Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

"Cast Not The Day" by Paul Waters.

annis
Bibliomaniac

"Cast Not The Day" by Paul Waters.

Postby annis » Fri May 8th, 2009, 11:16 pm

Image

Paul Waters has chosen another neglected historical period for the follow-up to his début novel, “Of Merchants & Heroes”, which so impressed me last year. The setting is Britain, mid-fourth century, a generation before it is abandoned by the Roman Empire. The death of Emperor Constantine I has led to conflict between his three sons. Troops are pulled out of Britain to support the imperial claim of Constans, based in Gaul, against his brother Constantius in the East, and Saxon raiders are taking advantage of the unrest.

Don’t expect a historical adventure along the lines of Simon Scarrow’s books. This is a novel about the conflict of philosophies and ways of life as rabid Christianity, now the official Imperial religion, fights to subdue a still active paganism at a time of civil war and disarray.

This conflict is seen through the eyes of Drusus, whom we follow from childhood to manhood. At the cusp of adolescence his life is torn apart when his father, a loyal administrator for Constantine, falls foul of his successor, Constans. Drusus is sent to stay with his mother’s family in London, where for the first time he comes into contact with the Christian community. There’s no doubt about who the villains are here. The Christians are portrayed as the destroyers of all that is good, beautiful, tolerant and rational, and seen in caricature, from Drusus’ carping, joyless and jealous aunt, to the odious and ironically named Bishop Pulcher of London, a gross, cowardly and venal opportunist.

Drusus is brought up to behave correctly, fairly and with dignity, in accordance with the ideals of the classical philosophers, but he and like-minded others are fighting a rear-guard action. At one stage Drusus debates with the Bishop:
“Why did God give man reason, if not to discover the truth and own it for himself?”
The Bishop replies, “Words! The time for such questioning is past. The people have no care for your reason and complicated truths. They want certainty—simple, easy certainty—and I give it to them. That is why I shall triumph in the end”.

Waters paints a vivid picture of life in London and its rural surroundings at the time, his knowledge is impressive and his writing stylish, so why did this story leave me feeling curiously dissatisfied?

Firstly, Drusus, our “eyes” through this tale, is strangely elusive as a character, and so fails to carry the reader with him. His role as a vehicle for the exploration of moral issues renders him a less than genuine, engaging personality, and his affair with his friend Marcellus seems oddly passionless. I appreciate that Waters prefers a discreet touch when it comes to homosexual relationships and agree that less can be more when it comes to sex scenes, but here a little more physicality would have added conviction to the affair. Finally, the ending was a shocking case of going out with a whimper rather than a bang. I know that Drusus is acting in a way consistent with rational thought, a triumph of will as opposed to the unthinking violence displayed by the Christian faction, but to me, blood-thirsty little soul that I am, this story demanded more drama as a finale, with retribution involving sacrificial blood-letting. Given that Drusus is a soldier, his PC response seems downright feeble. The rather inconclusive finish leaves me wondering if this book might be the first in a series.

Sophomore novels are always difficult, and I certainly wouldn’t be put off reading any other books written by Paul Waters, but hope that future stories have just a little more fire in the belly.
Last edited by annis on Sat May 16th, 2009, 10:16 pm, edited 13 times in total.

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Fri May 8th, 2009, 11:59 pm

but to me, blood-thirsty little soul that I am


You? For a few moments there until you got to the homosexual aspect I was beginning to think it was The Robe transplanted to London.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sat May 9th, 2009, 12:16 am

Posted by Misfit
For a few moments there until you got to the homosexual aspect I was beginning to think it was The Robe transplanted to London.


LOL! Oh, yes, I love a good adventure, complete with blood and guts :)

CNTD is an anti-"Robe" - with a reversal of the earlier scenario. Here the Christians are the heavies and the pagans the hounded and persecuted.

User avatar
cordaella
Scribbler
Location: West Sussex, United Kingdom

Postby cordaella » Tue May 12th, 2009, 9:13 am

Great review, Annis, thank you. I gave up on Cast Not The Day about halfway through. Drusus came across as another pompous prig just like the main character in Of Merchants and Heroes; the story and relationships seemed as bloodless (in both senses) as you suggest; and the Christian/Pagan thing shot itself in the foot by the author's caricaturing of the Christians as cartoon villains. Somebody ought to tell him that villains always have more impact if they're nuanced a bit. (That's where the BBC Robin Hood series falls over for me - The Sheriff and Gisborne are just like Dastardly and Muttley). And, phew, I'm glad I didn't waste my time struggling on with the novel if it ended with a PC whimper.

A pity, really. I was looking forward to reading an author who, for a change, didn't write thud and blunder about the Romans.

It seems as if this author is a bit of a one-trick pony. I felt as if I was reading the same novel twice with just the names and setting changed. And in Cast Not The Day, it completely failed to convey any of the meat of late-Roman Britain. Thank goodness for Rosemary Sutcliff who gets right under the skin of that turbulent age.

User avatar
Ariadne
Bibliophile
Location: At the foothills of Mt. Level

Postby Ariadne » Tue May 12th, 2009, 5:14 pm

I'd meant to post earlier about your review of Cast Not the Day, Annis, so a belated thanks for posting your thoughts. I really did enjoy Of Merchants and Heroes, especially the author's use of language and sense of place, though my main complaint was his one-dimensional depiction of Caecilius; I also found Marcus somewhat opaque as a character.

User avatar
Ludmilla
Bibliophile
Location: Georgia USA

Postby Ludmilla » Tue May 12th, 2009, 8:32 pm

"Ariadne" wrote: I really did enjoy Of Merchants and Heroes, especially the author's use of language and sense of place, though my main complaint was his one-dimensional depiction of Caecilius; I also found Marcus somewhat opaque as a character.



Same here... I really felt Marcus came across this way because of the 1st person narrative. I thought Dikaiarchos was rather one dimensional and wanted more about Philip V, but it was still a thoughtful evocation of the period.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Wed May 13th, 2009, 8:28 pm

I really enjoyed "Of Merchants & Heroes", which I also thought very evocative, and couldn't wait to get my hands on "Cast Not The Day", but I wasn't that far into the story before a sense of disappointment crept in.

I think the problem with CNTD is that the author has sacrificed character development and dynamic tension for a debate about moral and philosophical issues and religious conflict, which is not a problem in itself, but the book is described as a historical adventure. The debate is not even-handed as Waters clearly throws his hat into the "pagan" ring, and when he's on the attack his tone comes across as rather shrill at times. I definitely rolled my eyes when I came upon the story of Hypatia of Alexandria transported to 4th century London.


Return to “By Author's Last Name R-Z”