A writer with a gift for storytelling
After four murder mysteries centered around Stephen Attebrook, the author (Jason Vail) steps back one hundred years to what is presumably the lives of Stephen’s great-grandparents. The murders have gone (well, there’s a couple, but not in the mystery sense) and we have a book at least twice as long as the predecessors which is more historical fiction than murder mystery. It reminded me of Ken Follett’s ‘Kingsbridge’ series – the story being a narration of a family in a period of English history. There was a nod to the surprising Hollywood hit – ‘A Knight’s Tale’ – in the light-hearted jousting, fighting, and general vagabond-ing that our hero – Robert Attebrook, indulges in as he climbs the difficult social ladder of twelfth century England. Lastly, the novel made me reminisce about Bernard Cornwell’s “Grail Quest” series, specifically, ‘Harlequin’.
All of which is to say Mr Vail is in good company, if not as good as these proven authors/fables. The key point is that since Vail penned his opener – ‘The Wayward Apprentice’ – each novel has expanded in scope, plot, narration; each has become more believable, has better historical accuracy, is more gripping (we like these people we are reading about).
When I commenced reading I was expecting a new Stephen Attebrook mystery, so I am pleasantly surprised to find that it is not; rather we get a history of the Attebrook family, akin to Wilbur Smith when he builds his African family dynasty epics. What remained was to find out if the taut narrative of a whodunit could be replaced by a longer saga. The result? A more than passable effort which ensures this reviewer both continues to recommend Jason Vail and look out for his next work.
The story is all about the rise of one Robert Attebrook, from common serf, to hunted ‘murderer’, to squire in France in the various armies of Henry the Younger, the Flemish, the English of Henry II, to stalwart defender of honour and family, eventually to being a lord over his own holdings. At various points he earns his way through a mixture of daring, bravery, and good sense, avoiding vicissitudes in his refusal to be spanselled by his class. Parallel to this is the story of Giselle, the beautiful daughter of Lord William, whose lands Earl Roger desires most ardently. The means to this is through the marriage of Giselle to the bastard Eustace – a nasty piece of work who commits murder and mayhem with his henchmen as he sees fit. Of course, the rise of Robert means he meets Giselle as she falls from social standing. Love and the formation of a formidable team is the inevitable result as they struggle against strife, politics, the class system, wars, nefarious acts, and hatred to reach a position where justice wins through. Through sedulousness, persistence, and dedication both our heroes and we, as readers, reach a conclusion that is satisfying, but remains open for the family saga to continue.
What I like about Vail is is his plain prose, his focus on action of character rather than scene. He is neither recondite nor abstruse, his prose is pellucid and never divagates. We cheer with Robert, scowl at Le Bec and Eustace, tut at scheming servants, groan at building fires, cheer at the various successes and victories so hard earned.
I must applaud Vail. He started as an e-author and has matured rather rapidly into a writer with a gift for storytelling. It’ll be interesting if he sticks with historical fiction of the Attebrooks or returns to ‘present-day’ and has Stephen indulge in another murder mystery. Either way, this reviewer has no doubt it will be good.
Review by travelswithacanadian
Gary from United States
...I read all 9 of the Stephen Attebrook adventures before reading 'The Outlaws'...the Attebrook 'backstory' brings all the pieces of the family history together...what impressed me the most with Vail's story-lines (this book included) is the struggle to ' act honorably and honestly' when those around you are 'lying, cheating, murdering curs'...my hope is that Jason Vail continues to give his readers more adventures of the Attebrook family...perhaps even bring the saga into modern times...
Catherine from USA
I loved this book! I've read all I can find of Vail's books except the alternative history ones (not a fan). This is my first venture into 1172-1290 something time frame. England and Europe are a mess: wars, depridations, and general mayhem from the personal level to the state level. The characters rope us into their lives and Vail is great at developing their histories, hopes and dreams. No candy coated fantasy here, folks. I almost gave up on Stephen ever making something of himself for it seemed he was doomed to be penniless and perpetually hungry and sleep deprived! (Maybe that was me projecting, as I marathon read the series!) The action is first-rate as I actually understood Vail's description of sword fights, jousting and dagger fights and such. I anxiously await additional books! Very entertaining!
9.5/10 from 3 reviews