The Toll-Gate

The Toll-GateThe Toll-Gate
by Georgette Heyer
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1954
Pages: 283
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Suspense
Publisher: Heinemann

 

Well, that was a fun, funny, and tedious read.  I was both entertained and exasperated, and not a little impatient, the entire time I read it.  I’m not quite sure how that works; it’s a first for me.

The book starts off at a house party to celebrate the 6th Earl of Saltash’s engagement.  Other than the fact that Captain Staple is at the party, it and all the details and characters involved have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book and never again come into play.  So the first chapter and half of the second are entirely irrelevant.  It’s only once Captain Staple leaves the house party that the story really begins.

Staple gets a late start, and gets caught in a storm that leaves him lost in the moors, until he finds himself at a toll-gate, late at night, being run by a terrified 10 year old boy.  Looking for a place to shelter, Staple stops, and learns that the boy’s father, the real toll-keeper, was only supposed to be gone an hour but never came back.  The next morning, Staple experiences love at first sight when he lays eyes on a woman, the squire’s daughter, passing through the gate on her way to church.  Needing an excuse to stay, Staple tells the boy he’ll stick around to figure out what happened to his father, intending to woo the squire’s daughter at the same time.

What unfolds is a bit of a rollicking adventure that was almost entirely ruined by Heyer’s heavy use of obscure British slang and vernacular.

“Prigged his tattler, too, but I sold that.  I’m a great one for a pinch o’ merry-go-up, and this little box just happened to take my fancy, and I’ve kept it.  I daresay I’d get a double finnup for it, too,” he added.”

In context, I can ascertain the speaker is referencing a theft, but the entire book is written like this, which is what makes this well-plotted adventure so damn tedious.  By midway through the book, I got the impression that Heyer was purposefully laying it on as thickly as possible, either to prove something to herself, or torture her editors and readers.  Perhaps at the time of publication, readers wouldn’t have struggled with the senseless dialog, but I’d have appreciated a glossary – or perhaps just a great deal less verisimilitude.

Cotillion

CotillionCotillion
by Georgette Heyer
Rating: ★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1952
Pages: 345
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Heinemann

I was in the mood for a light read and while I was perusing my TBR piles, boxes, and shelves, I came across this and remembered that Lillelara had recently read it and enjoyed it.

I definitely enjoyed The Grand Sophy better, but this one got me through without complaint.  I struggled to really feel invested in the story or any of the characters though; it seemed to missing just that little bit of depth – or else my reading slump had dulled my reading sense, rendering everything a bit duller.  Given Heyer’s hit and miss record, either is possible.  Or perhaps a bit of both:  the final scene at Rattray’s rectory perked me right up; in that moment, the characters popped to life for me and I cared about what happened next.

I haven’t read even close to Heyer’s entire backlist, but I’d firmly place this midway on a scale of those I’ve read so far.

Time’s Convert (World of All Souls)

Time's ConvertTime's Convert
by Deborah Harkness
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780399564512
Series: World of All Souls #1
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Pages: 436
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Viking Books

I am an unrepentant fan of A Discovery of Witches and the rest of the All Souls Trilogy, but this one didn’t hit that same sweet spot for me, although in some ways it was better than I’d hoped for.

Set in the same world as the All Souls books, with all the same characters, this book focuses on Matthew’s vampire son, Marcus, and his soon-to-be-mate Phoebe, as she goes through the process of becoming a vampire.  This is the excuse/framework Harkness uses to delve into Marcus’ story, one rich in American Revolution history and personal tragedy.

Told in 3 alternating points of view, Phoebe’s present day (3rd person) narrative of her transformation was the part of the book I liked least.  It involved a lot of vampiric tropes that felt a bit tired, and there was a cat introduced that damn near ended the book.  The cat is not harmed, but I’m not at all satisfied with the role it plays in Phoebe’s new life; it felt like Harkness was purposefully screwing with readers and the unwritten rule of ‘don’t harm pets’.  Either way, I just wasn’t that invested in Phoebe – though I did like Freyja.

The second point of view was Marcus’ flash-backs into his life before and after becoming a vampire.  This was, if not a more enjoyable tale, one that was a hell of a lot more interesting.  Rich in historical backdrops and characters, these sections were vivid and heartbreaking.  The occasional small gaps in story flow were almost invisible, overwhelmed by the rich storytelling.  It also helped that these were the parts that involved Gallowglass, my personal favorite character in the books.

The final point of view was, for me, the best, because it was told in first person present day by Diana and involved almost all the old characters I know and love from the trilogy.  Here are Diana, Matthew, Marcus, Sarah, Ysabeau and the rest, spending the summer in the south of France, listening to Marcus tell his tale while Phoebe is in Paris learning to be a vampire and not properly appreciating her pets.  Diana and Matthew’s kids provide some scope for funny antics, and the overall relaxed plot of this book means it’s easier for Harkness to indulge in scenes involving the kind of family dynamics everyone thinks are hilarious in other people’s families.  I enjoyed the humor woven through these sections almost more than I did any other part of the book.

The story is complete, but there are subtle hints that more books about the other characters may be forthcoming.  Baldwin seems the most obvious choice, though I’m holding out for Gallowglass to get his 15 minutes.  A girl can hope, anyway.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)

Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Paperback
Grave MercyGrave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780547628349
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Pages: 484
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Andersen Press

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts, and a violent destiny.


I just ate this story up with a spoon.

I’ll admit this has sat on my TBR pile for awhile as I was a bit shy about starting such a thick YA book.  But once I picked it up I was loathe to put it back down again.  I’m usually a character driven reader; I can put up with a lot if I connect with the characters.  But I can’t say it was the characters that drew me deeply into the book.  I liked them, don’t get me wrong.  Ismae, Gavriel, The Beast, Anne – all of them characters you want to see come out all right.  But here, it was the story, the palace intrigue, the writing, that sucked me in well and good.  I know absolutely nothing about the time period this book takes place in, so I wasn’t burdened with knowing whether or not there’s any realism, or whether any research was done.  I was just along for the ride.

I didn’t give the book 5 stars because in a sea of villains, it was still obvious to me who the ultimate traitor was.  It didn’t in any way hamper my true enjoyment of the book, but it felt like the author could have hidden the clues a bit better.  I suspect I’m also not the books target audience so perhaps I’m being too harsh a judge.

Grave Mercy is YA really only in the sense that the MC is a 17 year-old.  The writing is oblique enough that I still can’t figure out if anyone was getting lucky or not, so I guess someone could argue that makes it more ‘age-appropriate’.  Although that someone wouldn’t be me.

If you enjoy historicals, and a bit of mythology this is a book that might be worth checking into.