Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Crowning Mercy, by Bernard Cornwell and Susannah Kells

One of the biggest contributing factors to my decision to study History in university was a series of British TV movies from the 90s – the Sharpe series, staring Sean Bean, and based on the novels of Bernard Cornwell.  My dad got me interested in them, and I always figured I’d end up doing my Masters’ thesis on some aspect of the Peninsular War (it ended up being about the Empire, but close enough), and I recently named my kitten Wellington, in no small part thanks to my interest in Waterloo and the time period.  In retrospect, so many of my life choices resulted from a series of books written by Bernard Cornwell that I should either thank him profusely or blame him unashamedly (jury’s still out on that one).  It’s surprising then, that until this week, I had never actually read one of Cornwell’s books for myself.  I rectified that oversight with A Crowning Mercy by Cornwell and Susannah Kells.

A Crowning Mercy is set in England during the Civil War between the Royalists and Protestant factions (in the 17th century).  The main character, Dorcas Slythe, has been raised in a Puritan household, but suffered cruelly her family’s attempts to curb her spirit.  By accident, Dorcas meets Toby Lezander and falls madly in love, prompting her to run away from home.  When she leaves home, Dorcas, now calling herself Campion after the flower, is caught up in the wider world she had always been sheltered from, including unscrupulous politicians, the on-going war, and her own secret past.  It’s a hard place for a naïve country girl to find herself in, and the book is about her struggles to find happiness with Toby.

I had two negative impressions on this work.  First, was that Campion and Toby were incredibly naïve and even though they lived through hardships that should have taught them better, they still exhibited some resistance to the idea of growing up.  Second, the plot line related to Campion’s secret past seemed a little far-fetched.  It all came together in a suspenseful and interesting way, but the premise seemed a little bit out there.

Regardless of this, on a whole, this book is extremely well done.  It’s fast paced, built on a dynamic and interesting period of history, and peppered with engaging and dynamic characters.  It’s part romance, part historical fiction, and wholly enjoyable.  I’m already looking forward to reading the sequel, and other works by Cornwell.

So, final verdict?  Read this book.  It’s one of those works about British history that isn’t based in the Tudor period, which seems to be rare these days.  More than that, it’s accessible to those that aren’t well versed in the British history of the period, and doesn’t rely heavily on battle scenes and political discourse to advance the plot.  I am interested, however, in reading more written by Cornwell without a partner, to see how much of my enjoyment of the work is in him as an author, or in the partnership.  That said, I’m still looking forward to adding Cornwell to my list of authors whose books I snatch up.

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