#84 Crapometer

Genre: historical fiction (setting, Britain in the 7th century AD)

Wulfric is the youngest son of the king of Lindsey and guardian of the kingdom's border. His hopes are clear; to be a worthy leader of his warband; to protect the border lands from enemy raiders; to marry his betrothed, the beautiful Estrilda; and to support his idolised elder brother Aelfric, heir to the throne. When Lindsey is invaded by its predatory neighbour, Mercia, Wulfric and his small force fight a fierce rearguard action and make a bitter enemy of a Mercian warrior, Grimbeald. They arrive in the kingdom's capital to find that Aelfric has been mysteriously murdered, and the next day Lindsey is utterly defeated in a disastrous battle.

Wulfric has to flee for his life accompanied only by a few loyal friends. His ingenuity saves them from immediate capture but all Lindsey's former allies have changed to the winning side and there is a price on his head. Their situation becomes increasingly desperate until, hiding incognito in the wilderness, they are eventually given shelter on a remote hill farm.

Here Wulfric meets Morwenna, a woman his equal in intellect and courage. In defending the farm against raiders and in a dangerous clash with the local lord, they develop first friendship and then love. But Wulfric is still bound by his betrothal to Estrilda, obliged to avenge his brother Aelfric's murder, and owes a duty of protection to the people on his old lands. These loyalties tear him away from Morwenna, at great pain to them both.

Wulfric has discovered that Aelfric was murdered by Raedwulf, captain of Aelfric's own bodyguard. Following Raedwulf's trail, he finds out that Lindsey was betrayed on the eve of the battle and suspects Raedwulf of this crime too. He also learns that his old lands are being terrorised by Grimbeald, and that Raedwulf has been captured and taken there. This knowledge sends Wulfric back to Lindsey, despite the price on his head.

There he goes in search of Estrilda, thinking to rescue her, but is shocked and hurt to find she has happily abandoned him for a Mercian lord. She is being used, unwittingly, as the bait for a trap, and Wulfric only just escapes capture. Hiding from the pursuit, he encounters a refugee from Aelfric's household, and an object in her possession proves that it was Aelfric who betrayed Lindsey before the battle. Wulfric is horrified by this discovery; all his life he has looked up to Aelfric as his idol and tried to live up to him. Honour demands that he should still kill Raedwulf in revenge for Aelfric's death, but his own sense of justice insists that Raedwulf acted rightly and deserves to be found and rewarded, not punished.

Keeping one jump ahead of their enemies, Wulfric and his friends follow Raedwulf and Grimbeald to their old lands on the border, where they join forces with the local population and destroy Grimbeald in an ingenious ambush. Raedwulf believes Wulfric is still seeking vengeance and flees into danger. Wulfric tries to save him, but when Raedwulf realises that Wulfric knows of Aelfric's dishonourable betrayal he tries to kill Wulfric to protect Aelfric's reputation, even though this results in his own death.

For the first time in his life, Wulfric is no longer in his brother's shadow. When the local population acclaim him as King of Lindsey, he accepts it in his own right. But he is pragmatic enough to know that he does not yet have the strength to overthrow Mercia. For that he needs a large military following and political allies, which will have to be sought in other kingdoms. So he goes into exile with a handful of loyal followers, having lost his idol, his woman and his lands, but having gained a new and greater ambition.

The main theme of the book is loyalty and its limits; e.g. loyalty between a betrothed couple, loyalty of followers to a lord, loyalty of a lord to his people, loyalty within a family, and loyalty to a kingdom. All of these figure in the plot and some of the characters hold to their loyalties and some do not.

If you write the synopsis well enough, the theme is clear. I think you did.

This is good because it sets up the world we “join in progress” and gives us a starting point for what happens next. The characters’ motivations are clear; you’re not awash in events. I don’t read enough historical fiction to know if this is a rehash of every other 7th Century AD book under the sun, but I don’t see any surprises or “aha” turns in the plot. I also see the women are all subordinate characters and only love interests. That would be a big "ugh" for me.


Bernita said...

It's just me, but I would have liked to see some indication that the writer could realistically portray some of the details of the period environment in addition to the "comitatus" ethic.
I always feel the setting is an unacknowledged but necessary character in a historical novel.
Some color - this is clear, efficient but cold.

Dhewco said...

Well, Lindsey was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and, as far as I know, their women weren't allowed to be strong people. Saxon gender beliefs aren't really my 'thing.'

By the seventh century, Lindsey was under the control of Mercia or Northumbria . . . whichever happened to be stronger. While that doesn't eliminate the possibility of a king there, I hope you have your king's relationship with his overlord in your book.

Of course, this isn't a deal breaker. If the first five pages were well-written I would read on. I like historicals (unless it's romance) and am always on the lookout for one with royalty as a main character.


Dhewco said...

Okay, I've reread my source. It could be that the kingdom of Lindsey got subjugated a little later than th sixth century as I previously thought. You could be completely right.

The records are so lousy for this particular kingdom. You picked a good one to use.

MY humble apologies


Gabriele Campbell said...

I so want to read that book.

I like it that you didn't give Wulfric and Morwenna a happy end, it's more realistic that way. To me, she comes across as strong, a woman able to run a farm, fight off attackers, and face reality in her relationship with Wulfric.

I've a soft spot for Roman (about which I write myself) and Dark Age Britain to begin with, and loyalty conflicts are among the most interesting. So go get that book published. *grin*

Anonymous said...

I've read this manuscript, and it is brilliant. The author and I swapped manuscript critiques a couple months ago.

The main character is fabulous, the writing is stunning, and the plot is beautifully crafted with lots of good twists. I wouldn't normally pick up a book on 7 AD Britain, but I was totally pulled into the world the author created.

I thought I'd mention it because I often wonder if the books behind the synopses Miss Snark is critiquing are actually good or not.

And by the way, the women in the book are cool and kick ass - in a way that fits with the period.

Rick said...

A trivial note first: I wouldn't say that Morwenna is equal in "intellect" to anyone. Intelligence, yes, but intellect has a connotation of book learning, of which the Englisc had zero at this time.

Otherwise (and this sort of responds to Bernita's comment) the story line itself conveys a strong, authentic Anglo-Saxon flavor - you can practically hear it in alliterative tetrameters. The five pages will presumably show more period flavor.

I suspect that a challenge for readers (and thus commercially) will be in the role of women. I suspect that Anonymous is right that they are kick ass cool. The problem is that the Anglo-Saxons lived before our idea of "romance" entered the culture. A "happy" ending for Wolfric and Morwenna would have been irrelevant to the Anglo-Saxons and may be irrelevant to this book. (Compare Tolkien's LOTR with the movie version!)

Contrary to the stereotype that mainly women read hist-fic, this feels like a guy book. Don't take this wrong, but sort of Conan with a brain.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, I am a woman but I like to read historical fiction without romance subplots, female MCs and all that. Give me a nice bloody battle any day. :-)

Ok, I don't mind reading a good historical romance, either, but those are rare.

Carla said...

Miss Snark, you rock! This is useful criticism, thank you.

David, Gabriele, Rick, Anonymous: I've picked up your comments and discussed them on my own blog, http://carlanayland.blogspot.com/

Bernita: I'd be interested to know what period colour you'd like to see.

Thanks to all for commenting.

Bernita said...

I'm not sure how one would address that.Or even if it's necessary. For one, it's not my period and, two,it was simply a very personal observation and not intended as a criticism.Mention of seaxes or waelfaehth, perhaps?I was thinking in terms of those agents/editors, who, unlike Miss Snark, scan the synopsis rather than the sample pages. However, I don't believe the subtlety of alliterative prose would be absorbed by the usual agent. Sorry, Rick.

Carla said...

Many thanks for coming back to explain, Bernita. I was careful to clear all such terms out of the synopsis because I was sure something like 'seax' would get a 'wtf?' response. At least 'mage' is still in the Concise Oxford dictionary.

Alex Bordessa said...

Bravo! It looks really exciting, and I'd certainly want to read the whole thing :-)