August 16, 2005

Gratuitous Llama Vacation Book Review

I took the four or five books I'm currently reading along on vacation with me with the thought that it would be a good opportunity to finish them off. However, once I got up to the cottage, I discovered that someone had left a copy of this lying about:


Stonehenge, by Bernard Cornwell.

Cornwell writes the Richard Sharpe series, which I've always enjoyed, so I of course had to chuck my pre-planned reading list and dive into this instead.

Well, all I can say is that if you like your early Bronze Age history long, uneven and Machiavellian, this is the book for you. It is a vast novel that purports to follow the life of one Saban, who eventually becomes the architect of Stonehenge, as he is battered about Wiltshire and South Wales by the forces of Nature, Religion, Politics, Greed and Sex. The book comes with a complete set of stock Dawn of Civilization characters- the Good Hero, the Eviiiil Warlord, the beautiful Blond Babe, Witches, Warlocks and Wise Elders. In fact, the best part of the novel is Cornwell's Afterward, in which he impishly states that the entire story is complete buncum, since nobody knows much of anything about the culture of the period or the reasons behind the construction of Stonehenge. However, his survey of hard archeological evidence to date is also quite interesting.

I say the book is uneven for two reasons - first, Cornwell displays the same fault I often find in the Sharpe series of hammering what he thinks are important points by mind-numbing repetition. Second, he has an odd way of short-changing his characters' lives (and deaths) by neglecting to give us much insight into them and instead devotes too much ink to descriptions of physical surroundings and activities. I also note that Cornwell didn't bother very much with trying to pitch the dialogue to the times, but instead simply gives us modern-sounding characters dressed up in prehistoric costumes.

All in all, though, an enjoyably lightweight summer book. Lots of fighting, obligatory ritual, em, fooling around and intrigue. Perfect for when you don't feel like having to think too hard.

UPDATE: I also meant to mention that I am starting in on a new novel the Missus picked up for me at a used book sale:


Ramage and the Guillotine, by Dudley Pope. It is part of a series of previously-unknown-to-me stories of Nelson's navy during the Napoleonic Wars. So far, it reads much like C.S. Forester's Hornblower series, except that Lord Ramage isn't half so moody and broody as Horatio H and there are actually some signs of humor about Lord R. I own a couple of Pope's non-fiction works about the period, including The Black Ship (about the mutiny aboard H.M.S. Hermione), Decision at Trafalgar and Life in Nelson's Navy, all of which are quite well written. There appear to be something like fifteen books in the Ramage series, so here's a whole new ocean in which to sail.

I must say, though, that reading and rereading the sea novels of Pope, Forester and others, the one thing that keeps coming back to my mind is just how utterly Patrick O'Brian blows them all out of the water, like a three-decker going against a sloop. No contest, whatsoever. Ironically, I believe the lesser literary works would translate better to the screen. But that's a rant for a different day.

Posted by Robert at August 16, 2005 12:38 PM | TrackBack

Based on your review of Stonehenge, I think you would really enjoy Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd.

Welcome back from vacation.

Posted by: JohnL at August 16, 2005 12:59 PM

Thanks. Actually, I was hoping it would be more like Jean Auel's old Clan of the Cave Bear series that Mom summed up as, "Woman domesticates animals, woman has roll in the hay. Woman discovers agriculture, woman has roll in the hay. Woman founds civilization, woman has roll in the hay."

Posted by: Robert the LB at August 16, 2005 01:10 PM

I LOVE the Sharpe series; however, I do admit, I watched them rather than read them. I have the entire series with Sean Bean.

Since they aren't making those anymore, I may well have to actually pick up a book...

; )

Posted by: Chrissy at August 16, 2005 01:31 PM

Haven't read Sarum, but I did like Rutherford's London Along the same lines, I'd recommend:

The Walking Drum by L>ouis L'Amour (yeah, I know. No, it's not a western.)

Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead

Posted by: Brian B at August 16, 2005 01:39 PM

P O'B is like literary crack for me. My wife cannot stand it when I re-read him. I rip through the whole series in like ten days. In other words, I am totally consumed by them, immediately start the next one, don't talk to her, don't sleep much, neglect my work and any other responsibilities, and just plain suck to be around. Crack, I tell you, crack.

Posted by: RP at August 16, 2005 05:19 PM

Heh - you and Mom, who just recently read the series for the first time. She's been practicing Killickisms on me. Pretty scary.

Posted by: Robert the LB at August 16, 2005 06:06 PM

I saw an original O'Brian painting today at art gallary in Salem, MA. It depicted the battle between the Constitution and the Java. I had no idea that he painted. It really was quite good.

Posted by: Kirk at August 16, 2005 09:18 PM

The Ramage series makes a good change of pace. Not quite as moody as Hornblower and more technically correct without overdoing the nautical jargon as PO'B does on occasion. Enjoy!

Posted by: Steve at August 17, 2005 11:54 AM
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