The third book in my Historical Fiction Around the World series is C.C. Humphreys’ A Place Called Armageddon: Constantinople 1453. As a reminder, I am exploring historical fiction written by authors from other countries than my own USA. My aim is to share my experience of reading each of these books, chosen for their author’s native country and for my interest in the time/place/topic. So I’m not going to just give a short review of the story, but what I find interesting about the layout, the storytelling, or whatever else intrigues me about the book.
This book is a hardback edition consisting of 458 total pages, of which 442 constitute the story. It’s copyrighted in 2012. Like Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome, it includes a glossary and maps to help me orient myself to the place and the language. Unlike that previous read, this book only includes 2 maps—one of the city walls and one of Constantinople in 1453—and the glossary of 3+ pages. But those proved enough to enable me to follow the movement within the story and to enjoy the narrative and dialogue.
Before I started reading the story, after learning from reading The First Man in Rome, I studied the maps, read through the glossary, and then also read the Historic Notes and the Author’s Note. Then I felt like I had a good grasp on the context of the story as well as the author’s intent behind writing the story.
Reading this story so far—I’m on page 250 as I write this—reminds me of something I noticed decades ago when working as a technical writer tasked with transcribing the conversation during a meeting. A subtle difference can be detected between how a woman speaks vs. a man. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the nuances. A different cadence, perhaps? Word choices to an extent. A different approach to storytelling or speaking in general. I could tell by reading the transcript whether the words were spoken by a man or a woman 90% of the time.
In a similar manner, I noticed a difference in the narrative/storytelling by this first male author of the series. One of his narrative choices is to string together actions using commas. Let me give you a few examples. “He sat, gulped, stared at the board before him.” “He raised [her hand] to his lips, tasted it, her.” “The big, nimble man feinted, flicked, lunged, a forearm’s length of steel thrust before him.” In each case Humphreys declined to use any conjunctions. I’m not complaining about his technique, mind. I’m pointing out a subtle writing style choice. It works to convey the flow and the fluidity of motion or thought. I may try employing something similar in my own writing if it suits the situation and story.
Another difference in this historical fiction from the other two is the level of detail associated with the fighting style and techniques of the characters. In the first two that I’ve read so far, both written by women, the fighting happened but the specific steps, sights, actions were not explicitly detailed. Humphreys goes into far more precise detail of how to arm and shoot a crossbow and a bow and arrow. Continuing from the last cited example above, here is one fight sequence to demonstrate what I mean.
“In the center, though, all was quiet enough, if not still. The big, nimble man feinted, flicked, lunged, a forearm’s length of steel thrust before him. But Gregoras had just had time to do what he probably should have done before he’d spoken—he drew his own dagger left-handed, cut down, putting blade to blade, guiding the other’s past his left side. Then he raised his boot and slammed the heel hard down onto the man’s unshod toes. As he screamed, Gregoras drove his right hand up his hip, curling his hand over, bringing the brass knuckles uppermost just when the force of the blow was at its height.” (p143)
See what I mean? I could reenact this scene based on that paragraph. If I were an actor, which I tried to be once, but that’s a tale for another day! This is not the only instance of the step-by-step actions taken by a character in combat with another. I’m surmising the author either knows how to fight hand-to-hand or took some lessons on how to for the sake of writing these scenes. I’d be more likely to do the latter, but that’s just me.
Another lesson learned from reading Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings is to be a reader first, then analyze what I’ve read so I can share it with you all. I am enjoying the story overall despite the fact that I am not one who really cares to read about battle strategies and fighting. Humphreys shares the human side of the fighters so I am happy to read about the relationships they have with their brothers and wives among other people in the story. I found out my husband has already read this book and enjoyed it; he called it a “good story” which is high praise from him.
That’s my first thoughts about this book with more to come next week when I wrap up my reading of the story. Anyone else reading it? What are your thoughts, if so?
Happy reading and Happy New Year to all!
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Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.
Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.