The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham

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The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A novel that's exciting, touching and historically fascinating for all, mixed with greater depths for those who want to delve further. Ivan Gelski may be fictional but he's someone you won't forget in a hurry.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 250 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Roman Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-9380905075

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Seventeen year old Ivan Gelski, the much loved son of Bulgarian peasant parents, has his bride to be and future snatched from him brutally just before his wedding. Full of rage and vengeance, he leaves his close knit village to join the haiduti, a savage band of outlaws who kill mercilessly in order to acquire food and survival. Years later, on one of these killing sprees, Ivan encounters Solomon Kuretic, a Viennese Jew and guitar virtuoso on his way to play for the Sultan in Constantinople. Solomon must play for his life but, by doing so, he sends Ivan on a journey of his own spreading across Europe and into saintly veneration.

Having read The Descent of the Lyre I'm grateful for Will Buckingham's integrity, as it was written to fulfil a promise. It's seasoned with his knowledge of philosophy and storytelling as well as a deft touch and lyrical beauty. This isn't an airy fairy gentle ramble through theories of life and higher consciousness though but a gritty, earthy collection of the fictional Ivan's adventures as his humanity is stolen from him and then returned unexpectedly. Its basis may be the legend of Orpheus, whose wife was kidnapped and who suffered under those who misunderstood him but it feels totally original.

Ivan remains at the centre, altered by experiences and encounters before our eyes. The theft of his fiancée also steals his capacity to love, filling the resulting void with hatred. Bogdan, tough Voyvoda (leader) of the haiduti steps in, inadvertently becoming a ruthless father figure, suiting the new ruthless Ivan. The haiduti actually existed, primarily as a resistance army against the occupying Ottoman Empire, a la Robin Hood. These guys seem different though as Bogdan leads a more thuggish ensemble. Anyone passing endowed with riches, food or weaponry seems to be a fair target. (There is the amount of blood loss one would expect from such a marauding band, by the way.) However there still the honour and loyalty that makes it family, albeit a different family from the one that raised Ivan.

Ivan's relationship with Solomon is interesting. As they form an unlikely friendship based on the guitar, there are some intriguing faith-based metaphors and comparisons that lead to a gut wrenching twist; the sort that makes you shout 'Nooo! Why??' at a bemused partner. (Having a husband like mine who's used to bemusement is also helpful.) It's a moment I'd love to discuss, but it'd be a spoiler so, moving on…

Again, avoiding spoilers, I shall just say that once Ivan learns to play the guitar he seems to become passive. Ivan's found peace but he also becomes a pawn for the jealous and the mercenary. The jealous is the real life classical guitarist and composer, Ferdinand Sor whom we see as cantankerous, lonely, devoted to his art and an early proponent of the man cold. For all his faults (one of them being a major plot shock) I rather liked and felt sorry for him. The mercenary side is represented by Parisian theatre owner Michot who's rather reminiscent of the fox in Pinocchio. In fact it's hard to imagine why Michot's companion, Dr Blanchard (kindness incarnate) even considers his friendship but there must be reasons and Ivan, indeed, has reasons to be thankful for it too.

We're left with a desire to know more about his fiancée's fate but then so is Ivan, making us even. It speaks volumes for the author's skill that the thought of a great hulking peasant-cum-ruffian picking up the guitar and showing such natural expertise and finesse seems perfectly feasible. All in all he's a fascinating character on an enthralling journey so if you want a one-sitting length book for a winter's evening this could be it. It fulfils any desire for a cracking good adventure but, if you have brainpower left after the working day, deeper thought will be rewarded as the benefits of Will Buckingham's promise spread.

A special thank you to Roman Books for sending us a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this and would like another historic read that gives you something else to ponder, we suggest Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding.

Buy The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham at

Buy The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Descent of the Lyre by Will Buckingham at


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