Thursday, December 06, 2007
Daughter of York
Our book today is Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith, whose previous historical novel was A Rose for the Crown. That previous book handily embodied every single thing historical fiction can do wrong: creaky dialogue, anachronisms on every page, escapism offered in the place of fact. The past was in many, many respects a better place than the present - and in a greater number of ways not so. Then, everything tasted better and privacy was possible; now, people (including, needless to say, people you love) don't die from stepping on a nail, and anyone who wants to (as opposed to anyone who can afford to go there) can see pictures and videos of the Holy Land, or the Ganges river, or Victoria Falls.
In either case, both the historian and the historical novelist must be true to what was true at the time about which they're writing. Characters must not speak in B-movie dialogue (or if they do, it must be part of your conceit that they do, not an obvious accident). 14th century characters must not have 21st century reactions. The past must be allowed to be the past, or the whole exercise of writing about it is rendered redundant.
With that in mind, we present Daughter of York, a long historical novel about Margaret Plantagenet, King Edward IV's idiot sister, who - since she was vain, stupid, eloquent, and strong - deserves a book of her own. She was nervy, but she wasn't brilliant; she was no Eleanor of Acquitaine, much less an Anne Boleyn or a Barbara Villiers. It would take a subtle hand to bring her to life.
Whether or not Anne Easter Smith possesses that hand would ordinarily be our job her at Stevereads to tell you. But we are not excessively cruel (not excessively; just to the level required) - we shall here, without comment, simply append the first page of Miss Easter Smith's new novel. As to the rest of a critic's portfolio - well, on this rare occasion we're prepared to let you all sample the goods on display and make the determination on your own. Here's that first page:
"The Micklegate towered above her, seeming to touch the lowering sky, as she knelt in the mud and stared at the gruesome objects decorating the battlement. Rudely thrust on spikes, several human heads kept watch from the crenellations, wisps of hair stirring in the breeze. A paper crown sat askew on one of the bloodied skulls and drooped over a socket now empty of the owner's dark gray eye. The flesh on the cheeks had been picked clean by birds, and there was no nose. Yet still Margaret recognized her father. She could not tear her eyes from him even as his lifeless lips began to stretch over his teeth into a hideous smile.
It was then Margaret screamed.
'Margaret! Wake up! 'Tis but a dream, my child.' Cecily shook her daughter awake. She watched anxiously as Margaret's eyes flew open and looked around her with relief.
'Oh, Mother, dear Mother, I dreamed of Micklegate again! A terrible, ghastly dream. Why does it not go away? I cannot bear to imagine Father and Edmund like that!' Margaret sat up, threw her arms around her mother's neck and sobbed. 'Oh, why did they have to die?'