Saturday 29 May 2010

"The Waste Land" by Simon Acland

As I have said before on this blog, to produce a good piece of historical fiction requires a delicate balancing act between credible period colour and going gloriously over the top. In The Waste Land, Simon Acland pulls this off brilliantly.

The premise is simple. An obscure researcher at an Oxbridge college discovers a first hand account of the First Crusade which appears to ante-date Chretien de Troyes. Desperate for money after some unwise investments, the college enlists the help of one of its alumni, a successful author, to turn the chronicle into a best-seller. Incidentally, this allows the story of a contemporary drama of academic intrigue, jealously and attempted murder to play itself out interspersed with the chapters of the proposed best-seller. This switching between past and present reminded me a little of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time.

I happen to know quite a lot about this period, as I have written the first two in a series of books about the Plantagenets, and Acland's grasp of period detail is perfect. I would imagine that one of his main problems was knowing what to leave out, since the First Crusade is potentially such a huge story. For example, there is no Robert of Normandy, one of medieval history's most intriguing characters, nor Stephen of Blois who would go on to seize the throne of England. However, there is talk of a sequel, so perhaps the writer is saving these aspects for later.

Acland writes well, with strongly drawn characters and impressive description, while a great deal of action keeps events moving at a cracking pace. I found myself genuinely reluctant to put the book down, and actually finished it in just two sessions.

I thoroughly recommend this book, which is published by Charlwood Books under ISBN 978-0-9561472-0-2

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