The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey

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The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A melange of genres and styles in this book which will force it to find a readership of its own – it might not find many on the fully supporting side from any angle.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 9780575132733

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In one of those corners of Europe forever being trodden on by armies passing, invading or defending, is Narutsin. We're in the 1700s and Silesia is anxious the noises from next door in Prussia, about their disapproval of disputed territory being ruled by a female, will lead to an invasion, so they have sent two hundred men to shore up the border. Passing Narutsin on their way to billet at a most rundown country mansion they find the village to be quite odd – too many people for a regular Wednesday huddling in the church, and clearly a secret is being kept from them. But don't forget, travelling armies can travel with secrets too. This one comes with a bullish quartermaster to cater for them, and his floozie Drozde, who can converse with ghosts. But when she enters the mansion for the first time, even she is surprised that the formless spectres there are able to speak back to her – and nobody much is going to like what they have to say…

This dark fantasy read comes across a little soapy at times, but I am sure there is a market for the warm way it reduces its genre elements in favour of the sort of general reading book it can also be shelved as, while it patches its two major strands together. On the one hand is Drozde, and her nocturnal communing. On the other are the army characters, led by the bullish Colonel, the quartermaster, and a total milksop of a Lieutenant Klaes, who really would appear to be in the wrong job.

This is the bravest element of the book. The mind boggles as to how three people can write the same novel, even if they are mother, father and daughter to each other, but I don't know how they brought themselves to write Klaes. He's unforgivably weak, being poor at standing his ground in the military, obeying the orders to sort out the village secret once and for all – and even at chatting to (and possibly up) the neighbourhood girls. Having such a driving force in a novel who feels so unlikeable is a bit awkward at times, to say the least. Much stronger is Drozde, a lass of many talents, with her horizontal activities added to by her being a master puppeteer, entertaining the troops with ribald sketch shows every month or so. She's much more enjoyable company, even if some of her side of the plot is a little guessable, and while she does inspire a lot of the more soapy factors of proceedings she will definitely be a way in for a large female audience for this title.

But I don't see the audience finding complete satisfaction. I can think of other authors who would have made more of the place – here neither the area nor the mansion really become characters in the way they should, even with glimpses of them as long-standing entities with real histories. I would never call the book concise – it needed more attack and oomph in the telling, which could contrast the feminine/villager side with the military even more successfully.

What it does have going for it is what it does manage as regards evoking the era – the few people from the village we meet and the couple of stand-out military types all leap off the page with clarity, and we do see what life in Narutsin would have been like. Which makes me return to the categorisation of this title – it can probably be argued that it's more historical novel than fantasy, whatever Mike Carey's comic and genre past implies. It's up to you then if your historical fiction – large, woolly, dramatic, almost bodice-ripping – can include elements such as ghosts. I'll leave it to the fantasy reader – Mitteleuropean woodland, a unique ghost lore, closed society meets even more closed society – to decide how much bed-hopping and romantic yin/yang-ing they can abide. The fantasy side is shored up by a fine element regarding the power of stories that I can see Neil Gaiman relishing, and in the end this is just a story – a long but quite pleasant story, that I just fell shy of fully engaging with.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland is a virtuoso mixture of historical and fantastical fiction, with the emphasis securely on both but with the edge to the former.

Buy The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The House of War and Witness by Linda Carey, Louise Carey and M R Carey at Amazon.com.


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