Monday, 9 September 2013

Bordering on Personal Taste: STRATEGOS: BORN IN THE BORDERLANDS by Gordon Doherty

Strategos: Born in the Borderlands
The norm for reviews is to speak about the book, but I am going to break from that norm and open this review with a brief word about the author. I promise it will all tie together as integral to my evaluation of the book.

As an active reviewer of historical fiction books I do from time to time receive free copies of books to review and this book Strategos was one of them. I got to deal with the author personally on this occasion and as well as being acquainted with him that way, I also interviewed him on this blog and interacted with him in one of my groups (since this book, Strategos: Born in the Borderlands, was a monthly group read in Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction Group).
Sometimes, even though you really want to give the author a high rating for knowing them, or out of guilt because you got the book free or out of misguided loyalties, you should not (if you value your integrity) give their book five stars when you don't regard it as a five star book.
I try to be an honest reviewer. I have a firm philosophy of  not reviewing for authors or publishers and only ever writing reviews for readers. By that I mean, while I will write reviews when an author or publisher gives me a book, the words in that review are personalised for my fellow readers.
 To put it bluntly, I don't do cash for comment.
A review in my opinion needs to reflect how a book made you feel. It is a chance to tell other readers what you did and did not like about a book.

So, since I cannot in all honesty give the book five stars, I wanted to open my review by saying what a pleasure it was to deal with the author of this book. He took my negative feedback with decorum and embraced discussions on his book with professionalism. Any author who interacts with readers like that should be valued and applauded.

Therefore, to the author I give applause, but to the book I give three stars.

When it came down to it, I have to confess that Strategos: Born in the Borderlands was a mixed bag for me. A book that made me pause as I read it. And I mean that literally (more on that in a moment).
Whilst I enjoyed the setting and some of the characters, I had some personal taste issues with the book and they put a creative block in my way.
What I liked about the book was the research the author had done and the gamble he had taken in writing in a little known era of Byzantine history. With so many authors jumping on era bandwagons, Gordon Doherty selected a thoroughly unique and fascinating story setting and went ahead to do a damn fine job of bringing it to the reader.

What I didn't like about the book. Well, this is where personal taste comes to the fore. The book has a lot of appeal and has gained a lot of fans who don't have the same personal taste issues as I do.
I have to give a small mention to formatting. In the edition to date there is double spacing between each paragraph (which includes after each line of dialogue). I have spent a lifetime, from learning to read as a child to adult, with large spaces after paragraphs in novels meaning scene breaks and it really messed with my reading flow to have such large spacing format applied to this book. It did affect my ability to get into the book more, so I have to mention it.

The other two things that I did not like that come down once again to personal taste are that this book technically is a historical fantasy. With visions of one person being shared by multiple characters. If books include fantasy, for my taste, it should be able to be rationalised to keep it straight historical fiction. And if it can't be rationalised then I believe a book should be proudly fantasy and go full blown.

But not everyone shares this opinion and that is why it is a matter of personal taste.

The other issue was that the book was mostly childhood. Half being about young children. The rest was predominantly late teen and I personally found that it read like a Young Adult book and since my personal taste is for adult books and adult issues I could not get an adult connection with the story. Some people may say that it doesn't read like YA because it has graphic violence in it, but YA does sometimes have graphic violence in it.
I accept that most series openers will have children in the start of the book. It is a common device when it comes to a Series or an Epic Fiction. But I don't like it to take up too much of the story. I like to be into the adult part of the character well before halfway.

I suspect book two Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart would suit me more....if only I could be guaranteed that it did not include fantasy.

- MM

*Please NB: I interviewed Gordon Doherty on my blog if you would like to know more about him and his books:

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