Monday, 18 February 2013

First There Came Little Attila

Attila by William Napier
The first thing you should know if you are thinking about reading this book, or indeed purchasing it, is that it is not adult Attila. This is William Napier's interpretation of Attila's childhood. This book is about little Attila.

If you want Attila as a full force barbarian adult, uniting tribes and giving Romans the fright of their lives, then this is not the book for you. Book Two and Book Three are the books for you (or so I hear as I have only read this one, to date) and I would recommend you read this first book and accept it for what it is. The story of a child, a small, feisty, quiet, sullen, ferocious child. As he dwells with the Romans as a hostage and then later as a small, but not as small, feisty, quiet, sullen, ferocious teenager.

As for the story itself. As presented by the author William Napier? Well I went from impressed to not so impressed, to giving up.

The writing is how I usually like it. Rich in detail and description and colourful characters. Some to hate, some to like. Where I felt it fell down was with dialogue and the occasional scene that just tried too hard to be something powerful, but turned into something that failed to match the quality of other sections of the book. There was also a tendency for William Napier to play to his strengths, 'description', only he would go too far. Get carried away with himself and churn out some descriptions that were a little desperate or over the top.

The dialogue on occasion was modern. There was too much swearing, which does not help the reader slip from real life to the historical world portrayed in the story. It was not uncommon to find a character saying variations of the F word three or more times in one spurt of dialogue that may be only two short sentences long. I can tolerate the odd modern swear word in a historical fiction, but not so frequently that it feels like I am down the pub on a Friday night.

These scenes and dialogue that let the rest of the book down finally got to me and I ended up skim reading the final 100 pages or so of the book. I am told that in the section that I skim read there was actually some fantasy leaking in. Now, I am fine with fantasy elements such as supernatural if it can be rationally explained by the reader, but apparently this fantasy part was not rational or explainable. It was true fantasy. I wish authors would not do that to straight historical fiction. It loses a lot of readers and can ruin a story. Especially if it is in the last quarter of a book.

For all of these reasons - but mostly because I lost interest enough for me to not want me to go on - I nearly gave it 2 stars. Only I had to consider the fact that I was also in a rush to finish it. I was on a tight schedule. Perhaps if I had not been, I would not have skim read the final 100 pages and I would have continued to 'just' like it.

3 stars (out of 5) to me means that I like a book. I don't have to really like it, that could mean 'just' like it, and as far as Attila by William Napier is concerned, I did 'just' like it and maybe that is enough to want to continue to Book Two. I hope so. Only time will tell.

- MM


  1. I've been considering one of Napier's books, because Amazon keeps recommending them to me, but the reviews have always been a bit sketchy. Now I know to avoid them. Thanks!

    1. Who knows though. You may enjoy it. Most members who have read it in the group read have given it high 3 star or a 4 star. I don't think you would find it a 5 star read, but it may be worth the time to see if you find it a 4 star. :-)