Monday, 23 November 2020

The Flame Within by Liz Harris

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


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Linford series #2

Fictional drama
1923
London

Linford Trilogy #2

"Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home. But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier. More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford. Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for."

It is often with a certain amount of trepidation that a reader opens the second instalment of a series – will it be as engrossing, as enjoyable? Will the characters and the events of their lives be as believable as the previous novel? No worries about any of that with book two of the Linford Trilogy – The Flame Within. Actually, I would go as far as saying it was even a tad better than Book One because I had already met the characters – but this one could just as easily be a stand-alone story for anyone who has not yet read Book One.

Slightly different to the usual run of a series, this second book runs parallel to the first, a simultaneous telling of the story as it unfolds, rather than running onward as a consecutive ‘what happened next’. The drama, from the different point of view of the characters is very cleverly done.

Back in 1918 Alice fell in love with Thomas Linford while he was recovering from injuries received during WWI. In 1923, she is his wife, but things are going wrong for Alice. Thomas is finding it hard to adjust to his disabilities and he is in the depth of feeling sorry for himself, enhanced by his resentment that his brothers did not go to war and are not suffering like he is. Divorce in the 1920s was not really an option, and so, inevitably, Alice starts an affair. Which is when the problems get worse for Alice. No spoilers about what happens next, except Alice has the courage to pick herself up and turn her face to the future. I really liked Alice and several times felt like muttering, ‘You go girl! Good for you!” She is ambitious, determined and brave, but perhaps too trusting of those who lie, betray or try to manipulate her.

Alice herself is a delightful character, Thomas, and his family – successful London builders – the sort you automatically despise. And then there is Alice’s family ... all of them are characters that grab hold and cling on to the reader’s interest because they come across as so believably real. Some of them we like, some we don’t. Some we cheer for, some we hiss and boo.

Ms Harris’s research is impeccable, both of life in London during the Great War, and its aftermath, and in the poorer communities of Lancashire. Her style is eloquent and passionate from the first, opening line to the last.

If I had to compare this novel to something from popular fiction I would immediately cite Catherine Cookson... although with the caveat that I think Liz Harris is even better than ‘Our Kate’.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Helen Hollick
 e-version reviewed

(there will be a short story about the Linfords in our December StorySong series - read the story, guess the song)


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Friday, 20 November 2020

A Discovering Diamonds review of Age Of Druids by Christy Nicholas


A Discovering Diamonds Review of Age of Druids by Christy Nicholas


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Historical fantasy
Approx. 5th century
Ireland

Age of Druids is the ninth and final book in Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series. In this instalment, readers are taken to early Christian Ireland, roughly 5th century, where Cliodhna struggles to come to terms with the new religion that is invading and pushing out her beloved old belief. She is accustomed to welcoming the day with the sun, feeling the spirit and energy of living things, and communicating with the Fae who live in the woods near her roundhouse. To her dismay, not only does the new religion have no place for the things she loves, but her two eldest children, nearly grown themselves, are drawn to this new faith and are changing because of it. On top of that, Cliodhna’s husband has been missing for months, adding a layer of suspicion through which the zealous abbot, Padraic, views her.

To try to hold on to her way of life, Cliodhna begins lessons with Adhna, a man of the Fae. He teaches her how to draw upon earth energy to revitalize plants and animals as well as to protect herself. Cliodhna soon finds herself drawn into Adhna’s world more deeply than she ever imagined possible. She will be forced to make a choice between the mortal world, full of strange new ideas and shifting loyalties, and the Fae world, utterly foreign and frightening.

It was interesting to see how the various threads from the other books in this series were entwined throughout this novel. We at last learn how the brooch was created and how and why it was gifted to Cliodhna’s family line to begin with. Learning how her family became connected to the Faerie realm was satisfying after so many books preceding it that hinted but never confirmed. 

I have read many of Nicholas’s books and, while I greatly enjoyed this one, there were a few places, in particular scenes set in the Faerie realm, that I felt I had read before, although maybe it was just a function of having read the others and that Nicholas’s writing style has become so familiar. That is not in itself a bad thing.

The descriptions were all top notch, both in the mortal realm and in Faerie. I liked the diversity of characters and how they changed over time. The Christian monks in general, and the abbot in particular, were described in a negative way since they were seen primarily from Cliodhna’s point of view. This negativity was explained in a later part of the plot, but devout readers may be a little put off by this. The villagers had a few bright spots in terms of character development as well. Ita in particular was an interesting figure and I wish there had been more scenes with her. She added a nice counterpoint to Cliodhna, a good balance.
 
The ending felt a little abrupt, but it makes sense because now the timeline  of the plot has reached where it starts to move forward, rather than backward. Readers could enjoy the series in the reverse order of publication if they really wanted to and get a different view of this sweeping epic. I really loved the way the entire series moved backward through time to get to the genesis of the brooch that was central to the lives of the characters.

Overall, this novel is nicely done and provides a satisfactory end to the entire series. Definitely recommended for fans of historical fantasy and Irish culture.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Kristen McQuinn

 e-version reviewed



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