Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Cartier's Ring - A Review
Reviewing other novels is not the purpose I started this blog. But, I pay close attention to those blogs where reviews are given. As I result, I became aware of the above historical novel available on Amazon.com:
Now, of all genres, historical fiction is, by far, my favorite! I think I’ve read every single Horatio Hornblower novel, just about anything I could find on ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. I’ve read so much pre-historic stuff that I couldn’t even begin to catalogue them. I love the Clan of the Cave Bear author Jean Auel and am thrilled she is coming out with another in the series. The Sarbandes’ First American series is also a favorite as is Sue Harrison. So, the minute I saw the review for this, I had to check it out.
So, okay. I took a long, hard look at the cover. Now, I am certainly not averse to attractive young ladies showing their, er, “attributes.” But, I am wondering at the purpose of this except to draw those seeking prurient content. Then, I realized it was all of those - and more.
I am not saying the natives of North America were prudes in the same sense as the Europeans who came there. But, they were a very practical people and dealt with their climates appropriately. Many natives living in warm/temperate climes wore as much or as little as they needed to be comfortable and do what they needed to survive. Columbus found Carib Indians wearing little or nothing - they didn’t need to. The same held true with tribes in the southeast, southwest and into modern-day Mexico. At the same time, those who lived in milder climes covered themselves to protect again the weather.
What was common wear for those living in the northeast and Canada? Men usually wore loin clothes and leggings to protect themselves from the heavy vegetation. As reported by early explorers, women and young girls wore long-sleeved shifts with knee-length hems. This was not so much for “modesty” as common-sense protection.
As someone pointed out, they also covered themselves with various fats and oils to protect themselves from the massive swarms of biting and stinging insects! In fact the term Red Man comes from the coloring of the various substances they used - not their actual skin tones.
So, why is she wearing a skirt? Ancient Chinese wore something similar to a skirt and Scottish men wore kilts. But, the skirt as such did not appear until the 19th Century in Europe and among the most trendy here in the USA. Therefore, it is totally out of place in the early 1500s, which is the time frame of this novel.
That she carried a bow did not bother me in the least. Indian women often fought alongside their men and there are a lot of stories about how some of the bravest, fiercest - and most cruel - warriors were women.
So then, getting past the cover, I began reading. In general, the writing was acceptable until - I was hit in the face with contractions. I cannot remember a single novel about Native Americans using them. While they were used in ancient Greece, it was not the way the people here in the Americas spoke. It jarred me. Now maybe there are readers who either won’t notice or don’t care but historical fiction and history in general is something I deeply care about.
The next thing came when the word “alright” appeared. This is another modern word - or at least one that comes from Middle English that definitely would not be part of the Indian’s vocabulary. There were several other modern words but I had become sort of numb to them by then.
And then came the names. In books by the authors I mentioned above, authentic names are frequently used - at least to introduce the character. But, to make it easier on the reader, they often show an equivalent that makes sense in English. An example is Amighie for a member of the “First People" in a Harrison novel. But, when appropriate, she gives us something like Knife Maker to make it easier to follow. In this novel, at least as far as I read, that never occurred.
There was a scene when a band of warriors attacked the home village of the heroine. She was not there and it was being shown in the POV of a minor character . Most of the exposition and dialogue is written using passive verbs. “He felt fear.” Instead of “Terror filled him.” I received no sense of the panic at the attack or the strong determination to stand, fight and protect their home and family.
Perhaps Cartier’s Ring will appeal to young readers. Hopefully it will give them a bit of a history lesson on the arrival of the French in Canada. I sincerely hope so. But, I also hope they will not think it is completely factual and take the time to do their own research on the subject.
As for myself, I strongly feel it is my responsibility as an author to be true to the facts of the time and people. It is what I owe my readers. I MUST do my research! I MUST ask questions to get the right perspective. Just because it’s “fiction” does NOT mean it doesn’t have to be factual!!!