Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fiction Review: The Crimson Ribbon

England 1646. The Civil War is raging and society turned upside down.

What should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn and Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a deserting soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

The Crimson Ribbon
Clements, Katherine (2014). [Genre: Historical]
Source: I recieved an e-galley of this title for review thanks to Bookbridgr. I recieved no other form of compensation and all opinions are my own.
The Crimson Ribbon is a historic novel set during the height of the English Civil War. It twines together two historical figures, Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth Poole (the Abingdon Prophetess, who testified at the trial of Charles I, claiming God had given her visions of destruction if he be executed) through the fate of a fictional character, the maidservant Ruth Flowers. 

In most respects I really enjoyed The Crimson Ribbon. Clements does an excellent job of capturing the chaos that would have been everyday life during the English Civil War, not just because of the war itself, but the societal changes that were going on at the same time, due to changes in the Church, years of bad crops etc (hundreds of women were executed as witches during the Civil War period). The whole novel has a sense of hurry, of chaos and of confusion that I think would very accurately reflect what it felt like to be caught up in that time. The writing is subtle, but wonderfully done - easy to read, plenty of metaphor and symbolism without becoming to flowery.  

The characterisation was where I had more trouble. Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Poole is a triumph of a character; through the eyes of Ruth we get glances of a very complex woman, with conflicting traits that even she doesn't seem to know how to manage. However, I just couldn't make a connection with Ruth herself, or her friend/love interest Joseph. Joseph is just willing to give everything to Ruth to quickly - from the first time he meets her, he's telling her secrets that he shouldn't and giving her with information that seems to go well beyond the realms of trust their level of relationship could garner. Ruth is a bit all over the place - her mind changes quickly and often, her relationship with Lizzie goes over the borderline of obsession and starts to edge into crazy. She gives Lizzie her most precious possession without a second thought, despite spending the entire novel up to that point keeping it safe and regarding it as the most important thing in her life. On a personal level, my brain just doesn't work like hers in any way, so I found the novel harder to get through being from her point of view. 

Although it didn't entirely click with me The Crimson Ribbon is a tight debut from Katherine Clements. It's obviously very well researched and I appreciated the author's note giving more historical detail. Well written, well plotted and a fascinating fictional insight into a turbulent time. 

3/5 stars, just because the main character didn't work for me, but I'll certainly be on the look out for more of Clements work in future. If you think you can deal with an obsessive first person point of view better than I can and enjoy historical fiction, than it's worth giving this one a go.

1 comment:

  1. I always have a hard time liking books where I can't connect with the main character! It's too bad she wasn't as good as Lizzie, who sounds like an unusually well-fleshed out character.