Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Unlucky in Life: THE ILL-MADE KNIGHT by Christian Cameron

The Ill-Made Knight by Christian Cameron
This was (to date) the most enjoyable book I have read this year. Not the best, no, that is a title that belongs to another book by a different author, but it was the most enjoyable and to me there can be a difference between most enjoyable and 'the best'. I hope to expound on that as this review progresses.

The Ill-Made Knight is unique in that it blankets the world of knights and chivalry like none other that I have read. If any comes close, maybe it was Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, but then the study of armour and armoury has come a long way since that was written and it has been so long since I read it. I could be wrong.
Part of the reason it does unique so successfully has to have more than a little to do with the author's love of re-enactment and living history. Playing with swords and armour and doing it all on horse back is Christian Cameron's hobby and the book benefits from that immensely. There is no better research an author can partake in than a living history experience.

I say the book is unique, however it was not wholly unique, and I hate it when I find myself comparing books, but I cannot help myself, I have to make a comparison. To me, while the subject matter – the chivalry, the emphasis on the culture of chivalry, the details of armour and weaponry – have been done in a unique way, the story and the main character reminded me over and over, of Thomas of Hookton and the Bernard Cornwell series, Grail Quest. Sometimes I felt William Gold and Thomas of Hookton, whilst borne from the minds of different authors, were blending. So many authors glean their inspiration from Bernard Cornwell's writing, that even though their own writing is not meant to mimic, sometimes it can. I don't know if that was the case here. If Christian Cameron was/is a fan of Bernard Cornwell. Maybe the character similarities are purely coincidence. Maybe to others there is no similarity and it is just me.

Comparisons, uniqueness and criticisms aside (and there are criticism - they are yet to come in this review), this was a fantastic book and promises to be a brilliant series. It will find fertile ground with a whole new fan base that the author has not yet tapped into since so far his books (not including his novella ebook only things, because I don't regard them as books) have all been set in Ancient eras. This is the book, and the series, that will get him the attention of the Medieval reader.

I gave the book 4 stars out of 5 and, suffice it to say, I do have my criticisms.
  Firstly, let's get the most offensive one out of the way. I do not ever think there is any reason why an author need go into too much description when writing a child rape scene. The child rape is briefly described and yet so vividly described.   Readers are a smart enough bunch. Authors do not need to describe it that much.
So that's that. I mention it in my review because I know many readers who would like the warning. I understand that the author may be offended that I have brought this up, but then I am offended as a reader, so I suppose that makes us even.
An editor should have shaved those scenes of the excessive description. I cannot imagine why they did not.

Speaking of editors. This book was riddled with errors. The wrong spelling of words eg though instead of thought and typos galore eg pregnat instead of pregnant.
The book was especially rife with them in the back half.
And "like a passion play"'. The author used variations of  "like a passion play" at least five times. The use of the term is something one notices as it is not common, so when it keeps appearing, it becomes a flaw.
 It was as if it had not actually been spell checked thoroughly (which clearly it hadn't) or even put under the eyes of a professional editor. Which is a shame as so much else about the book, like cover and in fact the writing itself, was very professional.

Also, a small matter. There was a glossary that I found lacking. A glossary that detailed armour and armoury and yet there were many missing off it like buckler and some kind of dart or little arrow (I know the name, but the name escapes me now). There were others, but those were the two I remember because I would have liked to see a description in the glossary.

These errors made me question whether I should be giving the most enjoyable book of the year a full five stars. I think a half star should come off my rating for them. But when it came down to it, it was the contrived feeling of the William Gold hard luck story that really wore on me and stripped that star down to make my rating four out of five. I was having a blast with the book for the first half. Only that everything that could go wrong did go wrong and I found myself thinking more and more that it was too much. That surely something has to go right. That it would have been to the betterment of the story to have a few little rays of sunshine.

One wee thing before moving on, which isn't such a negative, just a note of interest. The book has no chapters. It has about three Parts and there are scene breaks. But no chapters. I like chapters, they are good places to rest up. Still, it wasn't too much of a pain and I hardly noticed until about halfway.

William Gold truly is the most unlucky bastard that ever lived.
An elaborate sketch if I may...
Picture this. A man walks across a cobbled road and trips over a stone and falls, he gets up, straightens his clothes, walks in the door of a pub and hits himself on the door frame. Rubs his head, walks inside, then gets hit in the face by a wayward punch in someone else's bar fight. Picks himself up, orders a beer, walks to a table sits down and a chair leg breaks and he goes down. Gets another chair, goes to drink his ale and the handle comes off and the ale goes into his lap. Poor unlucky bastard gives up, walks back into the street. Cart goes passed and splashes muddy water all over him. See's a whore, tries to procure her services only to find a hole in his pocket where his money fell out. Gets stabbed by the whore's pimp.

The entire book was like this. Only take out the tripping and broken furniture and passing cart and add in all the events that befall William Gold.
Aye, he truly is the most unlucky bastard that ever lived and as the story goes on it did not feel at all natural.
It was not a deal breaker though. I could still really enjoy the book despite it. It's just that I could have enjoyed it more.

Taking into account typos, errors, repeating of phrases and the downer of nothing going right for the main character, I give the book four stars out of five (as mentioned). But that is not the entire story. The book is still a lot of fun in parts. Was well written. Imaginative. And captured the era well, in my opinion. I am eager for there to be a book two. This series will no doubt go from strength to strength.

- MM

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