Having read the reviews (but not had time to read the first two novels) I wondered how much of a handle I would have on this. It took me a little while to get into – perhaps because I didn’t have a clear picture of the character of Joslin gained from the first two, perhaps because I’m not really the target market. However, I can agree with the overall comments of the previous reviewers wholeheartedly (go to virtual bookshelf for links to the previous reviews)
This time the hapless Joslin is in Oxford. Still being stalked. Still attracting the ladies, and the unwelcome attentions of a murderous cast of characters while making his sweet music. The whole novel is filled with darkly clad strangers and the pace is still breakneck. The descriptions of 14th Century Oxford are amusing and thought provoking but somehow one never feels them as less than accurate. The language is modern and the fine balancing of history and a modern feel is maintained.
What increasingly amused me was how the Fellows (who should be striving for knowledge and truth) are intent on hiding unpalatable realities (usually murder) or inconvenient truths (anatomy) which calls their very purpose into question. How little changes? That’s one thing I really enjoyed, making the leap of faith from present reality to fictional history, and seeing how closely the two melded. I laughed as I read ‘I should never have credited Fellows of Oxford Colleges with open minds.’ And there was many another chuckle in the course of my reading.
Hamley is an expert at giving us observations on so many things that today we find ordinary (transplants for example) and yet keeping the modernity of his characters and their fictional world to the fore. We do not see them as benighted people further down the scale of progressive history, but flawed people, just like those we might find today. Despite his comments at the end that most of the Oxford he described is no longer as it was, I felt I knew each street and district of Joslin’s Oxford as well as I know the present day town. (Obviously Joslin didn’t have the benefit of Blackwell’s to rest in which I do when I go there. But then I’m not usually careless enough to have my horse stolen either.)
I don’t read a lot of this sort of fiction and dare I say it, the concept of ‘Horrible Histories’ quite appals me (not that I’ve read any) and I admit to being completely flummoxed by the twists and turns of the complex plot, battered this way and that and continually wondering just ‘who dunnit?’ But I was never overwhelmed. Just led by the nose through a range of possibilities and of course the perpetrator was the last person I expected. It’ll give any young (or old) person with an interest in this kind of thing a run for their money. I’ll certainly go back (and forward) to experience the rest of the series.
Reviewed by Cally Phillips
Available in Kindle format
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