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This is one of those novels that steps away from Discovering Diamonds' core genre and dips its toe in the realm of fantasy. But it is enough of a gem to include here, if only for some of the detail and the mindset explored in the story.
Bewilliam finds himself in a field full of cows with no recollection of how he got there. We are as in the dark as he is as the story progresses from there and as his personal story is revealed to him, it is revealed to us. He chooses to call himself Robin to avoid suspicion as he becomes aware that he is in fact a king, but of a kingdom he can't find. What he does then and how to rediscover his past is the content of the novel.
This story is about loss and discovery. It is also about resilience. The character of Robin losses everything and has to find a way to survive before he can start to find out who he is and where he is going in life. Memories tug at him, but he doesn't have the luxury of despondency. He is a fantastic character for his inventiveness and his positivity in the face of adversity. And despite his knowledge that he is a king, he has an endearing humility and vulnerability. You can't help but like him.
However, the true triumph of this novel lies not in the character but in the level of detail added by Ms Fox. If for no other reason, read this novel to learn how to make a sword. Ms Fox weaves into her story the full sword-making process and yet it doesn't feel out of place, clunky or at all like a block to prevent the story from progressing. They say that if you want to know how to put on armour, read Bernard Cornwell. Well, if you want to know about swords, read this.
There is another aspect to this novel that makes it of great use to the writer, or reader, of historical fiction. Robin doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know where the places he visits are in relation to his own kingdom. He struggles to find the first place he visited from the third. He doesn't have a map and he knows little of the world beyond his own realm. This level of realism for anyone who lived before the advent of the railway and accurate cartography, is something of a revelation. He has not got Google Maps, so he is lost. It makes perfect sense. And yet I don't recall reading in a historical fiction anyone ever getting lost or not knowing how to get to where they want to go. It is so obvious when you think about it – what did you do before maps or sat navs wers available?
Production-wise, the cover is initially less than attractive, once you start to read it sort of makes sense, but a better cover would certainly serve this book well. There is plenty in the novel to inspire better imagery.
So, not our #DDRevs traditional genre, but Ms Fox deserves to be a Discovered Diamond because of the thought and the skill in which she has created her novel. There is so much in here that is of value to a budding author of historical fiction, and so much to please the reader.
© Nicky Galliers
(shortlisted for DDRevs September Book of the Month.)
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