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Alfred Duggan

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Kveto from Prague
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The Little Emperors

Post by Kveto from Prague » Fri May 3rd, 2013, 8:28 pm

thanks Margaret. I'll check out his reviews.

I finished off my latest Duggan novel on Rome circa 405 AD (his other Roman novel, founding fathers, I still havent got yet). This is an interesting one as we have now moved to the final days of Roman Britain. It is Duggan's goal to support the notion that Rome's fall in Britain was not a long gradual process as Gibbon has led us to believe but a very sudden fall with little warning (incidentaly, I wonder just how many Roman misconceptions can be traced directly back to Gibbon).

We see Roman Britain through the eyes of Felix, a North African born Roman who manages the monetary affairs of the island. The book blurb calls him the ultimate civil servant and that about sums him up. Like Duggan's previous narrators, Felix is a relatively competent man but nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is when it comes to politics. He really represents the "old Rome", one of those people living in the past and unable to change with the times. He finds himself outmanouvered by his father-in-law and clever wife, whom he clearly underestimates due to her gender.

For whatever reason I find this the weakest of the Roman novels. Perhaps the pace is too slow and just when things start to get interesting the novel finishes (realistically because the narrator is written out of the story but a bit frustrating nevertheless). In general, Felix is not a particularly memorable character unlike the previous narrators. He does follow the trend of seeing history through a failure rather than a success, a pattern in many Duggan novels.

While chronologicaly the last Roman novel, this was Duggan's first attempt at the Roman world. It does make a nice set up for my next novel set a few years later in post Roman Britain, Conscience of the King.

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Kveto from Prague
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Conscience of the King

Post by Kveto from Prague » Tue May 21st, 2013, 9:42 pm

Duggan's next novel, also set in Britain after the Roman Empire has fallen manages to be a completely different take on the locale. Told in first person by Cerdic, the first King of Wessex, many Duggan fans consider this one of his best novels and I'd have to concur.

Duggan does a great job of contrasting the hangover from the Romans with the vigourous barbarism of the invading German Saxons. Characters like Count Ambrosius and Arthur (a cavalry mercenary for the Romans, not a king) are unable to stop the onslaught of the invading Germans.

But this novel is really about Cerdic. Duggan excells with obscure characters and Cerdic is so unknown that many scholars question his existence (more, I believe, from an Anglo-Saxon nationalistic streak as they don't like the idea that a guy with a clearly Celtic name was the founder of the English aristocracy). Duggan explains his mixed origin cleverly.

A general theme in Duggan's novels is that history is written by the worst kind of people. Those often successful do so through what we in modern times would consider flawed character. And no one has worse character than Cerdic. The title of the book is perfect as Cerdic has no conscience whatsoever. It is rare to find a narrator so utterly lacking in scruple. It makes him both repulsive and fascinating in his single-minded pursuit of his goal. The way that he can rationalize the worst crimes is a study in corrupt character.

Overall, it's a cracking read. One of Duggan's best.

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Post by Kveto from Prague » Tue May 21st, 2013, 10:01 pm

I guess I'll mention that this is the only book of Duggan's set in Anglo-Saxon times that I've read. He also wrote "The Right Line of Cerdic" about Alfred, "Cunning of the Dove" about the Confessor. I may one day try the Alfred one, as I'd like to see how he deals with Alfred's character (and see if his " the rotten succeed" theme continues)

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A Lady for Ransome

Post by Kveto from Prague » Wed May 29th, 2013, 2:11 pm

Chronologically, the first of Duggan's "Norman" books, in this case focusing on the Normans of Sicily. I'm glad I re-read this one as I'd forgotten just how good it is.

The book focuses on Roussel de Balliol, an ambitious 12th century Norman from southern Italy. He was a historical personage of some importance even if forgotten today as he was a sort of proto-crusader. A generation before the first crusade, Roussel and his warriors were hired as mercenaries by the Byzantine army against the Turks. He responded by trying to carve out an independant Norman kingdom in Asia minor. While not successful, he was extremely important to the next generation of Italian Normans (the most important Europeans in the First Crusade) such as Bohemond and Tancred, by showing that there were fortunes to be won in the East. It also introduced the idea of Western Christians fighting for Byzantium, an idea Alexius Commenius used to initiate the Crusades.

The novel is full of intrigue and twists and turns. Roussel himself is a likeable Norman soldier, but if Duggan is consistant in anything it's that nice guys, while they may not finish last, don't finish first.

The narrator is a great one, Roger Fitzodo, the son of a Norman blacksmith and a Greek mother, who attaches himself to Roussel's band as a linguist. Roger provides a good set of eyes that notices the differences (positive and negative) between the Western Normans and the Byzantine Roman/Greeks and the Turkish enemies. Even here you can see the seeds planted as to why the Western knights and Byzantines will be at loggerheads for generations to come.

But the true star of the novel is Roussel's wife Matilda. Like Duggan's other female characters she is the true driving force behind her husband as she is just so much cleverer than he. She uses her intelligence and wit in the complicated world of Roman politics (never resorting to her looks, in fact, they point out that she's quite unattractive and mannish) providing a nice pun on the title as she is the one who more often ransoms her husband.

A brilliant look at an obscure personage, without whom an important chapter in history, for better or worse, would not have occured.

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Post by Antoine Vanner » Thu June 6th, 2013, 12:11 pm

I agree with this assessment. This is one of Duggan's best books, excelled only by "Knight in Armour" and "Three's Company"

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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Thu June 6th, 2013, 8:40 pm

thanks. It's really great use of an obscure character, isn't it?

I had to decide which Duggan to cover next "Knight in Armour" or "Count Bohemond" as they both cover the first crusade. I decided to go for the latter as it covers Bohemond's career in Albania before the crusade, therefore "begins" earlier in time.

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Count Bohemond

Post by Kveto from Prague » Sat June 8th, 2013, 4:08 pm

Alfred Duggan's last book, published posthumously, covers the career of the Norman Apulian knight, Bohemond of Taranto, in the Byzantine empire and the crusade. Bohemond is one of the more interesting historical figures of his time, a giant knight from Southern Italy he became the de facto leader of the first crusade due to his ability and reputation as the greatest knight in Christandom.

I'm sorry to say, this is not one of my favourite Duggan books. It's still good, just not up there with his better works. One reason is the book feels almost too distant. His descriptions of battles and circumstances feel very much like unfull sketches. This might be because the book was not completely finished but I might also be reading too much into that.

Mt main gripe is personal one and probably not completely fair, but I'm not sold on Duggan's interpretation of Bohemond. I've read a lot of NF on Bohemond and I've just always pictured him as more devious and underhanded than he is portrayed in the book. To me, Duggan's Bohemond is the straightforward model of good Chirstendom that Bohemond presented himself as. Which might be true but it clashed with my own interpretation. I wanted a bit of a scoundrel like Cerdic in "Conscience of the King". However, this is just personal, Duggan's Bohemond may be closer to the real one.

It is still good, particularly the emphasis on the way Bohemond gains the respect of those nobler than he through his abilities. Bohemond was not particularly well-born (his grandfather had been a farmer) but Counts and Dukes looked to him for leadership and Emperors feared him. This is handled well.

Unfortunately, this novel was to have a sequel, based on Bohemond's nephew Tancred, which would have been very interesting by dealing with the early years of the kingdom of Jerusalum. Tancred, Bohemond's successor in Antioch, and who is a character in this book, was a fiery lord who, displaying the remarkable adaptability of the Normans wore a turban and had himself addressed as the Emir Tancredos.

Sadly, due to Duggan's death at a young age, this was never to be

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Post by Margaret » Tue June 11th, 2013, 6:14 am

Yes, it's a shame Duggan didn't get a chance to write about Bohemond's son Tancred - or about Bohemond's father, Robert Guiscard, a Norman knight who (with his eleven brothers) traveled to Sicily and made the first step toward what would become a line of Norman rulers of Sicily. The Normans got around - we all know about William's conquest of England, and most of us know the Normans threw their weight around in Ireland - but Sicily! There are a few novels about the Normans in Sicily (see the list at HistoricalNovels.info), but there ought to be more about this rather odd phase of Sicilian history.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Post by annis » Tue June 11th, 2013, 8:08 am

Jack Ludlow has written a trilogy about the Hauteville family (including Robert Guiscard) who went to Italy as Norman mercenaries and ended up with lands and ttiles of their own. They're entertaining, workman-like adventures set in a fascinating period, but Ludlow's writing is fairly average, so don't expect great literature.

I posted a review of the first, Mercenaries, here.
Last edited by annis on Thu June 13th, 2013, 5:45 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Knight in Armour

Post by Kveto from Prague » Tue June 25th, 2013, 2:26 pm

My first Duggan book and also my favourite, I was wondering how this one would hold up on a rereading.

This was Duggan's first published novel, dealing with the first crusade from a Norman perspective. Covering some of the same territory that his final novel "Count Bohemond" covered, this one I feel is superior.

Our main character is Roger de Bonham, a younger son of a minor noble lord who attaches himself to the Duke of Normandy, Robert Curthose. Roger's position as a young noble knight gives us a great perspective as he is able to mix with at least one of the leaders as well as the common folk during the march, giving us a much more personal perspective than "Count Bohemond".

Full of great tiny details, we also meet a number of characters who each represent the varied motives for European crusaders. But the true strength is Roger, a relatively nice guy, you can't help but be drawn into his ups and downs throughout the tale. No book (except Zoe Oldenbourg's "Heirs of the Kingdom") brings home the true feeling of what the crusades must have been like like this novel. As always, no sugar coating from Duggan.

I won't say more as the novel has plenty of surprises and the single best ending of any HF book ever. I still find this to be one of, if not, the best of Duggan's novels and on crusading in general.

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