Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: The Swan Daughter (The Daughters of Hastings, #2) by Carol McGrath

It's 1075, Harold Godwinson is long dead, and England is ruled by the Bastard King, William the Conqueror. Harold's family is separated and scattered so they can not conspire a rebellion. His daughter Gunnhild is destined for a nunnery, but she has other plans for herself.

I felt like this book was lacking a lot of things, but despite that it wasn't badly written, and the dialogue was believable. It's the only thing that made me bump it up to 2 stars instead of 1.

One of the things I felt it was lacking was good characterization, I didn't always completely understand the main character's thoughts or emotions. For example, when the main character makes an incredibly bold and rash decision that will massively change her life forever, and doesn't really have any idea whether this will turn out to be a good decision or the worst thing she's ever done, there appears to be no trepidation or second guessing. She blindly accepts what she is told without consideration to the fact that she might be being lied to. She does seem to have some moments of convincing herself this is the right decision, but that's the only inkling we get that she deep down might have an idea that this could go horribly wrong. I could maybe attribute it to youthful naivety, and the thrill of being a woman taking control of her own destiny in 11th century England, but I also felt like I never got a good sense of what she was feeling during it either. We hear her thoughts, but we don't feel her emotions. In the midst of this crazy decision she makes on a whim, the only mention of her feelings are "sublime exhilaration". But was her heart pounding? Was her stomach in knots with both excitement and fear at the same time? Were her hands shaking? Who knows? The author never tells us. She should have been boiling over with some kind of emotions but we barely get any mention of it whatsoever.

The complaint I had about the first book in this series was that I didn't really agree with or understand the main character's decisions. I thought that was primarily because the plot demanded those decisions, and so I thought the second book with a different plot would be different, but I think now my issue with both books is a flaw in the author's characterizations. In this book, I didn't necessarily disagree with the characters decisions, I just didn't understand her thoughts and feelings about those decisions.

The plot was also lacking as well. My other complaint about the first book was that it was anti-climatic and again, I attributed this to the nature of the plot, and hoped the second book would be different but unfortunately, I feel the same way. There's so much that could have been done with Gunnhild's life, for example bringing her face to face with King William, whose army killed her father. But Gunnhild's world was very limited to her home life, which may arguably be an accurate representation of the life of a countess at the time, but it felt like it could have been a story about any noble woman at the time. And not that home life can't be interesting, but other authors have done it better. There was a fabricated event near the end which was an obvious attempt to give it a climax or have something interesting happen with the plot, but it just felt deliberately planted.

On a side note, as a rider myself, I have to point out the scene where Gunnhild is travelling on horseback in her best dress she inherited from her beloved aunt, even though she had the opportunity to change into something more practical. Sorry, but that precious dress would have gotten filthy, even with a outer layer covering it, no one would wear their best clothing to ride a horse if they have another option. I could excuse the first time it happened because they had to rush to escape, but the second time it happened, there was no such excuse. The author made a point of the dress being put safely away while they were on a ship, so the salty sea water wouldn't ruin it, but there is no concern for it with the dirt one gets covered in while riding? This is perhaps nitpicking a bit, and I admit this alone wouldn't be enough for me to dislike a book, as it's not very important, but I still felt the urge to mention it.

Needless to say, I will not be continuing with this series.

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