Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: By Blood or By Bond - Hazel West

A copy was provided by the Author
in exchange for
an honest review.
By Blood or By Bond by Hazel West
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on December 12, 2012
Published by CreateSpace
Pages: 452
Read From: 12.30.12 - 1.3.13

Which ties are stronger - those of Blood or those of Bond? 
Caolan, the son of a Celtic chieftain, awaits his first pitched battle against the Roman invaders, knowing that this is the moment in which he will truly become a warrior of the tribe. 
Viggo Callias is a seasoned centurion in the Roman army on his first deployment to Britain with his newly enlisted son, Aulus. Serving under an incompetent commander, he wonders whether victory will be theirs. 
But fate takes a hand in both Caolan and Viggo's lives when Viggo's son is killed by a spear meant for him. Enraged by the loss of his son, Viggo seeks vengeance on the man responsible: Caolan's father. As the chieftain breathes his last, Viggo vows to take Caolan as a slave to avenge Aulus' untimely death. 
Torn from his country and people, Caolan's only comfort is the hope that one day he will be able to avenge his father. But can the greatest wrongs be righted? Brotherly bonds, gladiators, old enemies, corrupt politicians, and a young woman who captures Caolan's heart take a role in the physical and emotional journey that binds Caolan's and Viggo's fates together. Can the two wounded parties work past their hatred of each other and find what they have lost: a father and a son?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes. It’s clearly a historical novel set in the Roman era, I like how it has a “weathered paper” look, and the character’s faces are turned away enough that I don’t mind them being pictured. The title’s font color is a little hard to see against the background, but very clear on the spine.

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.

Content: None.

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.

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