Category Archives: London

Deception and secrets again: small towns interbreed

Letting You Go

by

Anouska Knight

A Review for Netgalley.

This book is set in a fictional town in the far north of Scotland where the Vikings once settled – or did they? Are the people really related to Vikings? Or not? And just who was their ancestor? And just where did family lines cross? Perhaps not where you thought they did.

In fact, there have been genetic tests of people living in the far Scottish north that show just who was descended from a Viking and you have to remember that many of the far islands were actually owned by the Danes until late in Scottish history.

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/vikingorkney/ says that in the 13th century Orkney was actually run as a Norwegian earldom using Norwegian language and following a Norse way of life. This had begun before the 9th century and was well established as the Vikings raided further south. The evidence for Viking heritage has been established by DNA testing in 2000/2001 demonstrating that the Orkney inhabitants were very similar genetically with modern Norway despite having inter-married with local women. Indeed 60% of the Northern Isles male population showed Viking ancestry.

And is this interest in ancestry that forms a central pillar of the book.

Who was related to whom? Who had fathered whom?  Who belonged in which family?

And who fathered whom was part of a small town secret that festered as they so often do. gossip and secrets corrode relationships. Secrets are guessed and gossip distorts and lives are impacted to their detriment.

The story centres around a local Viking festival loosely based on the ‘Up Helly Aa’ festival of Lerwick in Shetland which takes place in January. It began in the 1880s to celebrate the end of the festival period and has Guizer Jarl and his Norsemen marching through the town. The author then adds in a Viking boat race similar to the one on the Isle of Man except with home-made boats instead of longboats. vikings (2)

 

 

 

 

 

I found this to be a straight forward read with a clear and easy writing style. I would have given it four stars except I got very irritated with the heroine for being such a wimp and thought the author could have given her a stronger character so that we actually empathised with her situation rather than saying ‘Oh get over yourself’ to her!

 

Canaries out of work

The Major’s Faux Fiancée

by

Erica Ridley

A Netgalley review

This author is definitely the successor to Georgette Heyer in writing Regency romances but with a soupcon of sex.

There is a well portrayed female who takes up ‘causes’ but actually doesn’t quite understand the full consequences or the complete reasons behind the sad stories, but rather follows and champions those who shout the loudest eg about income tax.

Additionally she was naive about how to achieve successful societal change – not realising that you need power and influence. She knew that she, as a women writing letters, would not be considered so rather she gave herself male names to sign her letters. But a sheltered clergyman’s daughter of that time did not have a full education about politics and economics, and did not realise what was really needed – and this was brought out later in the story.

I would have appreciated a little explanation, for the uninformed reader, as why these issues had arisen. I knew some of them. For instance home weavers’ jobs had seriously declined due to the automation of weaving in mills, and that income tax had been needed to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. But what was the problem with the Davy Lamp? Other than that canaries were no longer required?

So off I trotted to the Internet to find out about the Davy Lamp.davy lamp

I knew that the Davy Lamp was used in coal mines to detect the presence of gases which could harm the miners. The gas that was detected  was methane and tended to occur in small pockets as the mines grew deeper.

The final design was very simple: a basic lamp with a wire gauze chimney enclosing the flame. The holes let light pass through, but the metal of the gauze absorbs the heat.  The lamp is safe to use because the flame can’t heat enough flammable gas to cause an explosion, although the flame itself will change colour. [http://www.rigb.org/our-history/iconic-objects/iconic-objects-list/davy-lamp]

Once the lamp was put into production, deaths in mining decreased dramatically, however, deeper mines could then be dug which increased the danger although but not as much as before. One can only assume that the complaints were coming from miners who had to then dig further into the mines, but the lamps were not faulty nor directly at fault.

There were also the protests about income tax.  This was a result of the changes that had been implemented in the late 18th century. Previously, tax was paid on land and everyone who had land whether gentry or tradespeople or innkeepers all [aid it. Additionally indirect tax was paid in the form of excise duties – custom duties we would think of them now or VAT. Household necessities such as salt, candles, soap etc were all taxed as were luxury items such as horses, silk, wines etc. These excise duties varied according to the need for money by the Govt and during the Napolenic wars of course, many items could not be shipped into the UK legally – hence the increase in smuggling during this period.

With the coming of war and the ideas of Adam Smith, taxes were rationalised and new taxes introduced. There was some protest but as corruption was also dealt with revenue for the Govt increased until 1793 when the first Napoleonic war started. To pay for this war higher taxes were required. An inheritance tax and an income tax were introduced and were very unpopular as you can imagine. It was considered intrusive and impolite to know what people were earning – and it is still not something people in Britain are happy to share with others – but after a time it was realised that the war needed financing and it became a sign of support and patriotic duty to pay the taxes.

I give this 3 stars with the potential for 4 r even 5 if these real historical issues are properly discussed rather than alluded to and requiring the reader to enquire further.

 

A feather in his cap: Yankee Dudel and Independence

 

Written in my heart’s own blood

by

Diana Gabaldon

I wait with patience now, for each and every book in this series, and each time, there is the worry that it might be the last.

Once again, have we come to end of the story. But not to worry, having been reading her website and blog and Facebook page, I am now assured that the 9th book is being written and that if you really want, you can get daily spoilers from the text. I did think about this but then thought maybe not so much, as if I get really interested in the spoilers and then have to wait another few years – it takes around 4 for her to write the full nine‐course meal with wine‐pairings and dessert trolley. Or full-length book. Then I might get rather frustrated!

All are safe again but – we never did find out the full story of the daughter and her husband travails before they finally reached home – is there a book in that I wonder? And will they become the next hero and heroine of the saga as time moves on and a new American history can be developed with them and their children now they are all well and all together? We shall see – read the daily spoilers if you can’t wait to find out!

And by, jove, aren’t they all very lusty right into middle age and beyond…never missing an opportunity for some hanky panky.

Now that I’ve got all that off my chest what did I think?

Well, it is always surprising to me, how Gabaldon manages to write a book of some 800 or more pages and yet we have only moved on a very few years in people’s lives. Her books are always chock-a-block with rich descriptions and intense language. Yet her academic background is not in literature as you might imagine but in Quantitative Behavioural Ecology (PhD) and scientific computing. Now take your prejudices out of your pocket and look at them again, as at the same time as she studied the reasons why birds build their nests where they do, she also wrote scripts for cartoons and comics. And for 12 years she was an academic professor before giving it all up to become an author about Scotland and Scottish people to which she had no affinity. Unlike so many Americans she has no Scottish roots at all and at the time of writing her first novel had not even been to Scotland once. Indeed she was born in Arizona and still lives there.

She admits to taking an amount of novelistic license with her ‘history’ of the American War of independence including some of the actions and whereabouts of General Sir Banastre Tarleton, 1st Baronet, GCB (21 August 1754 – 15 January 1833) who was a British soldier and politician; and who is probably best remembered for his military service during the American War of Independence. He became the focal point of a propaganda campaign claiming that his men had slaughtered surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws also known as the Waxhaw Massacre. His first name – Banastre – was in fact a family surname which was given to him as is often the case, in order to remember that side of the family. This is still quite a common practice in the USA where we do see a number of rather unusual first names used (especially for girls we British think).

He was hailed by the Loyalists and British as an outstanding leader of light cavalry and was praised for his tactical prowess and resolve, even against superior numbers. His green uniform was the standard of the British Legion, a provincial unit organised in New York in 1778. Tarleton was later elected a Member of Parliament for Liverpool and became a prominent Whig politician. Tarleton’s cavalrymen were frequently called ‘Tarleton’s Raiders’. All this of course from the trusty Wikipedia site plus some others. See the picture of tarleton below as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Quite a dashing young man don’t you think? And look – a feather in his cap!

220px-Banastre-Tarleton-by-Joshua-Reynolds

Now I did use my search engine quite a lot for this post as I so love it when people use unusual words. I have a bit of a thing about etymology…

So I started of course with looking at just what a ‘Dumpy’ chicken looked like dumpy chicken and then went on to actual language.

First on my hit list [I may well have missed some out that my readers are not sure of, but as I have read a lot of Victorian and historical literature I do know what a Macaroni is for instance – a dandy from Regency times in case you were wondering – and other terms which are not that common] was

  • Absquatulated. Now Gabaldon took a bit of a liberty with this one as apparently it didn’t come into common use until 1820/ 1830. It means to escape, flee or abscond. It is slang and is pseudo-latin.
  • Extravasation . Is to erupt, or an egress or passage out.
  • Peelywally. I was fairly sure I knew this as Scottish dialect but checked anyway and I was right – pale and sickly looking.
  • Cingulum . a belt or girdle. A cloth round the neck.
  • Banyan. A loose flannel undergarment from the Indies. OR a title of bravery. Take your pick on context.
  • Leporello. Nothing to do with lepers, but accordion or concertina pleated material.
  • Gorget. A piece of armour that protects the throat, later morphed into a crescent shaped piece of metal with a chain for officers to denote rank and regiment.

I also liked her use of the Scottish dialect and speech patterns and also the use of the Scottish spellings of words. One could really almost hear the characters speaking. Not having yet been able to see the TV series, I do hope they speak with a good broad accent!

I also checked on what type of drink Bunnahanhain was, I was fairly sure that it was whiskey and so it was, from Islay.

Now some of you may have already recognised Peleg if you read your and know your Bible, I don’t, but it appears that it means division as it was during his days that inhabitants of the earth were divide up between him and his brother. The sons of Eber.

I did also wonder what a trudging stream was, and couldn’t find any reference other than its use as trudging – being hard work to walk in and slow and difficult – we trudge when we are tired. So the stream was such a stream – one difficult and tiring to walk in.

Other words I checked on were: castrametation the laying out of an army camp; and yaupon holly which actually seems to mean tree tree – yaupon coming from the Catawban word for tree; and gigging which is practised in the Southern States – and is the use of a gig or 3 pronged pole to catch – yes – frogs usually.

So was this book all that I hoped it would be having waited to read it until I was on the Queen Mary (I had figured I needed something substantial to keep me from getting too bored as I knew I would be doing a lot of sitting around)? The short answer is yes. It was all that I hoped. Another 5 stars for Gabaldon. I guess more than anything it is her language that attracts me. The storyline is interesting of course, but that would only give it 3-4 stars. It is the language that makes it up to 5.

Oh and by the way, as I will write in my post about my visit to Boston I went on the Tea Party tour! So I know a little more about how the war started – sort of…