|Conspiracies of Rome by Richard Blake|
This is one of those books that is not quite there and yet you instinctively know (as a reader of series') that it is the jumping off point for a potentially terrific series.
Think author Michael Jecks and his Knights Templar series as an example. That author himself is the first to admit that the debut book in his series is not the best he can do, it was only the best he could do at that time. It was a foundation book for a good series where the author matures as his skills mature. And that, I trust, is where this book by Richard Blake is placed. At the start line of a long journey. Fresh, enthusiastic, ready to run, but not quite honed and toned nor convincing enough to bring it home.
Clearly the author gave it all to his debut and I appreciate that. The descriptions of seventh century Rome were well done and I found myself transported easily to a city which had wearied itself in war and invasion, and consumed itself from the inside out with a parasitic political culture.
Our protagonist, Aelric, is a Briton, from Richborough. In his birthplace he was to find love in a childhood sweetheart and a friend in a priest from Ravenna, Maximin, who he served as an interpreter and general secretary. In a matter of moments he lost it all, his love, his home, his family and he fled Britain at the side of Maximin to the faded city of Rome. It was here that I felt the story finally became something worth knowing, although I did spend many a moment wondering where the story was going.
I had assumed, wrongly it would seem, by the bookcover and the book blurb, that the book would be action adventure, but this never eventuated. By about halfway through the book it surprised me by turning into a historical mystery. A most unexpected outcome.
The books biggest asset was the descriptive writing. Richard Blake is very good at creating environment and I enjoyed that immensely. He is an excellent writer in so many ways and I look forward to reading more by him.
The books biggest flaw was one of the reasons a severly downgrade this book from a 4 star to a 3. The obnoxious language used not only in dialogue, but in the narration was a difficult hurdle to clamber over and I never quite managed it.
There are swearwords and many a slang word that may alienate or befuddle a non Commonwealth reader (eg an American, Asian, or a European who's first language is not English, ). An example would be 'have a butchers'. To those familiar with rhyming slang (most English and countries such as Australia), we know this means 'look'. As in 'butcher's hook' rhymes with 'look', therefore to have a butchers means to have a look.
I must also mention another of these obnoxious language niggles of mine. In the early stages of the book especially, Aelric was much preoccupied with when and how often he wanted to or felt like having a sh#t. (the word used in the book, not my choice here). It was too much, too often.
Swear words were used multiple times in dialogue and in many scenes became the common denominator. Replacing clever choices for dialogue with f#cking f#ckers and the like. I am no prude and I swear like a fishmonger's wife, but I can only handle a few well placed swear words in a book. This one was too thick with swearwords and it detracted from the story.On this issue I am told by the author that later in the series swearing is less dominant and I am glad to know that, because if he had not told me that, then I probably would not have gone on with the series.
I will, however, absolutely go on with the series. I am keen to see where it goes as I had been on the look out for a protracted series to follow. This is a series I have opted to give a chance to and I am very selective when it comes to following a series, so that should tell you something of my feelings towards this book.