A Cruel Fate by Lindsey Davis

A Cruel Fate

The English Civil War has begun, and has been raging for months. Michael Watts, who fights with the Roundheads, is taken prisoner and forced to walk for days to get to Oxford, where he is locked in the Saint George’s Tower, along with hundreds of other sick and dying prisoners. Meanwhile, Nat Afton is taken prisoner too, and, whilst thousands of others in his village change sides to support to the King to go home, he doesn’t. He stays. Gets himself locked up, leaving his sister Jane to make a dangerous trip to the city to find out what happened to her brother.

Okay, I’m going to do a basic structure for this review: good things, bad things, and a recommendation. To begin with, I really like historical fiction so this book was perfect for me! The Civil War was, most definitely, a brutal time in British history, and this portrayed I well, especially with the treatment of prisoners of war. There was no Geneva Convention then, so there was no obligation for the prisoners to be treated well, or even as living creatures (I refuse to say ‘human beings’, as I believe animals deserve many of the same rights).

Secondly, I liked the characters Nat and Martin, who were polar opposites but thrown into the same turmoil. Nat was my favourite character of the whole novella, even though he was rather fickle. He made me chuckle because of this, however, and I think that if I knew him in real life I would be unable to stop myself giving him a big hug. To me, he really was Jane’s cute little brother. Which, coincidentally, brings me onto the things I liked about Jane – her loving nature, the reaction to Michael and her devotion to her brother.

However, now we move onto the things I didn’t like. Firstly, the structure of the story. There didn’t seem to be a specific chapter about Michael, and then one about Nat, then Jane. It was just kind of clumped in one, and with random, intermittent splits changing from character to character. Bleugh. I prefer much more organised writing, thank you very much. Also, the chapter headings basically told you what happened in the chapter, so I ended up overlooking them. It’s rather like Homer’s Odyssey in that sense.

Secondly, the sentences and lexis. I do understand that Quick Reads are for people who don’t read as often as I do to begin to read again, or be introduced into the world of literature. However, I think even late bloomers in the reading front would find the patronising tone Davis seems to portray irritating. Especially how she defines ‘Roundheads’ during the book, after doing it at the beginning, and how she spells things out I preferred to infer myself. The sentences were primarily short and gave a staccato feel to the novella, which I really disliked. Sentence structure and lexis were the aspects of the novella which I disliked the most, and mainly what gave it it’s extra-low rating. I don’t feel like I could have read an entire novel like this.

Thirdly, there wasn’t much dialogue. This was fine, if the description was more energetic. It was description – that is, it described everything around. A little more action was probably needed also. And, this is going back to the character of Jane – she was a bit 2D, didn’t appear to do too much until close to the end, and I felt she was a bit wet, to be honest. Not the best creation possible, she needed a bit more character, ironically, and I also hated her sisters. If you’ll pardon my language, I felt they were complete bitches!

All in all, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the English Civil War, and the tagline on the front of the book really is relevant: “As long as war exists, this story will matter.” And, despite this scathing review, I think I will try a couple of Davis’ other works, and see if they differ, because I did enjoy the story and the idea. Just not much else.