Jean Gill asked me to read her historical novel "Blade Song" which is the second book in her "The Troubadours" series. She had previously requested a review for the first book, Song at Dawn, and I rated it highly (A+, you can read the review here) so I was excited for the sequel. Now I have mixed feelings. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish and then assign a grade.
There's good and bad in this one. I'll do the former and then latter.
For the good there's the reconstruction of the Macguffin trope, same quality of research and the depth of scheming. A 'macguffin' is an object that starts conflict because people fight each other to get it and is meaningless in and of itself. This is not the case here. The fact that Dragonetz is carrying a Jewish holy book that is fought over by a Muslim and a Christian is symbolic of multicultural 'Otra mar' (Middle East) and of the Grey and Grey Morality of the setting. As for the research and scheming, they are on the level with the first book. There's Islamic poetry written in two languages (I assume one is Arabic), tensions between groups (and there are many groups) and varying levels of medical knowledge depending on the character. I very much enjoyed these parts.
For the bad there's Dragonetz's improbable fame in a wide setting and Estela's hangnail plot. For the first, there are five people that want to recruit Dragonetz as their general/military trainer and they are: the ruler of the Saracen Muslims, both rulers of Christian Jerusalem (de-jury and de-facto) and the grandmasters of the Knights Templar and Hospitaler Knights. The backbone of the plot is an elaborate scheme by two of these people to recruit him or kill him so no one else can have him. It stretches my Willing Suspension of Disbelief because I don't see Dragonetz as that valuable and he doesn't either. For the second, Estela has a side plot completely unrelated to Dragonetz and when she is connected, she becomes an extra; it feels like a hangnail.
This book feels more loose and unorganized because it is on a grand scale. The first book is confined to a single city in France and so it is a smaller game board with fewer players. The second book is spread from France to the Holy Land and many more people are involved. When I realized that, I also realized that this book is written the same way as its predecessor: It has the same multi player scheming, it has the same research into historical figures and trappings, it has the same commitment to character motivation. It's the Macguffin plot that can be blamed for the bulk of the problems and it made so much sense at the end of the first that I am willing to forgive it.
There's good and bad here too. The good is the web of alliances and information that connect characters. The bad is the downgraded villains.
The thing I liked about the story is the web of alliances and motives and knowledge. "Sticky threads" as it's called in the story. One has to be aware of a lot of information and who is aware of what information and from what perspective each character views this information from. The climax is dizzying because of this but that's what makes it so impressive; Miss. Gill kept it all straight. It lends to the atmosphere of the setting because keeping track of this web is what rulers and generals and merchants, etc do everyday. It's the 'everyday scheming', as contrasted with 'epic scheming' that I liked so much about the first book.
The villains seem less competent and more petty. Nur ad-Din and Melisende treat Dragonetz' book like a bauble and so they seem like children with nothing to better to do. De Raccon and Miguel likewise are like children plucking the wings off flies because their main motivation is sadism for imagined slights. This is easy to overlook because Bar Philipos, the main and plot moving villain (The Heavy), is exempted from this. Bar Philipos is a good villain. He's dangerous and evil but he's not pure evil and not without an understandable motive. He's much more competent and acts more like his age.
Dragnetz' angst is good. In the first book it was implied that he was disillusioned by the second crusade but it wasn't until now that the source of it all was revealed. That part was interesting. I like seeing the change in character from flashback to present day and on through the story; a flawed knight but a knight nonetheless.
No spelling or grammar errors. I feel some parts could be edited out but they are interesting on their own terms; characterization and such.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Blade Song" a B+
Click here to read the next review Request: "Ambrose Beacon"
Click here for the previous review (which wasn't a review request): Never Trust a Dead Man
The review for the third book, "Plaint for Provence" is now available.
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).