Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – 4/5 Stars

Norman knights have returned from Jerusalem, and now that King Richard is being held captive in Austria – an event that was in no small part helped by his brother Prince John – they are confident that Prince John can rule safely and that the conquered Saxons, yeoman, and Richard’s subjects can be scattered to the winds. Before the Normans returned from Jerusalem, warriors of the Temple, and particularly notorious knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, aligned themselves with the French and thwarted King Richard’s conquest of Jerusalem. Those Saxon knights loyal to King Richard have yet to return to England to see the state it is in, or so we believe.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - front cover

Strong and reckless oath-breaker and warrior of the Temple, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, is not one for subtlety, and makes his desire plain for beautiful Saxon ward Rowena as one of a few Norman guests of Cedric the Saxon’s keep in Rotherwood. The heart of the Saxon cause beats strongly in fiery leader Cedric, who detests the plight their Normal conquerers have put them in, never mind King John’s betrayal of his brother Richard and the oppression perpetrated by Norman knights. There is, however, more at stake than the political affairs of England, and of Rowena. In the keep a jousting tournament is discussed, to be held at Ashby de la Zouche to symbolise the ascendancy of Prince John (and so that he can raise his funds) and the Normans over the English Saxons. When the Jewish Isaac of York enters the guest hall and becomes the subject of slights and planned cruelties, one man gives up his seat so he can sit down. This man challenges Brian de Bois-Guilbert’s assertion that King Richard’s knights are second only to the warriors of the Temple: King Richard’s knights are ‘second to none’.

The jousting tournament is competitive. The Norman challengers beat the home team on the field, again and again, and the crowd are losing hope. Then, a mysterious knight appears, determined to fight every single one of the challengers for the defenders’ side. The Saxons and yeoman are emboldened by the knight’s victories and their honour is restored. Shocked Cedric is, when at the end of the joust it is revealed to all that the mysterious knight was none other than his disowned son Sir Ivanhoe, who bestows his favour on Rowena as the Queen of Love and Beauty, throwing a spanner in Cedric’s plans for Rowena to marry a Saxon heir. Prince John struggles to maintain dignity, especially when intrepid yeoman Robin Hood speaks of King Richard as England’s rightful King, and is ordered to prove his archery skills or be wrestled off the field.

I enjoyed Ivanhoe much more than I thought I would. There were unforgettable characters, and clashes in battle. There was that medieval romantic feeling as well, hinted at in a few passages. The reader sees the attraction and longing between Ivanhoe and the daughter of Isaac, Rebecca, and yet they cannot be together because of their different faiths in an intolerant and quarrelsome country. Though Ivanhoe and the Black Sluggard knight were adept in battle and showed valour in joust and siege, I also had a huge admiration for Rebecca’s forthright manner and how she could defend her sex, honour, and faith with a strength that stymied even the immoral/conflicted Brian de Bois-Guilbert whose physical strength and capacity for treachery were great.

The background to the entire story and the competing factions within was fascinating. It was Norman vs Saxon, and in the middle were outlawed yeoman led by Robin Hood and a few knights errant loyal to Richard. Robin Hood’s courage was great to read, and brought excitement and fast pace. The author had a grasp for how each faction would think. The Order of the Temple was originally corrupt before their extreme Grand Master put the Preceptory into order.

On the downside, there were too many references specific to the period in which Ivanhoe was written, in 1819, and though the quaint language wasn’t a barrier to understand most of the story, there were times when it was. After Rebecca is captured, three-quarters through the story, it slows down and is immersed in moralistic arguments. The end was disappointing too, and could be considered deus ex machina. I nearly gave Ivanhoe five stars.

Nevertheless, it is one to keep on your shelf. The excitement, battles, personality contrasts, romanticism, and chivalry made it fantastic.

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli – 4/5 Stars

Phoenix by Daccari Buchelli

‘True, privacy was rare in her world, her duties closing in on her youth and what little freedom she had left.’

‘It always felt as though the light would burn her. Some days she wished it would or that her powers would simply envelop her in flame. She revelled in the idea of being allowed to simply melt away, therefore escaping this miserable life.’

Princess Violetta of the Flame Realm has come of age, and men of status have begun to notice her. There’s Xyhoni, the family friend, and there’s the charming Prince Ryore of the Winter Realm, son of Emperor Jugan. When tragedy strikes and Violetta’s brother and mother are killed, she remains close to her father King Eagan, and is suspicious of the Winter Realm. What makes matters more difficult is that even though she can’t quite forget about Xyhoni, she is growing more attracted to Prince Ryore. And Prince Ryore believes he has found his one true love at last…

Author Daccari Buchelli writes with a mastery of language embellishment that is befitting of the authentic fantasy setting and experience. Sentences are elegant, unobtrusive, and constructed with a fine touch. The author has a grasp for the characters’ feelings that make them passionate and interesting. These feelings give rise to wants and motives, and combine with mystical objects to create a fantasy goal. I became immersed in learning about the thoughts of Ryore and Violetta. Chapter after chapter they became more interesting and realistic, and the fantasy world blossomed about them with colour, duty, and romance.

Criticism: honestly, the first three chapters didn’t pull me into the story. The reason was that I was disoriented and this feeling repeated often; the sense of location and stability in the rapidly changing setting made it difficult to get my bearings. The way the setting was introduced was not even or at the right pace. Even my own writing has been criticised for this reason. A few more sentences to bring forward the atmosphere of the setting when it changed, or a few more scene breaks might have helped to indicate the change of setting.

One of the main characters behaved out of character in Chapter Sixteen, in a way that suspended my belief, which marked a different direction for the narrative. Some paragraphs were double the length I would personally have preferred. A few misspelled words: ‘baited’ and ‘bated’, ‘facet’ and ‘faucet’, and one I wasn’t sure about – ‘intendent’ and ‘attendant’.

Overall, I read the entirety of Phoenix with wild anticipation. The writing was written elegantly and the setting felt like a fantasy world I had actually stepped into. While I was reading about the engrossing characters I didn’t care where the plot was going. I’m not a reader of romance, but the exaggerated displays of affection between two of the main characters impressed me. It was quite easy and enjoyable to digest multiple chapters of Phoenix at a time. I’d strongly recommend Phoenix to all fantasy readers, especially those who like high fantasy, classical fantasy, adventure, and romance.

Author Daccari Buchelli’s website

The Invisible Man by HG Wells – 5/5 Stars

The Invisible Man by HG Wells

My third HG Well’s novel read and I’ve started to notice that he often has a main character on the run from something: mustering violence to protect against innumerable or unfathomable enemies, facing starvation through the quaint English countryside, and then having to make use of reason to make sense of the extremely improbable. Humorously, most of the sub-characters aren’t on the run as such, but are so highly panicked and foolish that it makes the heroic main characters look calm and collected by comparison. The sub-characters engage in gossip, wild speculation, and this drives their collective fury to such a level as to make all hell break loose on the roads. It doesn’t require a close examination to deduce that when reading HG Well’s novels, we are reading about a fragile society that is faced with what to them is an impossible occurrence: an invisible man!

Did this make me sympathise with the glut of people? Not really, for their (at first) baseless rumours convinced me that they did not need an invisible man to “appear” to startle them and provoke them into collective insanity. When the invisible man is “revealed” to them, the level of panic and outrage is turned up a notch, perhaps understandably, but it was difficult for most to see reason or think how there could be an invisible man; most were not enquiring minds. Kemp, introduced quite late in the novel, has an enquiring mind and scientific background. An educated man, if you will. Kemp sees those running away from an “invisible man” down the hill outside his window as classic fools, in the absence of evidence.

As for the invisible man himself, during the early few chapters I sympathised with him greatly, wrapped up as he was in bandages to conceal his affliction. He only wanted privacy from questions, but his odd garments and need to seclude himself naturally led to idle gossip and then break in’s and direct questions. It was easy to forgive the invisible man’s cruelty at this stage. The reader soon sees how infuriating it really is to be invisible in the 19th century: good for the element of surprise and disappearing but not ideal for survival in human towns and villages.

The Invisible Man is an intriguing tale, wound well with originality stemming from its main concept. Everywhere he went, he caused trouble and alarm. Though there was a touch too much background into how the invisible man arrived where he did, we got to learn how he made himself invisible and of his tribulations before the commencement of the novel. It was as much about how flawed Griffin (the invisible man) was; how his strengths made him a terror and how his weaknesses escalated the hunt against him; as about the novelty of being invisible. This is a stunning novel, with writing that flows so well it seems to swim pleasantly in the mind. Highly recommended!