Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Ill-Made Knight by Christian Cameron

I read this book about a month ago but didn’t have time to properly review it. There’s another book of the same title by TH White, part of the Once and Future King, I believe, and I am certain that Christian Cameron knows that very well. This book is about chivalry too, but about the hard struggle for people who believe in that ideal to implement it in the real world, a vicious world, the world of the early Hundred Years War.

I have read several books by Cameron and they have some common characteristics. They are about war. They are written in the first person. The are very good on detail, especially the details of combat. They are very clearly and entertainingly written. If you don’t mind lots of innocent people getting killed. But that’s an aspect of war that Cameron does not avoid. Indeed, he is obsessed (if that’s a fair word it may not be) by the cost of war to all involved. His characters believe that they can be moral and be fighters too. If you’re not willing to consider this possibility, his books are not for you.

Cameron is a serious reenactor when he’s not writing and it shows. His handling of the details of ordinary life is really exemplary. Just enough of most types of detail to enhance the experience and not to overload it.

There’s one exception to this. In this book as in some others, the main character is telling the story of his long career in arms, and he seems to be able to remember every single blow he ever threw or was struck by. Maybe my skepticism comes from the fact that these days I have a hard time keeping memories from falling out of the holes in my head. Or maybe Cameron the reenactor just loves this stuff, and knows that his core readership does too. I don’t know how much this will bother anybody else but you should be warned.

Finally, Cameron is a fan. What do I mean? His favorite characters from history – people who would necessarily be part of the story – show up in his book. They don’t always get a nice treatment. For instance, there’s nothing particularly  likable about his portrait of the young Geoffrey Chaucer. I would surely like to know where Cameron’s take on Chaucer came from.

Well, I liked it.

1 comment:

  1. The version of that which bothers me is first-person narratives where the narrator is both too detailed and too introspective, more like someone in the last few hundred years than the ancient or medieval memoirs which I have read. But some fiction readers expect that, and I think that Cameron has read enough medieval sources to create a reasonably honest fourteenth-centruy voice if he choses to. I will put either this or his ancient novels on my to-read list.

    A lot of people both love and hate war, I find.