Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: The Wild Queen

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary Queen of Scots (Young Royals, book 7)
By Carolyn Meyer
Expected publication June 19 by Harcourt Children's Books

Mary Stuart was sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband when she was just five. But she has never forgotten that she is Queen of Scots and deserves to be treated as such.

I can't even muster enough enthusiasm to provide you with a longer summary of the book. Also, while on the topic of summaries, I need to mention that the summary on the cover flap of the book (well, it was on the back of mine since I had a paperback ARC) as well as on Goodreads (the summaries are the same) is very misleading and, if you don't know the history that well, very spoiler-y. The summary is misleading because all the stuff it describes doesn't even happen until, like, 250 pages into the book, so if you're expecting to read about 18-year-old strong-willed Mary, you're going to be disappointed.

In fact, this book was disappointing for me in a number of ways. First, as I've already mentioned, is the summary. What this book claims to be about and what it's actually about are radically different things. This book starts when Mary is very young and, in my eyes, the majority of it takes place while she ages from 5 until about 16. Maybe this is a false impression, but I was a bit annoyed to discover that the event mentioned in the second line of the blurb doesn't occur until very far into the book.

This book was disappointing also because I really love historical fiction. And I did not love this book. Not at all. It was plodding and boring and I seriously felt like I'd been reading for an eternity. Last night, I was determined to finish the book. In fact, I have only 10 pages left. But I just couldn't do it. Because I knew those ten pages would take as long to read as it usually takes me to read 50 pages. This makes for an incredibly frustrating and unsatisfactory read.

Another reason for my disappointment: isn't Carolyn Meyer a popular and respected author of historical fiction? This is the first time I've read any of her books (and yes, this is technically the seventh in a series but they are all about different monarchs so don't need to be read in order) and I was almost horrified at what I discovered. Meyer writes this book almost exclusively by telling readers everything instead of showing. I can forgive this to a degree; in fact, it's not even something that I necessarily notice all that much. So, if I'm to the point where I'm noticing and it's having a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the book, it must be pretty bad. Additionally, I worry about Meyer's opinion of her readers - it doesn't seem like she has a very high one. Nearly every time a character is mentioned, readers are treated to a reiteration of their titles, nickname, and how they are related to other characters. Yes, I am aware that medieval courts and royalty were quite confusing - pretty much everyone had the same names, after all. But I'm not a moron. And neither are your readers, Ms. Meyer. You should trust them enough to be able to keep the characters in the story straight for the 400 pages they spend with them.

And that brings me to what I'll just say is my last disappointment - this book is over 400 pages long. I like big books (and I cannot lie, haha) and it's not especially uncommon for a historical fiction to be longer than, say, a contemporary novel - generally, there are just more details an author has to make their reader familiar with. But this book felt unnecessarily long - perhaps having to do with the reintroduction of characters every few pages. I have this thing about the passage of time in books - if it doesn't make sense, you're going to lose me. And this book's temporal structure makes no sense. As I said before, at least 250 pages are devoted to Mary's life up until about age 16, 17, or 18 (it's hard to tell as, actually, her age is not mentioned all that much). But then the next 100 pages or so span a period of 5-7 - it seems like a lot of events and details are left out. Actually, I think this time frame would probably have been the most interesting part of her story (and what the book is supposed to be about, if the blurb is to be trusted), so it was disappointing that this section felt rushed. And then, the last 20 or so pages are meant to cover decades. Let me repeat that: DECADES. And this is more of Mary's life that might have been interesting - this is the time she was imprisoned. Well, yes, maybe reading about her imprisonment wouldn't have been terribly exciting but, seriously, you're only going to give it a few pages? IT JUST DOESN'T WORK. Additionally, the book ends rather abruptly, with an epilogue tacked on the end that I assume is supposed to make us not feel ripped off for not getting the book we imagined we were. But, oh tiny epilogue, you are not enough to overcome the number of times I've used the word "disappointing" to describe this novel.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy. But I don't recommend it and, I'll say it one last time, I was incredibly disappointed.

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