Home > fiction, historical, novel > I Serve: Roseanne E Lortz

I Serve: Roseanne E Lortz

September 14, 2011

A tale of ARMS, of DEATH, of LOVE, and of HONOR

Set against the turbulent backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War, I SERVE chronicles the story of Sir John Potenhale. A young Englishman of lowly birth, Potenhale wins his way to knighthood on the fields of France. He enters the service of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, and immerses himself in a stormy world of war, politics, and romantic intrigue.

While campaigning in France, Potenhale developed an interest in Margery, a spirited lady-in-waiting with a close-kept secret. He soon learns that Sir Thomas Holland, a crass and calculating baron, holds the key to unlock Margery’s mystery and possesses the power to overturn all of his hopes.

When the Black Death strikes Europe, however, Potenhale realizes that the fiercest enemy does not always appear in human form. Seeing the pestilence as a punishment for the sins of his generation, he questions his calling as a knight and considers entering the cloister. Margery or the monastery? Torn between losing his soul and losing the love of his life, he finds friendship with a French knight who might-just possibly-help him save both.

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I read very little historical fiction: it’s a genre I’ve never really developed a liking for, with the exception of the wonderful books by Elizabeth Chadwick, whose novels I adore. I’m always very aware of my lack of appreciation of this genre, and so when I review historical fiction I always try to overcome my personal feelings and judge the text on its merits, and not my own biases. I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince only reinforced my lack of interest in the genre, I’m afraid. It had the usual sprinkling of errors in punctuation; but my overwhelming feeling with this book is that it lacks authenticity.

There were several reasons for this. The author has included a handful of details which don’t ring true: for example, an out-of-breath horse is described as having “heaving withers”: as withers are a horse’s shoulders that seems very unlikely to me; and a character snaps “a single blossom” from a broom plant: brooms have lots of tiny pea-like flowers on each branch and a single one wouldn’t take much snapping nor would it be at all impressive.

Then comes the dialogue. It’s stilted, overly formal, owes more to the movies of Errol Flynn than to history, and it really interferes with the authenticity of this text. Add to this frequent bouts of exposition, a tendency to over-write, some repetition, and a pace that at times feels draggingly slow and at other times hurried, and I’m surprised that I read as far as I did. I reached page forty four of this three hundred and sixty one page book, and wasn’t sorry to put it aside.

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  1. September 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I think it’s exceedingly difficult to write dialogue in an older form of speech. It has to feel natural and be understandable to the modern ear. I love the novels of Stephanie Barron, who writes mysteries with Jane Austen as her protagonist. She’s masterful with the voice of the prose and the dialogue.

  2. Feona Bowey
    September 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I searched out the author’s webpage hoping to find an except to read, which I did. Having read the first chapter – and being an avid historical reader – I am impressed that you reache 44 pages, Jane! I was bored by the end of the first chapter. Far too much telling the reader, and ‘as-you-know-Bob.’

    On the subject of dialogue, I’m a great fan of Rosemary Sutcliff. I really dislike modern dialogue like in Simon Scarrow et al books. I was flicking through a book in WH Smith this morning and saw the line ‘Tell her I’m out.’ In Ancient Rome? Surely not.

  3. Else
    September 18, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    “When the Black Caps that strikes Europe, however, Potenhale realizes that the fiercest enemy does not always appear in human form.”

    I’m not sure what this means. I *think* it’s a reference to the Black Death, but I’m a huge medieval history fan and have never heard it referred to as the “Black Caps that”.

  4. John King
    September 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I suppose it was a typo by Jane; I’m not sure.

    It’s not exactly fair or professional to add typos in these reviews, is it?

  5. September 25, 2011 at 11:24 am

    John, surely it’s much more likely that Jane copied and pasted and the typo belonged to the author?

    I think people’s shoulders heave though when they’re out of breath, don’t they? As when they’re sobbing. I can imagine a horse’s shoulders heaving. I agree about the broom blossom though (unless blossom can be used to mean cluster of individual blooms…)

  6. John King
    September 29, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I didn’t see a problem in the wording on the Amazon page, that’s all.

  7. Jane Smith
    September 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    No, it was my mistake–if you used Dragon NaturallySpeaking as much as I do, you’d have recognised its context.

    Never mind. It’s corrected now. Thanks for pointing it out.

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