Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Answering Review Request: Plaint for Provence

Jean Gill asked me to read her book "Plaint of Provence", the third book in her Troubadour series. I have already read for review the other two books, "Song at Dawn" and "Bladesong". You can read my reviews for them at these two links. For this book I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.


PLOT

The premise here is that the area of Provence in France is caught between the control of two families. There was already a war to this effect and tensions still run high. The legal ruler is making a goodwill visit that could quickly and easily turn into a war.



Dragonetz and Estella have both been invited to the Court of Les Baux by its de-facto ruler, Lady Etiennette in preparation for the arrival of its absentee lord, Ramon Barcelone. The invitations are contrasting in their nature: Estella will provide entertainment to impress Barcelone with the sophistication of Les Baux, and Dragonetz will help her prepare for a second war against him. The catch is that Dragonetz has received the same invitation from Barcelone himself, and he hasn't decided who he will support.


If this sounds similar to the premise of the previous book, that's because it is. Estella even expresses her frustration at him playing "the double's game" again and how much danger it put him in. Dragonetz just winks and says "so I've had practice". Indeed he does; this could be Miss Gill leaning on the Fourth Wall.


This book could be a twin to "Bladesong", but its better looking and more intelligent twin. Every flaw I saw or complaint I had regarding "Bladesong" has been rectified in "Plaint for Provence", and in some cases, those flaws make Plaint for Provence even better than it would have been otherwise. This is not to say that I think "Bladesong" is a bad book. On the contrary, I think it is a good book, but it does not reach the same level as "Song at Dawn" and "Plaint for Provence".

For instance, in "Bladesong", the plan to recruit Dragonetz was needless complicated and drawn out. It involved abducting him,  holding him captive for a prolonged period of time, getting him addicted to opium without his knowledge of it, and then tossing him between three people across the Holy Land who have never met him. Here it's just a straightforward invitation that is supported by two of his friends. He is also much more active in this book, and therefore more of a character instead of a MacGuffin.

The reason for conflict is also much improved. Instead of a bible, which while highly symbolic, also had little narrative weight since the people fighting over it treated it like a bauble. Here, the conflict is lordship over a large territory where both sides have differing but legitimate claims to it.

A third point is Estella's role. Her arc in "Bladesong" was largely disconnected to the main plot and her screen time reduced.  Here she is integral and has much time to herself; a deuteragonist again. 


There is a smooth plot progression through several distinct events. While they are distinct and have different players and settings, they all move toward the book's conclusion. They are mini-arcs that move the resolution forward. It is a "unity in diversity" sort of thing.

The story has a good resolution. The conflict over Provence is basically over but not completely. It is certainly over for our leading lord and lady, who move on to their next adventure.

CHARACTERS

Dragonetz continues to be an engaging character. As I've said before, he is a Broken Ace; skilled in many diverse fields, accomplisher of much and charming to all he meets, but he also has haunting failures and feelings of inadequacy as he can never quite reach his goals. This book introduces a new demon; opium addiction. For all his bravery and determination in other fields, fighting his own desires are the hardest. On a different note (pardon the pun), his attempt to produce in reality the songs that he heard in his dreams are poignant. I can relate to that as an author myself.

Sancha was a good character in "Song at Dawn" but in retrospect, there was a lot of focus on her SPOILER! at the expense of her character. Here she is presented with much greater personal depth and backstory along with a more holistic integration of SPOILER! and the rest of her character.

Estela has a marvelous character arc in this book. She has become more realistic in her worldview in that she doesn't expect courtly romance to turn out like a ballad, but at the same time she has not become jaded and consider such things to be frivolous.
She has also developed her interest in and knowledge of medicine in a way that feels more personal and vivid than "Bladesong". There's this funny running gag about her considering the path of the surgeon while her friends look in horror at her butchered embroidery. Snippets from the books she reads (real life books and authors from this time period) are fascinating in their historical paradigm.
The conflict with her step-mother is poignant in how it reveals what she thinks about her identity and history. Those who have read "Song at Dawn" will remember that "Estela" is not her birth name, but by now, she considers it to be her real name.

Geoffroi De Rancon, as I stated in the PLOT section, receives greater depth here. He is not a deceptive man-child on a vendetta of misguided aggression but a grown man torn between knightly ideals and personal anger. He is now someone that is more fitting to be Dragonetz' Evil Counterpart: charming, chivalrous, skilled with both the sword and the song, but also full of negative emotions and disillusionment. The difference being that Dragonetz blames only himself and De Rancon blames Dragonetz. In this regard, Maria is an intriguing Morality Pet.


There is no Big Bad because Miss Gill skillfully creates a Grey-and-Grey-Morality setting, and what is more impressive is that she does this without making everyone into a morally ambiguous jerk. 
On one side, you have Lady Etiennette Les Baux, whose family has traditionally ruled in Provence, lives in the area, and is popular among both the commoners and the nobles for her sophisticated court and fair-minded administration, but lacks the legal right and is willing to wage continuous war in order to regain it despite signing a peace treaty after already losing once.

On the other side, you have Ramond Barcelone, whose has the legal right to rule (by way of his regency for his nephew, the one inheriting) and would do a good job of it because he earned the nickname "El Sant" (i.e. "Ramond The Saint") for his sterling character. However, he would be an absentee lord and thus unable to personally hear the population's legal cases or defend them from enemies. There's also the unusual manner in which his nephew came to inherit Provence; Lady Etiennette was in line for it and then legal stuff happened within her family. Third, there's the suspicious manner in which  Lady Etiennette's husband, Raymond Les Baux, died under his care and made her sons sign a peace treaty that they were too young to understand.

POLISH

I found one missing word in 250 pages. Otherwise, it looks really good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Plaint for Provence" an A+

Click here for the next review request: A Matter of Belief

 Click here for the previous review request: TitanBorn

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
 

1 comment:

  1. I think you know my novels and characters better than I do! Very perceptive analysis and so glad you liked it. I'm starting work on Book 4 right now.

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