Graceling [by Kristin Cashhore] tells the story of the vulnerable-yet-strong Katsa, who is smart and beautiful and lives in the Seven Kingdoms where selected people are born with a Grace, a special talent that can be anything at all. Katsa’s Grace is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his brutal enforcer. Until the day she meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, and Katsa’s life begins to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
A female assassin in a fantasy setting? Sign me up! I was so excited to read this book but unfortunately it did not meet my expectation. The premise is incredible: some people are born with eyes of different color which indicate they are graced with an unnatural ability. The main character, Katsa, is graced with the skill to kill. Her uncle, the King, uses her to enforce his will in vicious ways but to make amends, Katsa runs a secret “Council” that fights the evil rule prevalent throughout the seven kingdoms.
For such a fantastic concept, the book has no plot to support it. The Council never really plays a part; there is not a significant challenge or puzzle Katsa must overcome. She meets a prince who obviously is more than he seems, falls for him, predictably eventually stands up to her Uncle, and then rescues a young princess. That’s about it. None of the major plot points really thread together well and I predicted all of the “twists” except for the last one.
Along with premise, I do give the author credit for staying true to her characters. It would have been so easy and perhaps expected to have the characters end in a different way. Instead, Kristin Cashore stays true to Katsa’s character and gives her the nontraditional, though fitting conclusion. Brava to Kristin for taking the brave path.
Graceling was a fine read but it’s not one I see myself ever going back to again.
Today I’m excited to host a guest blog by P.K. Adams about the Jagiellons and her new historical fiction novel, Silent Water , which released August 6. P.K.’s prose flows from the page to seep into your mind and whisk you away to another world. You can read my review of her debut novel here, but in the meantime, here’s P.K. Adams:
With my new novel, Silent Water, I am finally entering the Tudor-era mystery subgenre, but with a twist. What’s the twist? Well, my protagonists are not actually Tudor subjects. That’s because even though my story takes place in the first half of the 16th century, it is set in eastern Europe at the royal court in Cracow ruled at that time by the Jagiellon dynasty.
I have long wanted to set a novel there. It is a personal project in a way that my previous writing was not. I spent my teenage years in Poland, and my first serious study of history was not about the Tudors or the Borgias, but about a dynasty that, although powerful in its time, is little known outside of eastern Europe. The Jagiellons (pronounced Ya-ghye-lohns) ruled the union of Poland and Lithuania (as well as, at various times, Hungary, Bohemia, and several minor principalities and territories) for more than two hundred years.
Longer-lasting than the Tudors (founded in 1387 and dissolved in 1596), at its heyday the monarchy presided over a territory stretching from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea and the Adriatic in the south. The reign of the last two kings of the dynasty – Zygmunt I (the Old) and Zygmunt II (August)—was the period in Polish history known as The Golden Age. Never before or after—until late in the 20th century—would Poland be so prosperous and peaceful as it was in the first seven decades of the 16th century.
Interestingly, one of the most powerful and consequential Jagiellon monarchs was not actually Polish. Bona Sforza, who married Zygmunt I in 1518, was an Italian noblewoman who arrived in Cracow as a young royal bride, bringing with her new cuisine, customs, and fashions. But it was her ambition, forceful personality, and political astuteness that made the biggest mark on her adoptive country. She reformed its outdated agricultural sector, patronized artists, founded schools, built roads and bridges, and in the process accumulated a massive fortune. She was by all accounts a strong, fascinating, but also a tragic figure.
Silent Water (A Jagiellon Mystery Book 1) is the result of my fascination with the Jagiellon era in eastern Europe. I hope that it will give the English-language audiences a sense of how dynamic, diverse, glamorous, and intrigue-ridden the Polish court was. In that, it was no different from the Tudors, the Borgias, or the Valois about whom we love to read so much.
It is Christmas 1519 and the royal court in Kraków is in the midst of celebrating the joyous season. Less than two years earlier, Italian noblewoman Bona Sforza arrived in Poland’s capital from Bari as King Zygmunt’s new bride. She came from Italy accompanied by a splendid entourage, including Contessa Caterina Sanseverino who oversees the ladies of the Queen’s Chamber.
Caterina is still adjusting to the life in this northern kingdom of cold winters, unfamiliar customs, and an incomprehensible language when a shocking murder rocks the court on Christmas night. It is followed by another a few days later. The victims have seemingly nothing in common. Gossip, speculation, and suspicion are rife, but the perpetrator remains elusive as the court heads into the New Year.
As the official investigation stalls, Caterina—aided by Sebastian Konarski, a junior secretary in the king’s household—sets out to find the killer. With clues beginning to point to the queen’s innermost circle, the pair are soon racing against time to stop another murder.
Silent Water is a story of power and its abuse, and the extremes to which a person may go to find redress for justice denied. Although set at the dawn of the Renaissance era, its themes carry uncanny parallels to some of the most topical social issues of the 21st century.
“This clever and suspenseful murder mystery casts a fresh and sparkling light on the world beloved by fans of The Tudors and The Borgias. P. K. Adams, author of two previous novels about the twelfth-century healer and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, masterfully brings Renaissance Poland to life without ever losing track of the human passions that drive her characters. A wonderful start to a new series.” —C. P. Lesley, author of Song of the Siren and other novels
About The Author P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).
Detective Inspector Rose Beaumont stays busy in bed, patrolling London’s Dreamscape. When His Majesty’s first line of defense against nightmares is assassinated, Britain falls vulnerable to a monstrous attack, and DI Beaumont is called on to solve the murder…or take the heat.
Even though charming Duke Montague, a key witness to the supernatural crime, makes DI Beaumont’s eyes roll, she must navigate the pretenses of emerging nobility, unweave the web spun by murderous monsters, and evade the ever-present threat of social suicide to keep the Duke alive by stopping whomever (or whatever) is on the warpath while simultaneously dodging the overprotective Duchess’s henchmen.
Between “Prince Charming” and gruesome death stands one tired detective.
About the Author
By day, Kristy works as an IT Project Coordinator. She wanted to be a fairy princess when she grew up but sadly discovered that the job was no longer on the market. Instead, she embarked on a career to at least write about princesses in castles and grand adventures. She lives in Canberra, Australia, with an abundance of old comics and cute anime figurines. She fell in love with anime so much, she spent 9 years learning Japanese through High School and University.
By night, Kristy is a hippy and foodie, enjoying the life of a city-bred lady and trying all the latest restaurants and foodie crazes she can. She is most at home throwing money around in a handcrafts market, eating gourmet chocolate, discussing the various ramen recipes between restaurants and browsing second-hand bookstores for undiscovered gems. She is a consummate spinster and lover of animals, but has yet to receive a crazy cat lady starter kit.
An enticing plot, memorable characters with relatable flaws, and fast-paced tension will draw a reader into any story, but for historical fiction, the goal is also to transport them to the past. Here are my tips for bringing the past to life:
Details paint a scene in a reader’s mind but they should not be blatant. Simply mentioning “she rested a hand on her bodice” instead of “hip” begins to place a scene in the past. The historic period should be another aspect of the scenery and plot, but not the dominating characteristic – meaning avoid paragraphs of detail dumps. Instead, integrate historical context into subtle actions, the way characters converse, and in word choices through entomology research.
Use all the senses; do not just describes objects that are seen. How did clothing of the period feel against skin? How comfortable was the furniture? The way food is prepared affects the flavor and smell. What ambient sounds are in the scene?
Research. For as much as details pull the reader in, wrong information can also throw them right out. A single anachronism can destroy the entire moment the author has meticulously crafted. It sucks, but that’s the truth. This condemns the historical fiction author to countless hours of research for the tiniest details we take for granted with modern time periods. To help with the never-ending task, here is a list of my favorite historical fiction research resources.
Make sure the problem – and solution – are historically accurate. History can bite the author in so many ways. For my novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, I spent several days researching if it were possible for my Tudor assassin to have a greenhouse to overcome her ingredient shortage. (You can read about that research saga here.) Your character may not have had access to loans, education, or even a trustworthy food supply based upon their gender, race, and historical period. But at the same time, these historical hardships can help shape your character, provide opportunities for growth, and force the author to take less-predictable plot choices.
For another perspective on bringing history to life continue the OWS CyCon blog hop with: Robinette Waterson, who writes about the Victorian era.
Wait…What is OWS CyCon?
Our Write Side Cyber Convention is a virtual book fair May 17-19, 2019! Check out the site for book giveaways, live panel discussion, virtual fair booths, cover wars, and more!
K.M. Pohlkamp is the author if Apricots and Wolfsbane, an award-winning novel following the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. She is a blessed wife to the love of her life, proud mother of two young children, and a Mission Control flight controller. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. She can be found at http://www.kmpohlkamp.com, Twitter, or Facebook.
Apricots and Wolfsbane Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.
At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.
With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.
This multiple POV journey allows Rickford to depict each scene from the view point with the most on the line, heightening tension. But by switching from the heads of Cortez’s crew to that of the native Mexica, I found myself rooting for both sides and falling ambivalent to who would claim victory.
The Serpent and the Eagle is an emotional journey through the eyes of a Mexica King, conquistadors, a slave girl, and so many more caught in the Spanish hunger for gold. Dramatizing the landing of Cortez in the New World, the novel follows his social maneuvering with natives to obtain riches. Each chapter changes the narrator’s POV allowing the reader to also experience the anxiety the “pale ones” bring to native Mexica. As a result, the tension in this book is created from mental turmoil rather than militaristic campaigns, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
There are also so many
characters in this novel it can be hard to keep them straight and none are
really fully developed. The closest developmental arc follows the power
struggle between Cortez’s translator, Aguilar, and the native slave, Malinche.
As the only one who speaks Nahuatl, Malinche quickly realizes she can exploit
her skill to raise her station and later how she can twist Cortez’s words to
influence perception. I enjoyed watching her subtle, clandestine grasp for
power and hope to see her manipulative side further developed in Book 2.
However Rickford’s engrossing story telling makes up for any shortcomings associated with the large ensemble of characters. His words flow from the page like silk, pulling the reader into period not commonly seen in historical fiction. Each character’s voice is masterfully crafted and distinct. I never would have picked up this book without prompting, but I would have missed out. This is a perfect read to branch out from a reading rut, learn about a different era in history, and try something a little off from mainstream.
Ever since Edward was young, he has enjoyed writing. College gave him the chance to combine his interest in history with his passion for storytelling and he mainly writes historical fiction now. To research The Serpent and the Eagle, Edward read centuries-old texts and traveled to Mexico repeatedly, even retracing Cortés’ route through central Mexico. For his writing, he has won the Best in Category prize in the 2017 Chaucer Book Awards and the Deixler-Swain prize for his undergraduate thesis on the Spanish-Mexica war.