Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Review: Isabella by Colin Falconer

Pages: 298
Released: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Lake Union
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes when I can't decide what to read next I pick a handful of books and do the "first chapter" test where I read the first chapter of each book and see which one hooks me. Isabella won out. I'm not even sure why, though it's possible the super short chapters helped (it's always easier for me to read a book with short chapters). I was also in the mood to read something historical, and I haven't read too many books yet on Edward II and Isabella so I was curious to learn more about them and their era of history.

I say I'm not even sure why because objectively this book is...not great. The writing style is strange and somewhat off-putting. It reads like an awkward translation with strange sentences and stilted writing. The characters are also thinly drawn and hard to connect with as a result. Most are barely there and interchangeable and I found myself keeping the barons straight by tagging on superficial reminders (oh yeah, he's the one who was nice that time, or he's the one whose her uncle). The main characters like Isabella and Edward were more fleshed out, but I think this was mostly due to the fact that we get to spend more time with them than because they're particularly deep or developed.

But, despite this, I was drawn in right away and continued to feel this way throughout the book. It kept my interest and I kept finding myself pulled back to it. 

As far as history goes, it all seemed pretty accurate. We trot through all the main events without ever going into much detail or complexity. But, it was a good surface-level run through of events and easy to follow, which isn't a bad thing.

Of course, with history like this, it's always colored by how the author chooses to interpret the characters and their motivations, personalities, and the "rightness" of their situations. In this case, Roger Mortimer is a one-note villain and very disappointing. Isabella and Edward, though, were both portrayed in a sympathetic though realistic light, which I found pleasantly surprising. Neither were pure heroes, and nor were they villains. They were both just people, flawed in ways, respectable in others, and both, in their own ways, likeable.

Perhaps this was the real strength of the book. Even though the writing made things distant and I still wouldn't exactly say there was great character depth in that they came alive off the page, their situations and feelings were told in such a way that I really felt for them both.

It was kind of like watching those docudramas where the narrator says things like, "It must have been terribly sad for Isabella..." or "We can only imagine how conflicted Edward must have felt..." (on a side note, I've been loving the docudramas narrated by the historical writers Suzannah Lipscomb and Dan Jones). Isabella's painful unrequited love and Edward's raw loss and unapologetic sympathy for Isabella took this book beyond the weird writing style, giving it a humanity and nuance that makes it stand out as among the better books I've read about these two people.

1 comment:

  1. I read this a few years ago and my thoughts were very much the same as yours. It seemed accurate enough but I had problems with the writing style. I still found the book interesting, but I'm not sure whether I would read anything else by Colin Falconer.


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