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Worst HF you've ever read

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
annis
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Post by annis » Wed December 31st, 2008, 10:59 pm

This is by no means the worst HF I've read, but it is amongst the most frustrating. "Theoderic" by Ross Laidlaw. The author really knows his subject and it makes an excellent non-fiction history of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. It's thoroughly researched, with copious (albeit distracting) footnotes and additional information at the back of the book. But as HF ? Nowhere did I get any feeling of the person of Theoderic, although the book revolves around his life and times. This was a man of great abilities and charisma, but he remains black & white, a ghost in the pages of a historical text. Where is the passion, the vitality of the man?

My first rant of the year :)

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Wed December 31st, 2008, 11:31 pm

Just stirring the pot here, but I wouldn't have thought the premise of a female Spartan warrior a totally implausible one, putting all other objections aside.
You know I love it when you stir the pot, Annis! It wasn't so much that I found the idea of a female Spartan warrior implausible as that I found the whole tone of the book had the superficiality and cartoon-like quality of a video game and, like some video games, glorified extreme violence - in this case, particularly sexualized violence against women. In this context, the Spartan woman's background became part of what, to me, seemed a general aura of carelessness and unconcern about whether the historical setting was authentic, so long as it served up a lot of a certain type of violence. People who play video games may be inured to this and less sensitive to it than I am. For a lot of novels, I'm more comfortable than many historical novel fans to overlook some anachronisms and/or some modern-folks-in-fancy-dress errors if the novel nevertheless presents me with a new, plausible, and illuminating angle on some aspect of the time period or on a historical character. I found this novel exploitive rather than illuminating.

I haven't read Scarrow, but I find Cornwell's work to be completely different in tone. The Pale Horseman is full of violence, including violence against women, but the characters and situations felt authentic, true to their time and, most important to me, illuminative of the human psyche in general. In reading The Pale Horseman, I was able to feel compassion and understanding for Uhtred even while he was pursuing activities I did not approve of. I think this is one of the finest things a novelist can do for readers, because it expands one's ability to feel compassion. Gladiatrix didn't do it for me, partly because the cartoon-like characterizations never allowed me to enter their psyches as if they were real people, and partly because the violence seemed to be served up as something for the reader to enjoy purely for its own sake.
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LCW
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Post by LCW » Thu January 1st, 2009, 6:40 pm

Yikes! This book sounds awful! I was thinking about purchasing it since The Light Bearer made me want to read more about gladiators in general but I think I'll pass.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

Carla
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Post by Carla » Thu January 1st, 2009, 7:40 pm

Well, I enjoyed Gladiatrix and I said why in my review, which EC linked to somewhere up the thread. Margaret didn't, and said why in her review. It would be a dull world if we all liked the same things.

LCW, if you enjoyed The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie, you may like to look at her comment on Gladiatrix quoted on Russell Whitfield's website (http://www.russellwhitfield.com/reviews.htm). It seems she liked it too.
Last edited by Carla on Thu January 1st, 2009, 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Thu January 1st, 2009, 8:12 pm

[quote=""Carla""]LCW, if you enjoyed The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie, you may like to look at her comment on Gladiatrix quoted on Russell Whitfield's website (http://www.russellwhitfield.com/reviews.htm). It seems she liked it too.[/quote]

If I'm not mistaken I saw a glowing review by Gellispie on the book on Amazon.

gyrehead
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Post by gyrehead » Thu January 1st, 2009, 9:03 pm

I definitely found the Spartan Warriorette theme implausible. It was presented in a very modern way as far as I had read and was also presented with non of the incredible sexist and rascist views the Spartas were known to have. Even just doing a little probing into the Classical encyclopedia on Women or Sparta or Cleomenes and the author could have avoided a modern day attempt to do nothing more than tap into a trend. Plus just the comtemporary references as far back as there is written record in the region to the advent of the Roman Empire and the Greek in general and SPartan in particular notion of women actually fighting is pretty much dealt with the same level of distrust and even outrage as the Spartans had for the Greek courtesans. From my understanding it was fine for the Spartans to have their owmen be tough and strong as examples of the overall Spartan way of life. But even with some strong female leaders, women where still way too second class that the premise was just something I had to hoot at. For me the book read very much like a Hollywood pitch:

"It's Lara Croft Meets 300."

But I also see this type of trend in a lot of the historical fiction and also cropping up rather strongly in fantasy fiction. All of which seem incredibly popular across a rather broad base. Scott Lynch (Ocean's Eleven Meets Fritz Leiber) and Joe Abercrombie (David Gemmell meets Conn Iggulden) write fantasy that really has a distinct parallel to much of the action themed historical fiction (I have read with very mixed results) that is very popular today.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Thu January 1st, 2009, 11:22 pm

[quote=""gyrehead""]
"It's Lara Croft Meets 300."

But I also see this type of trend in a lot of the historical fiction and also cropping up rather strongly in fantasy fiction. All of which seem incredibly popular across a rather broad base. Scott Lynch (Ocean's Eleven Meets Fritz Leiber) and Joe Abercrombie (David Gemmell meets Conn Iggulden) write fantasy that really has a distinct parallel to much of the action themed historical fiction (I have read with very mixed results) that is very popular today.[/quote]

I wonder if it is to do with computer games. There are scads of historical fighting and strategy games around at the moment and from the descriptions I've heard and from the impressions I'm receiving from glancing round the Net (My Google Alerts is set up for William Marshal and I keep coming across gamer sites mentions of him in his military persona), I think there's a certain audience in mind, which may or may not suck in other readers too. I'm reading one at the moment that would very much fit into the above format and it's obvious that the publisher is pumping money into it.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Fri January 2nd, 2009, 1:15 am

It would be a dull world if we all liked the same things.
Agreed!

I definitely think Gladiatrix was written with video-game enthusiasts in mind. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a video game exists that is structured around the Roman gladiatorial arena.

One of the things I've told the author is that I am sensitive to overtones of racism (which clearly were not intentional on his part) because I grew up in the American South during the 1950s and 1960s when lynchings of black men suspected of having looked lustfully upon white women or raped them were still a very present and painful memory. I personally remember news reports of the Birmingham church bombings in which three little black girls died, the murders of 3 civil rights workers, George Wallace standing in a school door to prevent a black child from entering, and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. So when the only black character in the novel is also by far the most vile character in the novel and leads a gang rape of the main character, to me, it definitely evoked memories of America's racist past. For people who are considerably younger than me or who (like the author) did not grow up in the U.S. (and particularly the South), the novel would be less likely to bring up these associations.

I've offered him the opportunity to write a response to my review, which I would post on my website with a link from the review. If I hear from him, I'll also let him know about Carla's review, which I don't think he's aware of.
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annis
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Post by annis » Fri January 2nd, 2009, 8:13 am

Russell definitely is aware of Carla's review, Margaret, as he responded to it and to the various comments made about it- incidentally you might find some of those comments interesting as well- a few people noted the gamer connection.
http://carlanayland.blogspot.com/2008/0 ... -book.html

Indidentally, I have read "Gladiatrix' myself, and though I can understand the objections to it I did agree with Carla's assessment of it.
I should add that I also enjoy really bad martial arts movies, ( and Joe Abercrombie, mea culpa!) so my taste may be suspect :)
Last edited by annis on Fri January 2nd, 2009, 6:08 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Volgadon
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Post by Volgadon » Fri January 2nd, 2009, 12:06 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]I haven't read Scarrow, but I find Cornwell's work to be completely different in tone. The Pale Horseman is full of violence, including violence against women, but the characters and situations felt authentic, true to their time and, most important to me, illuminative of the human psyche in general. In reading The Pale Horseman, I was able to feel compassion and understanding for Uhtred even while he was pursuing activities I did not approve of. I think this is one of the finest things a novelist can do for readers, because it expands one's ability to feel compassion. Gladiatrix didn't do it for me, partly because the cartoon-like characterizations never allowed me to enter their psyches as if they were real people, and partly because the violence seemed to be served up as something for the reader to enjoy purely for its own sake.[/quote]

Bernard Cornwell has a talent for writing violence and brutality. He can bring to life the rather dry references to them in contemporary sources.

Finally thought of a nomination. Milorad Pavich's Dictionary of the Khazars.
There are probably novels worse written but Dictionary has done such damage to the subject of the Khazars. Peopole walk away with the impression that the Khazars were newage mystical shamans. If this weren't enough the book is unbearably turgid.

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