Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"The Waste Land" by Simon Acland -- Book Review

The Waste Land review
Author: Simon Acland
4 out of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Fans of historical fiction, those interested in the First Crusade or that time period, fans of Arthurian-type grail legends, those interested in a potentially different view behind the gospels
Book Available: Beaufort Books paperback and e-book new edition released March 4, 2013;
Trigger Warnings: Catholicism, sexual assault, rape, extreme violence, murder of women and children, pregnant women, betrayal, treachery

My Thoughts: This is a most interesting story-telling method, the modern-day chapters dealing with writing the book about Hugh de Verdon alternating with Hugh narrating his own story in the 11th century. It is obvious the author has done a great deal of research into the time period and the lifestyle in the monasteries at the time. I was very amused by the fact that the college in which the modern-day parts of the book take place, St. Lazarus, is a fictional college and part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, although it appears there has been no activity by the group since 2011 based upon their homepage (linked, where formatting allowed, on the name in the early part of the sentence, plus additional information in the Wiki page, linked here where formatting allowed).

I always have difficulty when I'm reading about Catholic beliefs, because they are so incredibly illogical to me. The infallibility of the Pope? He's just a man! The Pope being able to guarantee salvation to the Crusaders? What about the idea that God alone sits in judgment? And as the Abbot of Cluny says, the whole idea of a Crusade is counter to Christian beliefs, since it blatantly violates “Thou shall not kill.”   And of course all those creepy relics... as Buffy said: “Note to self: religion. Freaky.

Of course, that extends itself for me into any sort of dogma-based religion, not just Catholicism. A telling quote expressed a lot of my own misgivings with religion. When questioned as to why Moslem was fighting Moslem, Mohammed-i Hasan-i Sabbah explains it is because their opponents were Sunnis, and considered heretics. When asked for more details, Mohammed said, “I cannot explain. It was what I was taught. It is what I was told to believe.” To me, this perfectly expresses the problem with organized religion. As long as people just parrot what they are taught, as long as people just believe what they are told without question, without research, without trying to find their own answer—as long as people are expressly told not to question, but to believe—as long as this happens, religions will find excuses to ignore inconvenient commandments like “Thou shall not kill” or that they should only fight in self-defense, and take it upon themselves to try to spread the “true faith” through the “might equals right” ideal.

Unfortunately, a lot of the story was not one one I was particularly interested in. I find the idea of the Crusades absolutely repugnant, and I don't find a lot of romance behind the idea of knights and battles, like some. I was almost ready to DNF it when Hugh met Hasan-i Sabbah and things became interesting again due to the mythology that started to be interspersed with the tale. That captured my interest again very quickly! I also highly enjoyed the subplot with the weaselly Peter Bartholomew in Antioch where he claimed to have had a holy vision. The details he came up with were so impressive. I always really enjoy a good con, and this guy is a true con artist. It made me laugh like crazy. Also the way the Gospel of Lazarus ties together with Hasan's obsession and his potion is really cool. I skimmed through some of the bits about the battles, but the rest of the story was really good. I loved the way it all sort of came around, bits and pieces being exposed a little at a time. I was originally going to rate this three stars with a “I didn't like but would recommend” designation, but in the end I increased the rating based upon how incredibly cool the ending is.

There were several places in the book that encouraged me to look stuff up, like the assertion that one can tell a eunuch by his corpulence (which is not true). There are also mention of several comets, which surprises me, because comets are very rare, yet it seems they were happening all the time in the beginning of the Crusades, which seems unfair. Why don't I ever see a comet, but this guy sees at least 4? I was also interested in seeing an image of the Charonian of Antioch, which is a very interesting sculpture. Of course, a lot of this was just delaying tactics, since so much of the book was hard for me to read due to the fighting. It's weird, because I'm fine with fighting in fantasy or science fiction novels, but if I have to read something based on historical fact, it gives me the heebies.

The book is well written, and if you enjoy the history of the Crusades, Arthurian romances, grail romances, stories about knights and battles, you will likely quite enjoy this book. Also if you enjoy Ovid, Chretien de Troyes, and Elliot, you will probably find correspondences in this story. If it sounds like something you might like, I would not hesitate to recommend it to you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This book is part of a blog tour that is currently running. I told the publisher I would try to read it prior to the 13th, which is when I'm scheduled to host the author on my nloh for a guest post, in order to have the review up during the same time frame. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: The Waste Land chronicles the adventures of Hugh de Verdon, monk turned knight, during the extraordinary historical events of the First Crusade. He journeys from the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny to Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. He encounters the Assassins, endures a personal epiphany and discovers the ‘truth’ behind the Holy Grail.

Hugh de Verdon’s tale is retold by a group of desperate Oxford professors, based on his autobiographical manuscript, discovered in their College library. Their humorous—and murderous—story also provides a commentary on the eleventh century events and shows that they are perhaps not all they seem.

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