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By Blood or By Bond Paperback – December 13, 2012
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I loved this book which is all about brotherhood between friends, forgiveness and sacrificial love. Hazel West knows how to write stories I really enjoy.
What is especially surprising here is that the main character Viggo - the Viggo we have learned to admire and love from the short story 'To Save A Life' - behaves monstrously. Enraged by the loss of his son, he seeks revenge that is cruel and heart-breaking. In fact I wouldn't have liked him at all if I hadn't read the short story first.
And yet, this is what makes this so interesting, that a 'good man' who has rescued a slave from a cruel master, turns around and cruelly enslaves Caolan, the son of the Chieftain who killed his son. Yet the free-spirited Caolan refuses to behave like a Roman slave, pushing Viggo towards behaviour he would have previously condemned.
With an arch-villain who is completely detestable, a dash of lovely romance, a spirited girl restrained by circumstances, financial difficulties and a dive into the world of gladiators, I found the plot thoroughly engaging.
Unfortunately greater attention to proofreading was needed and I do really hope subsequent revision renders this comment redundant.
Characters: I felt incredibly sorry for Viggo. I was positively sick for him when Aulus died, and while I didn't approve of his taking his anger out on Caolan, I totally understood his overwhelming grief. It was painful (in a good way) to see Viggo, who was once such a strong, noble man, broken down by sorrow to a bitter, callous person. Likewise, I felt for Caolan, too, and understood his hatred for Viggo. Lorena came across as an innocent, kind-hearted young woman; one who finds pleasure in the simplest of things, but she didn't seem air-headed or fragile. She had a quiet strength, and wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Amatus was an absolutely fun villain to hate: slimy, conniving, cruel, vengeful - in short, a politician. I really loved when Hector made little jabs at him, especially with the "mushroom incident." And though he wasn't in the story much at all, I really formed an attachment for Marcus, and I do wish he had been in it more. There was just something about him that I really liked.
The Romance: I actually found myself invested in the romance in this story! Caolan and Lorena were such a great pair, and the Author doesn't allow the romance to get in the way of the story. While the conclusion to this forbidden attachment was predictable, I still really enjoyed it.Plot:It's exciting and engaging and has some pretty good and unexpected twists. One thing that niggled at me was Viggo's debt. Viggo's father died indebted to Amatus's father, and this debt passed on to Viggo, and when Amatus's father died he inherited his father's claim. Amatus hates Viggo with a passion for various reasons, and he wants to ruin Viggo in any way he can. And yet he never calls in Viggo's debt, which he legally could have done, seizing Viggo's lands and villa. My question was: why doesn't Amatus call it in? As I read further, I realized that Amatus was probably too afraid of Viggo to do that, which is a plausible and reasonable reason for him not doing it, but the story never outright says that this is the reason, so it's a question that might niggle at other Readers as well. Other than that, the plot is sound.
Believability: I happen to know that Hazel West does a lot of research before tackling a new historical fiction story, and it shows, especially when Caolan is sent to gladiatorial school. Somehow, a Reader can tell what things an Author has done so much research that they've become pros on the subject. While their book may shine with historical accuracy in all parts, you can just tell when there's been further effort in certain areas. The gladiatorial parts felt exactly like that, and I applaud Hazel for it. Likewise, the court martial scene distinctly had gray areas, where her research failed her, but she did herself a favor in 1)not putting too much detail in this part, thereby not showing herself up, and 2)admitting in her Author's Note that she couldn't find much on Roman court martial procedures, and so did the best she could with what knowledge she did have. Whatever historical inaccuracy is in this part isn't due to lack of effort on the Author's part, and it can be forgiven because of that.
Writing Style: Hazel West was clearly inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff and Elizabeth Alder, which are the best writers to take after when writing a Roman/Britannia historical fiction, while maintaining her own personal style and flair. Where Sutcliff poured her heart into breathtaking descriptions of the Highlands, Hazel West's strongpoint is in her ability to make the Reader care so bloody much for the characters and the emotional crises they are experiencing. I was absolutely gut-wrenched for Viggo when Aulus took the spear for his father, and I felt every characters' hatred for Amatus. Her battle scenes are very easy to follow, and while she doesn't take on the aerial perspective that I usually prefer, she narrates through the character's eyes in such a way that keeps it from feeling movie-ish or muddled. Each chapter switches between protagonists, and I liked this a lot. It offered each character's perspective in a smooth, coherent fashion. What spelling errors that are in this book can be excused, because the Author had to do all of her own editing, and believe me when I say that when you've read over your manuscript for the thousandth time, your eyes become jaded to grammar errors, and sometimes outside proof-readers don't catch everything, either.
Conclusion: I'm not usually a fan of when villain start gloating about their almost victory, but it fit Amatus's personality so well that I was okay with it. The final confrontation between him and Viggo began to feel a little dragged out, but I have to admit that as a Reader, I found immense satisfaction in reading about Amatus being beaten to a pulp. So, while I might have ended the confrontation a lot more swiftly, Hazel's choice to prolong it a bit will satisfy Readers to no end. Overall, I truly enjoyed By Blood or By Bond. It was exciting, populated by a wealth of characters - all of whom I became extremely attached to, - and ends in a satisfying manner that could lead into a good sequel if the Author so chose.
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, any age, perfect for Rosemary Sutcliff fans.
When I first started reading this book I was very impressed by it, and I remain impressed by the characters and how much I felt for them throughout the novel - they were the reason I wasn't completely ripping my hair out over the inaccuracies of what is supposed to be a researched novel.
It is essentially the story of a young Celt, Caolán, who sees his father murdered by a Roman centurion, Viggo, and is then taken to Rome as a slave, but ends up in a ludus to train as a gladiator. Along the way Caolán and Viggo have to come to terms with losing their father and son, respectively. Whilst this makes the basis of the plot it in no way describes it in its entirety. There is much emphasis on the importance of brotherhood, whether that is through blood or bond, throughout the novel and I really enjoyed reading about the relationships between Caolán and Fáelan (I would have loved them to be lovers and not just friends though), and Viggo and Hector (even if their relationships seems to become less important at certain points in the novel). Amatus and Lucius are perfectly despicable villains and create a nice contrast to Viggo and Caolán. There was a touch of romance (when is there not?) but it was well done and didn't overwhelm the rest of the novel.
Maybe I'm the one in the wrong but I'm pretty sure it's doctore not doctor and lanista not lanistra, maybe both can be used but it still frustrated me beyond belief when I read it. I'm also fairly certain the name Viggo would not have been used in Roman times, amongst Roman men, as it has origins in Scandinavian and Dutch; it's one of my favourite names but it never felt right in the context of a novel set in Ancient Rome. There are also frequent grammatical errors and some of the sentences are structured bizarrely, almost as if West has tried to use too many words to describe something.
Aside from the errors, and despite the predictability of the ending, By Blood or By Bond is extremely readable and intriguing, with characters that really get under your skin. I think with another round of editing this could be a very good novel, as it has an awful lot of potential and West does portray relationships beautifully.
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My first impressions of this book were mixed.Read more