Friday, August 7

Mary Gentle: 1610-A Sundial in a Grave

Astrologer and predictive mathematician Dr Robert Fludd has seen what the future holds for mankind and it isn’t pretty. He calculates that disaster can be averted if he acts now to change the course of history. His unwilling tool is a disgraced aristocrat and spy escaping France after failing to prevent the murder of its king.
Together with a young duellist and a shipwrecked samari, the spy is manipulated to achieve Fludd’s end. But not everything can be calculated for and this spy is not the puppet he pretends to be. He throws Fludd’s plans into disarray not understanding how his actions are changing the future of the world.
Eventually he comes to believe in the truth of Fludd’s abilities. This results in a transglobal chase of Fludd, his capture and imprisonment.
Having his eyes opened to the bigger picture the spy and his companions start to work with Fludd to form a secret society (the Rosicrucians) that can monitor the world and steer events so as to avoid future calamity.
There is a passing reference to a sundial but never is one found in a grave.
This is more a work of alternate history rather than the historical fantasy it claims to be. The only fantasy element I could identify in the story was the reality and accuracy of predictive mathematics. Once it became clear that I was not reading a typical fantasy and adjusted my mindset I should have liked this book but it simply left me flat.
It was extremely slow to start and though the pace picks up a little during the second half of the book it simply moves from glacial to snail’s pace. There are a number of seat edge action sequences interspersed with very long periods of nothing much happening. The historical detail seems accurate and is well blended into the description but there was far too much of it in my opinion. Excess description made an already slow pace drag.
Hints of sexual perversion sparked my interest and could have given the characters more depth but they are never followed up. And the inconsistency of one particular character irritated me somewhat.
For all that this isn’t a bad book, if you like a long wallowing tale. I liked it enough to not only finish it, eventually, but also to read the Hic Jacet. But, personally I think it could have been three hundred pages shorter (it clocks in at over 700pp) and would have been the better for it.
This book was a lot of work for little pay off and left me thinking Eh.-Lynn

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