Holiday Picks from The Queen’s Quill

I am finally finishing The Cross and the Dragon. I do apologize for taking so long. I hope to have a review up by the end of this week.

Since it’s the holiday season, and books are always a good gift (if you are part of the gift-giving crowd), here is a roundup of my favorite Indie review books from 2012. Honestly, the books I am listing were all engaging and engrossing reads–and the narratives and settings were so varied–that I simply cannot chose just one to recommend as an overall best book. This was a great year for Indie reading!

Spirit of Lost Angels-Liza Perrat

Vivaldi’s Muse-Sarah Bruce Kelly

Burning Silk– Destiny Kinal

Sea Witch-Helen Hollick

Oleanna-Julie K. Rose

The Afflicted Girls-Suzy Witten

Happy Holidays and I will see you at the end of the week for the next review.

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Review: Sea Witch by Helen Hollick

I have to admit, I am not generally a fan of nautical adventures. I have never particularly desired to read, for example, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander or Julian Stockwin’s Kydd adventures series (but did, come to think of it, enjoy Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, hmm…), so I was a rather skeptical of my ability to become engrossed in Sea Witch. However, knowing the author is a writer of enjoyable historical fiction, I was open to giving this a try.

In all honesty, I have to say this is the best Indie book I’ve read to date. In fact, this is one of the best novels I have read in a very long time.

Sea Witch is set in the golden age of piracy, 1716, in the “pirate round” from Africa to the Caribbean. This is the story of Jesamiah Acorne, who is forced to leave his home by an abusive half-brother and fend for himself at age 15. He becomes a pirate, one of the few options open to men in this circumstance, and this is the story of his first adventure: a tale of revenge, love, and struggle, all entwined with his passion for the sea. There are four books so far in this series, I believe, and you can find all of Helen Hollick’s books on her website: Helen Hollick’s website

Everything that an avid reader and reviewer looks for in a novel is here: strong character development, multidimensional portrayal (one of the biggest strengths of the book), a superbly plotted story with excellent tempo and a tight narrative, gripping and fluid language, vivid description, and tension and release at just the right moments.

This is a pirate adventure with wide appeal; there is something for everyone. I have been skittish about nautical adventures because to me, the subject seems geared toward masculine tastes (and having not read many, I could be completely wrong about that!). Here, we have a pirate who is internally tormented and struggling with a sense of vulnerability; a character who may appeal to a more emotional sensibility.  On the other hand, our hero is not “soft”; he is a hardened pirate through-and-through, who takes pride in his work and is very good at it. He is a complex man, fighting his past, making the most of his present circumstances, and trying to avoid terrible possibilities that lurk in the future. He gets into scrapes and makes quite human mistakes: a multidimensional rogue of sorts.

A deeply moving, but not overly sentimental, love story is also well done in Sea Witch.  Tiola Oldstagh herself has been injured deeply and is the one woman who could possibly break down Jesamiah’s tough barrier. The two must exercise extraordinary patience and faith during times of great despair, and we don’t know until the conclusion if they will make it—the punches keep on coming at the end, one after the other after the other, and I couldn’t sleep until I turned the final page.

The details of the ship’s workings, the descriptions of the crew’s behavior and pirate culture throughout the book are impressive. The author has a tight grasp on nautical details (the parts of a ship, sailors’ language, the lifestyle—as far as a novice such as I can tell) and a way of writing about them that makes this book an entertaining education on top of all else.

My favorite aspect of the story, and one of the reasons, I’ve heard, that this book was rejected by mainstream publishers, is the mystical, supernatural element. The subtle, overarching theme is the epic battle for Jesamiah’s body and soul between the living, immortal “soul of the sea, spirit of the waves” Tethys and Tiola, the young healer, Jesamiah’s soul mate, who turns out to be a “White Witch,” who uses her power of “The Craft” only for good. This epic battle is a powerful element of the story. It adds a depth and a spiritual texture that is beautiful and convincing, even carrying over to the terrifying aspects of Tethys herself. There is much veneration of nature, of beauty, and of the unknowable in this theme. Let yourself float off into this element of the story, without judgment or skepticism, and your enjoyment of the book will only increase.

I appreciated the short length of the chapters—I find that short, effective chapters don’t challenge my concentration and do allow me time to digest what I’ve read. The language flows beautifully, with at least one literary reference that brought a smile to my face:

(In his first meeting with a man who would eventually come to play an important role in his future, Jesamiah is listening to Captain Woodes Rogers blathering on…)

My good friend DeFoe, back in England, so his prattling letters mention, cannot wait to meet Selkirk here. He intends to write his experiences down as an adventure story. Says he’ll call it Robinson Crusoe to protect the innocent involved in the tale. Absurd, eh? Haha!  (p. 45)

How interesting to read the opinion of a rather self-indulgent traveler of the sea about a future classic of literature when it was just a thought in the author’s mind! This is the kind of intelligent detail you will find in this novel.

The author has included a map, an illustration of a square-rigged ship with parts identified, as well as a glossary of seafaring terms at the back of the book, so readers can follow along with the  “sailor-speak” (which, gratefully, does not interfere with the reading flow).

My criticisms are miniscule compared with the overall quality of this book: more than a few typos and missing words; perhaps the dependent clause-technique was overused a bit too much for the comfort of my editorially trained ear; and a cover that is a little dark for my personal taste, but does describe the atmosphere of the book. Overall, the publication is professionally laid out and pleasing to look at.

Shame on mainstream publishers for rejecting a book of this quality. Historical fiction with an infusion of fantasy is not an uncommon or unpleasant combination in a novel! I think Sea Witch would sell quite well if it were to be aggressively marketed. This is the work of a professional, experienced author, not a novice.

I absolutely loved Sea Witch and highly recommend it whether you are a fan of pirating/seafaring adventures or not—and I will be reading the next book in the series as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Sea Witch, by Helen Hollick. Published by Silverwood Books, 2011. ISBN: 9781906236601. Price US paperback $18.50, Kindle edition $3.99; UK paperback £10.99, UK Kindle edition £3.20.

DISCLAIMER: The author and I work on the HNS Indie Reviews team together, however, this review is an unbiased opinion piece of my own, with no influence from the author. She sent me a published copy of this novel for an independent review.

The Summer Line Up

I will soon be completing Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch, and will post a review as soon as I am able. The line up for the next few months is as follows:

May review:The Duke Don’t Dance by Richard Sharp  (All summaries from Amazon.com):

Compressed between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom were those who became known to some by the ill-chosen name of the Silent Generation. They were those born too late to share in the triumph of the great victory, too early to know only the privilege of the American empire and in too few numbers to assure themselves a proper identity and proper legacy. Despite those attributes, they invented rock and roll, filled the streets in the struggle for racial equality, bled in the heated precipitates of the cold war and opened the doors to the sexual revolution and feminism, her serious-minded sister. Their triumph lay not in their completion of these transitions, but in their survival through them. The Duke Don’t Dance follows the adult lives of men and women who made that journey.

This book may not fall under the category of historical fiction exactly, but it comes close.

June review: The second in Sam Baty’s thriller series, Darkness into Light:

Even though the ferocious battles of World War II have concluded, the world is unfortunately not a safer place. The iron curtain has dropped in front of Eastern Europe, Josef Stalin is focused on world domination, and United States Army nurse Jennifer Haraldsson is on a mission to find her former patient and foe, German POW Otto Bruner. Once attracted to Otto until wartime secrets divided them, Jennifer must know the truth. Does she love him or not? After Otto is transferred to a detention camp in West Germany, he remains devastated by the loss of Jennifer and witnessing the post-war destruction of his beloved Germany only makes it worse. Desperate to win Jennifer back, Otto summons his friend Ernst Peiper to help, but they soon discover they are being targeted by a group of Nazi extremists and must be transferred to another camp. But Otto is ready to risk everything for love and escapes off the transporter truck into the dark of the night. In a last-ditch effort to rendezvous, Otto and Jennifer throw caution to the wind and cross into the other’s territory, never realizing that their unsettled world is much more complicated than they ever imagined.

July review: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots by Lori Eaton:

Virginia Reed has followed her husband, Clem, to Argentina, trading in her mother’s Texas poultry factory for an apartment in Buenos Aires and a cocktail-bright social life among American expatriates. But it is 1943. The Nazis have overrun Europe, Japan dominates the Pacific, and Allied and Axis agents are fighting a secret war for control of Argentina. When Clem’s clandestine activities put her family at risk, Virginia is shaken from her comfortable life and forced to take control of her family’s destiny. As Virginia navigates the political undercurrents of a country struggling to remain neutral in a war that is consuming the world, she finds friends in unlikely places and enemies frighteningly close to home. In the face of conflicting loyalties and desires, Virginia uncovers a hidden strength and a dormant thirst for independence.

I’d like to review Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse at some point, as it looks like a splendid read, as well as Before the Fall by Orna Ross and The Silk Weaver’s Daughter by Elizabeth Kales. For the August edition of the HNS Indie Reviews, I will be reviewing Oleanna by Julie K. Rose (and will also post comments about the book here). What a wonderful summer of reading ahead!!

 

Upcoming reviews

I wanted to get Footsteps to Forever completed first, as I had promised the author a review. I am now back on schedule. The next review will be Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal, which I will hopefully be able to present by the end of February. And March’s review will be Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch. Looks like some exciting reading ahead!