For some time, I’ve wondered about reviewing books that I’ve read on here. I thought I’d give it a go, and see what you thought.
The Legate’s Daughter, by Wallace Breem
It’s been a number of years since I read Breem’s first class novel, Eagle in the Snow – EITS. That book ranks in my top five historical fiction novels, alongside titles such as The Lantern Bearers by Sutcliff, Hawk Quest by Lyndon and Tyrant by Cameron. While I didn’t expect The Legate’s Daughter to be as good as EITS – no one can maintain brilliance consistently – I did expect it to be better than it was.
It’s the story of two individuals, Curtius Rufus and Criton, both men who for one reason or another, live near the bottom of the social scale. Breem paints wonderfully vibrant scenes of their existence in Rome – better than almost any other writer I can think of. Theirs is a world of innkeepers and shop owners, government officials, charioteers and slaves; the high and mighty appear from time to time, but only to reinforce Rufus’ and Criton’s feelings of helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds.
What’s not to like then? Well, in a phrase, it’s the lack of editing. Page after page of dialogue is wrecked by word repetition (two cases of ‘endless’ in the same paragraph is one instance) and the extreme overuse of adverbs. I’m no stranger to these words as an author, but when characters are, for example, saying ‘lightly’ and then within a sentence or two, saying ‘bluntly’, it all becomes too much. There was even one instance of a man inclining his head ‘silently’. As my editor once asked me, how else does someone incline their head? The editor’s pen appears to have passed far too lightly over this novel.
As reviewers on other sites have commented, there’s a lot to commend in the book – I particularly liked the uncertainty of the ending. To me, however, it feels like a draft of a novel that needed several more sweeps and rewrites before being ready to publish. It’s a shame. Three stars out of five.