Friday, June 22, 2012

Review of: Sumerford's Autumn

All of England sits back warily as the turmoil between the Plantagenets and Tudors continues in the form of young men claiming to be the rightful heirs to the throne and Henry the VII plotting ways to be rid of the supposed usurpers. The temperature inside Sumerford castle is no less tumultuous, though they have no kings and renegade prices to battle. Instead they are faced with mental instability, criminal activity, dangerous revolutionary ideals, and a young maid servant who manages to completely disrupt Ludovick Sumerford’s entire life. 

The best part of this book for me was the characters. Every single player had depth and personality, an interesting history, and a questionable future. The uncertainty of the future each of them seemed to carry around on their shoulders made me anxious to keep reading. The three youngest brothers had a great dynamic. At times you really couldn’t tell whether they despised one another or loved each other, and always there were secrets. The father was an enjoyable character as well. He had some unpleasant qualities, but I felt like I understood his reasons for being the way he was and I still found him interesting to read about. Watching this family move through trials and tragedy is an emotional journey. Ludovick, the main character, changes significantly, but the others do as well. Even Alysson, the female lead, is quite a different person at the end of the book. Her naiveté cannot last long in the Sumerford household. Denvil did a great job of not letting any of her characters remain static. The fact that they did grow and change helped to bring their story to life. This was definitely a character driven story.

The love story between Ludovick and Alysson is another very enticing aspect of this book. I had been concerned at first that the Earl’s son and the chambermaid was not going to be terribly inspired, but Denvil added her own twist to a commonly used plot element to make it unique. Alysson’s youth and rather sheltered life leaves her uncertain and hesitant when it comes to Ludovick’s attentions. And she isn’t helped by Jenny, the oldest son’s new wife, who fills her head with ideas and expectations about Ludovick that aren’t exactly chaste or welcome. It was very entertaining to go back and forth between the two characters, being in each person’s mind, but knowing they were frequently misunderstanding each other. Denvil managed to keep the tension going between them through the entire book, and although I didn’t love the last chapter, I was satisfied with how their relationship turned out. 

Sumerford’s Autumn is a beautifully written book as well. Denvil brought an air of believability to the story with the language and atmosphere, and also her attention to detail. I felt like she captured the time period very well with her descriptions of the land, castles, clothing, and foods. Denvil is a very descriptive writer, which does help tremendously to build a scene and get readers acquainted with the era, but it does need to be kept in check. Through the first half I enjoyed knowing how everything looked, and what people wore. As I got further into the book, though, I felt like the description impinged on the story. Detailed descriptions of the clothing worn or the drapes in a room bogged down the action of the story at times. I already had a visual of how they dressed and what the buildings looked like by this point. Later in the book I wanted to get into the excitement more than read long passages of description. The pacing through the first half was great, but I wanted the story to move more quickly during the second half and build up to the climax. Instead there were short bursts of activity punctuated by long periods of dialog or description toward the end of the book. 

There was one other area I struggled with a bit. There’s a bit of a spoiler here, so feel free to skip this paragraph. At one point Ludovick is visited by a blue phantasm that speaks to him. I was surprised Denvil chose to include this aspect of supernatural, but I was interested to see where she would take it. I had hopes that it would play a significant role in the story. The identity of this ghost and what it wanted with Ludovick was a mystery I was interested in seeing solved. However, I felt rather disappointed when this aspect of the book didn’t develop into anything terribly significant. Toward the end of the book the ghost’s identity is revealed and the reason for his presence is explained. Ludovick didn’t uncover the information, or puzzle it out, it was simply given, and in the end it had very little bearing on the story at all. I was disappointed that the ghost didn’t have more impact on the story. 

As a whole, the book was enjoyable. I cared about the characters and was invested in them pretty early on. The family’s activities and the mystery surrounding what each brother was doing and how it would turn out also kept my attention throughout the book. I did have issues with the pacing in certain parts, but overall I did like the book. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but it’s not for everyone. The heavy descriptions and slower pacing through parts will be a struggle to those used to fast paced action and adventure. The romance was not intense enough for serious romance readers. Those looking for an in depth mystery novel probably won’t be satisfied because many of the mysteries are solved either quickly, or with little exploration from the characters. In some cases the answer was presented to the reader straight out, although learning what Brice’s true business involved was an exception. It's also not for younger readers at all because of graphic violence, sexual discussions that were quite explicit at times, and a fair amount of profanity. 

Who would I recommend this book to? I don’t think this is a book that will very easily entice readers from other genres, but I think historical fiction readers will love it. There is a great deal of interesting history presented, thorough descriptions that seemed very accurate, and very good attention to detail. I had no trouble at all believing the characters were a part of this time period. 

You can get your copy of Sumerford’s Autumn today on the Amazon US and Amazon UK stores. 

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