and Wells as the two vie for supremacy, a path made more dangerous still by the fact that Hugh, if he could, would share his bed not with women but with men.
The only way to stay safe is to keep his head down, but building the church of his dreams is no way to do that: and then there is Arnaut l’Occitan. What does this stranger from Provence want with Hugh? And can he, or anyone, be trusted?
From page one, I was able to settle in and get comfy for this read. Why is that? The writing. It has a very relaxed vibe, creating a just as relaxed tone and atmosphere, no rushing, just taking its time in telling me the story.
The characters are mature people with senses of humor filled with warm, wry natures. Happiness and sarcasm go hand in hand. By the middle of chapter three, character development was at an obviously high level.
Such vivid descriptions of sound and place helped build that relaxed and well defined atmosphere, leading me fully into the world of 12th century England. Food could become scarce in a heartbeat. No one assumes everyone may have extra, or even enough for all seated at the table. Often times, surnames are still those of the person’s profession, like John carver or James scribe.(Can we say history-gasm? I think sooooo!) Politics are alive and well, enemies are sometimes bullishly obvious and sometimes hidden in dark corners, just like those of the church of which Hugh de Barham is leading construction.
… Henry de Soilly who, like other men that he had met from Calvados in the past, was all sweetness and apple-blossom on the surface, and tough as Normandy limestone under the skin.
Hugh de Barham, or Hugh mason, is whose point of view from which this story is told. It’s his life, his struggles and demons, his successes and passions. He’s intelligent, feels deeply, has a healthy sense of right and wrong, but also isn’t averse to doing what’s necessary to get something done.
There’s an interesting mix of confidence and the role of religion and its mysticism as an institution that many of the characters possess. Religion is a part of their everyday lives but in more of a practical sense instead of all fire and brimstone and corresponding condemnation. On the flip side, arrest, prison and fines were used to try and keep people in line with the teachings of a church that was already widespread in its influence, even in small villages and towns.
One of the greatest things about this book is that, even though it takes place more than 800 years ago, most of what these characters go through, the relationships, the losses and the joys, the need to work and earn a living, even with those who make your stomach turn, everything is relatable. The emotions are the same, no matter the century. The smooth, confident writing style fit this story wonderfully.
Oh, and let me not forget to mention the humor, and the unapologetic passion. Mmm hmm!
Hugh tipped forward, bracing his arms hard against the cold stone. Arnaut’s kiss was hot and cold together, lips chilled by the cold air in the room, the mouth warm and inviting within.
I mean, c’mon, who hasn’t felt that before? Who can’t feel that now, as you read it.
Oh, and who is Arnaut, you ask? Talk about a patient man. He’s also clever, capable and very loyal. He seems to possess a bit of his own brand of mysticism. Well, at least Hugh feels that way, and I agree with him.
The detail is delicious. Complete without being overbearing. The descriptions of clothing, and not just how it looks but how it feels, and of color, of household items, of stones cool to the touch, spring green trees on May Day… I relished it all. The setting, the plot, and the characters read like a much more accessible and, dare I say, enjoyable story similar in type to that of Follett’s Pillars.
The supporting characters are all important, filling out the conversations and towns, playing their part in completely immersing me in this book.
A couple event felt repetitious but I also wasn’t all that upset to spend more time in this book.
Beautiful editing of this confident prose and realistic every day characters gave me a wholly satisfying trip back to the time of the Crusades, an explosion in the building of churches, and significant societal changes in many an arena.
This is fiction at its finest, with elements of the family you make, the choices sometimes forced upon you, romance, love, heartache and joy, the struggle to do right and survive the pain.
”You are a man with enemies that you don’t deserve…”
That says it all, whether 12th or 21st century. So much senseless suffering forced upon some people by their fellow human beings. We need to make the stars bright and within grasp for everyone.
Hugh and Arnaut, may you find your future.
This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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