Friday, 31 October 2014

Review: The Bleeding Land by Giles Kristian

Giles Kristian's The Bleeding Land delves into an interesting period in history: the England's Civil War in the 17th century where the Parliament rebelled against the King and the land was torn apart - and sometimes even families - as everyone took sides in the following battles. The novel explores the effects of the war on a family of landed gentry: the Rivers. Two sons are separated by a tragedy and find themselves on the opposing sides of the war.

Some novels take me longer to finish than others. Giles Kristian's The Bleeding Land, however, must have made a record as it took me sixteen months to finish it. More precisely, I was daunted by the first third/half of the story that trod very predictable paths in order to show the reader how the two brothers ended up on the opposite sides of the war. I stopped reading for over a year and only returned to the story after I read a review saying that the story picks up once that part is over. And the reviewer was right: once the necessary motions were over and done with, the author lets the adventure begin and the brothers and their sister end up in various very exciting predicaments from which they have to find their ways out of.

Besides the slow beginning, my main complaint about the story must be the event that causes the brothers to pick different sides. Rather than taking advantage of the strong ideologies of the time, the author uses a personal tragedy as the main motivator for one of the brothers to leave his family. He ends up fighting for the Parliament, but he never really supports them: his only reason for being there is his personal drive to revenge what's been done to him. I suspect that this will give the brothers an opportunity to join forces and make amends later on in the series, once the vengeance stuff is over and done with. However, I believe that an ideological difference between the brothers might have made for a more interesting story - and characters. As it is, the brothers are very similar, their only noticeable differences being their situations and the names of their horses.

When looking for descriptions of the era - the 17th century England - the novel offers some interesting events and locations to visit. There's a visit to London early on which was an interesting read, and some later descriptions of villagers picking through dead soldiers after a battle added to the atmosphere. The author resisted describing the usual things - the workings of matchlock and wheellock muskets, for example - pretty well. They are there, but at least they do not take up a full page. Kristian also uses some interesting word choices, attempting to bring life to the period, such as poll-axe instead of pole-axe. But in the afterword he admits that some of these were perhaps no longer used at the time he describes. One word choice that I found curious was the use of "firelock" as if it was something other than a matchlock or a wheellock. As far as I've let myself be told, firelock was a word used primarily for the matchlock, but ended up being used for later firing lock mechanisms as well - as a kind of a general term.

Overall, I was not entirely captivated by the novel, although the latter half did show promise of the series developing into a decent adventure story. The writing is good and the ruthless descriptions of deaths give it a modern air. I'll probably check out the sequel some day, but it is not on the top of my "to read" list.