Jean Gill asked me to read her novel, "Song Hereafter". It is the fourth book in her "The Troubadours" series and the fourth book of hers that I have reviewed. I wished I had a Hall of Fame on my blog because this is also the fourth book of hers that I find excellent. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.
The overarching plot here is that of Dragonetz and Estela's relationship trouble; not with each other but with their situation. They are effectively a married couple (common-law marriage?) but for previous-book reasons, they can't be officially married. This causes certain problems in 12st century European society. These problems take the form of several, smaller, more concrete arcs. The biggest of which, and what is the meat of this book, is a stealth-diplomatic mission to Gwalia (i.e. Whales).
Upon initially reading the book, it can come off as disjointed because certain plot points are set up and then resolved shortly after (with exception, of course, to the main plot in Gwalia) without any obvious connection. However, one soon sees how they are all connected to the larger plot and build off on each other. It can sometimes be surprising just how well they connect. It is a tapestry of life, sort of thing.
I like what Jean Gill does with scenery and other landscape details. It is a great balance of what is beautiful and what is necessary. When the leading couple approach the Palace of Joy in Zaragoza, there is this depiction of its splendor. The natural landscapes in Gwalia are similarly attentive but not every location is described. That would be exhausting. Reaching this balance is something I try to do in my own writing, but I am not as consistently skilled in this area as Miss Gill.
Question: "What's in the bag?" Answer: "A badger." WHACK. Simultaneously, this scene is funny, serious, and an establishing character moment for two critical characters and their society.
Over the course of this book, Estella writes a travel guide she calls "The Wise Traveler". Not only does it show another development of Estella's creative nature but it also serves as a handy and non-intrusive way to provide exposition. It is actually a meta device because the information provided about the places Estella visits also informs the person reading Miss. Gill's book about Estella's point of view and audience.
There is a satisfying conclusion, both to this book and to this series. The Romance Genre aspect of the series is fulfilled in full and many plot threads are tied. It is a good place to stop in the lives of Estela and Dragonetz, though there is definitely more to them.
Estela's character continues to develop as her character arc takes a new turn. This book places a special emphasis on the roles of wife and mother, which unfolds in how Estela is vs how the society at the time and place expects both to act. There is patience and understanding but also stubborn support (whether he likes it or not). There is also a heightened contrast with Alienor that was previously absent.
Contrasting this is her coming into her own as a healer by saving her own medical mentor from a disease that is really tough to cure. It turns out that her first task with a patient is convincing the family that A.) it is not yet time for Last Rites and B.) she, personally, can heal them.
Then there is writing "The Wise Traveler", which shows another facet of her artistic side, apart from writing and singing.
It is interesting to note that despite getting beaten over the head with social norms like wives being absolutely obedient to their husbands, Estela is not portrayed as a feminist. Sure, she doesn't want to "count to four" whenever her husbands commands it of her, and would really appreciate it if people didn't assume that her man was responsible for her lyrics, and bristles when a court lord forbids her from singing because of her gender, but she is also totally on board with supporting her husband's goals even if she doesn't agree with them, making sure her children are taken care off even if it precludes other opportunities, and generally putting family first.
As for Dragonetz, the self-flagellating continues. He is a complex chivalric character. It's like he is a Knight in Sour Armor that aspires to be a Knight in Shining Armor but has too many human frailties and too much disillusionment to do so.
Despite all the good he does, he never feels like it's enough. There's this scene where he goes to a notary to legally designate the son he sired with Estela as his heir and make sure they're both provided for in the event of his untimely death (which, considering his line of work, is a very likely thing) but leaves it feeling like he's betrayed her since she's legally his mistress instead of his wife (incidentally, this is also his fault due to a previous attempt at helping her).
Also, there's this running gag where he jokes about using his sword on any warrior or bard that Estela shows too much admiration for; Estela hopes he's joking. It turns out to be another human frailty that he feels a need to metaphorically whip himself for.
The third character that I want to focus on is John Halfpenny, a master minter. He's mostly here for comedy, whether it is rants about how he hates working with gold, clowning around as the Lord of Misrule, or standing perfectly still while Estela practices knife-throwing on him. Yet he, too, is a complex character, with his backstory regarding The Anarchy in England at the time, and the role he plays in the stealth-diplomacy mission.
There isn't really a villain here. It's more like a series of grey-scale antagonists. Here are people who could be allies or enemies. It is part of a general greyness that is upheld well through all of Miss. Gill's series. Lords Rhys and Marredud are like neutrals who could go either way depending on the actions of their guests/captives, Patronella doesn't do much more than sniff disdainfully at how the lead couple is living in sin, and Miquel, despite being a stellar example of Faux Evilly Affable, thinks he's doing the right thing.
I didn't see any typos or grammar errors. That's a difficult thing to do with a novel.
I also like the glossaries and maps that are included at the start of the novel.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Song Hereafter" an A+
Click here for book 3 in "The Troubadours" Plaint for Provence
Click here for my next book review (for fun): D&D Heroes of Battle
Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Resisting Happiness
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).