Knight of Shadows, by Tony Venables. I wanted to like this book. I really did. It has all kinds of things I do like in it: historical fantasy, new twist on an old story, unexpected inventions, great description. Even the protagonist seems like he could have been a half-decent jaded Anti-Hero.
The problem is, the historical detail – the worst, scummiest, most disgusting historical detail – never stops. We get to hear about every chamber pot, rotting rat in the straw, rape, and torture. And believe me, after the third… incident, to put it politely, with Richard the Lionheart, I felt like screaming at the author, “All right! We get it already! He’s a horrible person. Vile scum that should not walk the face of the earth. How masochistic do you think we are?”
Seriously, the manga Ubel Blatt has its share of explicit stuff, but at least in that story, the rapists get theirs, with good and gruesomely lethal finality. Knight of Shadows? No such luck.
But while the horribleness of the setting makes me want to fling the book against the wall, that’s actually not the main reason I think this is a bad story. What makes it bad is that horribleness makes it impossible to follow the first rule of a good read: Suspend disbelief.
We’re looking at the world through Guy of Gisburne’s eyes. He grew up in this environment; rats, uncleanly habits, and all. So why is he dwelling on it?
A modern character transplanted in time, yes, would find this all horrible. Just as a medieval Crusader would be appalled to step into the modern world and find there are people who don’t go to church on Sunday, or at least synagogue on Saturday. Both of those are things those characters would notice.
But there’s no reason Guy should constantly notice all the filth. He should only notice if something is out of place.
Couple that with the fact that outside of Guy, everyone is either brainless (Maid Marian) or thoroughly unlikeable (darn near everyone else), and I got about 1/3 of the way through and flung up my hands. Enough. If I want to read about medieval plumbing or lack of same, I’ll read a history book. If I want to see people loathsome, stupid, or both, I’ll turn on the evening news.
In short? This book is Not Fun. If you want a good historical that gets into details without nauseating the reader, you’re better off rereading the Brother Cadfael mysteries.