A Traitor’s Fate by Derek Birks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We’re back in the 15th Century, England, the Wars of The Roses and our main man, Ned Elder now 23, is with the Yorkists – being a landowner, a Lord, from Yorkshire, ‘Yoredale,’ as he is and all. He’s still got problems up to his eyeballs. He’s still got a feud to deal with, a threat of death hanging over his head, a castle to get back to, a wife to rescue and very little money. But he is ‘rich’ where it really matters; he has a close family and a handful of faithful friends around him.
What ‘Fate’ does, is move away from the armies and the more formal set-pieces of the larger, nationwide struggle, between the forces of York and Lancaster. That is in the background, mostly. Book One, ’Feud,’ started with the feud (!) and moved outwards to involve the characters in the big picture. What ATF does and does very well, is to turn round and look back into its story, concentrating on what started the whole story rolling, that feud between the Elders, half-Elders and the Radcliffes.
Set in and around a part of England, Yorkshire, I know well (having lived there for 26 years), there are twists and turns, suspicions and deceptions, deaths being stared in the face and improbably rescues a-plenty. There are bloody battles on a grand scale and desperate skirmished in forests and fords. Nasty characters (mostly) get their just desserts, but well-loved characters also reach the end of the line, story-wise. It’s non-stop from the get-go, but with periods of reflection and a level of writing that is a forward step even from what was a fabulous first book.
I did think it was a bit long. It wouldn’t have suffered from being a little shorter, more compact. I can’t quite think what should have been cut out, maybe a bit of the to-ing and fro-ing in the forests towards the end – but then I’m not a writer, just a reader. I also thought that some of the – admittedly more minor – character’s deaths were unnecessary. For the story development, even long-term, or for the enjoyment value. Some writers seem to think almost that they have no control over where the story will lead and that the death of a well-loved minor character, is therefore unavoidable. I can understand this. And I can’t. Some writers seem to enjoy the killing off of some characters as occurring purely because it is pleasurable for them. It’s all very well liking something, liking doing something, like saying you just killed off a main character, or a minor loved one, trying maybe to shock your audience, certainly to tantalise them (into buying the next book). However, you have to, in the final end – and this is your job – take a step back and say ‘does it work?’ Not ‘do I like doing it?’ subjective, but ‘does it work?’ objective.
There were a few deaths here, that were avoidable. And that leads me to my other criticism – it was all bit unnecessarily bloody. It’s all very well and may indeed reflect the troubled and violent times and as one of the characters says, surely speaking to the writer; “You’re good at bloody chaos, I’ll give you that, my lord.” Yeah it happened, yeah it ‘has’ to go in, but – quite so often? So much? I’m with that it was bloody, that appealing things went on, but I don’t want to get battle fatigue just reading the book! The characters might have suffered, but the story wouldn’t have from leaving some of it out. Maybe that’s what could have been left out? Some of the hacking and the slicing and the wading through the pools of blood.
Through familiarity, with the characters, the story, the period and the author, it obviously can’t quite have the same punch in the face affect that the first (‘Feud’) had. It is to DB’s credit, that he doesn’t try and do the same again. There’s no doubt this is a middle of a trilogy (or fourology, actually) story, though, somehow, it doesn’t actually read like one underway. It is pretty self-contained and I do remember thinking it would be possible to read this, not having read the first – but why deny yourself that pleasure, eh? Then by the end of it, with all the threads hanging loose (dripping blood, probably), you’ll be ordering number three. Like me. And the fourth, what seems to the the final book in the saga, is on the old writing desk as we speak, probably while the good Mr Birks looks though his drawers for blotting paper. Not for ink blotches, for the blood.
The Rebels and Brothers series so far on Speesh Reads:
1. Feud my review
2. A Traitor’s Fate