Archive for the ‘ Royal Mistresses Challenge ’ Category

REVIEW: “The Time of Singing” by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Time of Singing

Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere, 2008

CHALLENGE(S): Royal Mistresses Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge

Finished on 8 Apr 2010

I began this book at the beginning of March, but found it difficult to finish. Not only does it weigh in at a whopping 500 pages, but I found the story itself pretty dry and hard to maintain any interest in.

The back cover asserts that this is a story about a woman, Ida de Tosney, who has to make a heartbreaking sacrifice. The mistress of King Henry II and mother of his son, she longs to escape the court, and her chance comes when she meets and is attracted to Roger Bigod, son of a powerful Earl who comes to the court to settle a dispute with his half-brothers. In order to follow her heart and marry Roger, however, Ida must leave her young son behind.

In point of fact, however, this isn’t so much a story about Ida having to leave her son (which might have been interesting), but a story about Ida becoming Henry’s mistress, having a son, leaving her son, marrying Roger, having more children, pining for her son, and so on. Personally, I think the author was trying to include far too much in the novel, most of which was unnecessary and did not form any kind of interesting narrative. Perhaps this is simply a consequence of writing about real historical people and therefore having to conform to the facts, but I think it would have benefited from a sharper focus and a tighter plotline.

As far as the writing goes, Chadwick is technically competent, but I felt overall that the book lacked soul. She tells us a lot more than she shows, and is so intent on transferring her vision in exacting detail that she doesn’t allow the reader much room to interpret or interact with the story. I also felt the main characters were very much Mary Sues. They were both good people, who made the right choices, always had good intentions, and always did the right thing. Anyone who opposed them was necessarily a bad person by default, and/or described as physically ugly. The conflicts throughout the story felt manufactured and seemed decidedly trivial, even though they shouldn’t have. I got the sense that these were cardboard people being put through the motions; I simply could not sympathise with them. Although the story purported to cover their lives over several years, they didn’t change at all, while their children seemed merely background characters, added into the narrative whenever the author needed to remind us that time had passed, or to generate more ‘conflict’ for the main characters.

I will say that Chadwick has a clear grasp of the time period and a knack for period-appropriate dialogue without clunkiness or artificiality. I also appreciated the reconciliation with Roger’s half-brother near the end, and I am sorry we didn’t get to see more of his character arc as I found it very interesting. Otherwise, I’m afraid the story simply did not resonate for me at all, and had I not needed to read it as part of these challenges I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. Not one I’d recommend.



New Challenges!

Because I’m still not satisfied with the two pages of challenges I already have listed in a Word file. Ahem.

Firstly, New Beginnings Wednesday. This is not a reading challenge; it’s basically a challenge to keep you going with your New Year’s Resolution(s) by posting your progress each Wednesday. Personally, I only have one resolution for this year, and that is: stick with what I start. I’m terribly scatterbrained, always shifting from one project to the next, often before I’m finished. I’m the sort of person who has three or four novels going at once in different parts of the house plus plenty more on the shelf, twenty different stories being written, a number of classes and so on but who only ever seems to finish a fraction of what they’ve begun because they’re so busy accumulating more Things To Do that they never get the time or patience to complete anything. Including their sentences, apparently. Well, no more! This year I’m going to break that habit once and for all. Beyond that, I don’t think I need any other resolutions – that pretty much covers everything.

Another challenge is the Royal Mistress Challenge. I’m on a historical kick at the moment as I have two historical novels in the works myself, and I love a good intrigue. The use of sex as a political tool fascinates me on an intellectual level as well, so it sounds like the ideal topic! Depending on how many titles I can find, I may read one related novel a month, putting me at Secret Wife level, but I think I’ll take it as I go and start out aiming just for Maid of Honour.

I shall also attempt The Year of the Historical Challenge – at least one historical novel per month – since that fits nicely with my plans for the above, and I really like historicals when they’re done right. Particularly those set in WW1 and WW2. And the 1950s. And the Victorian era. And the Crusades. And – okay, I’ll stop now.

I’ve already been whittling away at the 42 Sci-Fi Challenge as well; mostly because I am currently addicted to The X-Files (I missed out on it growing up because we had no television until I was 13, by which point I think the series had ended. Although I did have an X Files computer game that used to scare me silly. It was on, like, ten discs because our computer was only capable of handling a thimble of information at a time. Oh my god, I’m old!). I’m not big on sci-fi books as a rule, but when it comes to TV and movies, I’m generally all over it. Strange that. Anyway, I’m going to make an additional rule for myself that at least ten of the 42 must be written, otherwise it won’t be much of a challenge for me at all. And we can’t have that, can we? No, I thought not.

That’s enough for today, I think, but I will be adding more in the coming days as I work through the list I have. And that’s barely scratching the surface, I know, but I am only human.

You know what I said about starting things and never finishing them? Now you understand why my resolution is so important. Come 2011 I want to have completed all of these challenges I’ve entered. Wish me luck!