Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review - The Queen's Handmaid

Original Title: The Queen's Handmaid
Series: -
Author: Tracy L. Higley
Published: March 18th, 2014

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
BORED TO TEARS.

Seriously, this could be the most boring book I’ve ever read. I rarely give one GoodReads star, normally reserving it for when I truly don’t have anything good to say about a book, and this, sadly, is one of those cases. Every time I put it down, it pained me to think that I had to go back to it, I literally did it grumbling. But I’m too stubborn to leave unfinished books, even when I truly wanted to drop this one every few pages, and never pick it up again. The Queen’s Handmaid has the merit of being the only book that ever kept me up at night in a bad way, because I just wanted to finish it to be over with it, or I would have to bear another day of trudging through this story. 

A quick disclaimer: in this review, I won’t be delving into this story's historical or biblical accuracy, because I simply don’t know enough about those topics as to make a valid point. With that said, let’s dive in.

This book wasn’t a nightmare, but a sedative. It is probably one of the slowest I’ve ever read, and after four hundred pages of absolute boredom, I have a few things to say. The Queen’s Handmaid feels more like a history book than a novel, and precisely, it should have the opposite effect. Simply put, if I wanted a history lesson, that’s what I would have read, but I grabbed a novel instead. As I passed the pages, I often had to re-read chunks of information and paragraphs because my mind wandered, and if your thoughts are clearly more interesting than the words you are reading, I think that speaks volumes. One of the first confusing things I found was the dialogue between royalty and servants, as it felt informal, and way too modern for the time period. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that, in other stories, if a servant talked to a royal the way it happens in this book from time to time, they would probably be executed, or at least severely punished. And although, yes, Cleopatra executes this Andromeda girl on the spot for that, we don’t ever see something like that again (by the way, that scene was also the one that made me think this book would be different than it turned out to be after a few chapters).

The second thing that bothered me may sound very technical, and it has to do with show vs. tell. For those who don’t know, a quick explanation: showing means vivid, impactful moments to get the readers invested in the story, for them to remember the important things and connect with the characters and the plot, while telling basically means stating facts, and providing information**. In this book, there’s a telling abuse. Most of the worthwhile content is delivered as facts and historical data, like the battle in Masada. Perhaps it’s just me, that, as a fantasy reader, I’m used to be in the center of the fight and experience everything firsthand, but here, we see the entire battle from Lydia’s point of view, and although the telling isn’t wrong, I can’t feel anything, it’s like watching a very boring movie filled with dialogue in a moment in which I should only be seeing and hearing the clash of swords and shields, the screaming... It’s a siege, for God’s sake! Also, there’s too much telling on the time jumps. In a moment, we are here, and in the next, one or two years have passed. E. g., we get a very intense scene with Lydia in the temple as the battle rages on around her, and in the next page, it’s the same place, only a year later, and the author has skipped all the good stuff, like Herod and Mariamme’s wedding, for example, and I do like a royal wedding in historical fiction from time to time, I mean, imagine the picture that could be painted with the right words! But no, there’s nothing about it.

In this story, lots of things happen for no reason, and that’s especially noticeable after Lydia leaves Egypt. The author dedicates five whole chapters to their stay in Rome, and I felt that the whole thing could have been easily removed from the book, and absolutely nothing would have changed. Nothing comes from Lydia serving Octavia, nor from the insinuated attraction between her and Varius, the poet, so why making me read all these chapters to no point? Because there isn’t one, no matter how hard you try to find it. The whole Rome part got me completely lost with so many names and characters, and I ended up bored sick with the political negotiations between Herod and Marc Antony. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to show these things, but there’s a point in which enough is enough, you can’t rely on your readers’ patience forever. The only thing that happens during those chapters that is worth reading is Riva being attacked by the man we later find out had been sent by Salome to find the scrolls. But asides from that, nothing changes in the general plot, I could have just skipped the five chapters, and it would have been exactly the same.

If we are talking about pointless scenes, after the Rome part, the one that definitely made me want to flush the book down the nearest toilet was the childbirth scene. So, Mariamme has decided that she wants to escape her husband, so she, Lydia, and Simon get on a cart and secretly leave Jerusalem, but in the nearest inn, Mariamme goes into labor, and then finds out Herod is coming back alive to the city, so she has to go back too. And I was like, "why on Earth, why??" Why did I have to read that? The exact same thing could have been told without changing locations, and without exhausting the reader, perhaps saying that Mariamme was about to leave the palace, and then her water broke, and so on. But no. They left, but they had to return anyway, so why making them leave in the first place? Seriously, it made absolutely no difference to the story that she had her baby here, or there. But it did make me angry. What a waste of page time!

Can we talk about the “romance”? Because it really disappointed me. As I said before, at first it seemed the love story was going to be between Lydia and Lucius Varius Rufus, the Roman poet, but aside from letting us know that Lydia is attracted to passionate men, it’s just another piece of the novel that could have been cut from the book and nothing would have changed. After him, she meets Simon, who serves Herod as a soldier, and although we see that something grows between them, this book is so boring that even the supposed romance fell flat. They don’t have enough chemistry, there was nothing for me to root for their relationship, and their first kiss just left me with a puzzled expression on my face, over this:

And in the kiss something was unleashed within her that had little to do with the way of a man with a woman, and everything to do with the way of an Israelite passionate for her people and her land.” (Chapter 19)

Seriously? You kiss the man you are falling in love with, and that’s what you are thinking? If you ask me, I normally would say it’s the other way around. But, see what I mean? For things like this, their moments together are ripped from everything that could be remotely romantic between them. 

But the last point is the worst. First, Samuel dies before giving further explanations about what he wants Lydia to do, that is finding this Chakkiym people, but it bothered me that he was literally dying, and he kept talking and talking without giving any piece of real, useful information! He didn’t let Lydia interrupt him, but he talked non-stop without getting to the point! Man, you are dying, please say what you mean to say once and for all! *Deep breath* As I said, this book was a huge trial to my patience. After Samuel dies and Lydia leaves Egypt, she spends literally years of her life searching for the Chakkiym, never finding them where she was supposed to, doing what she was told, praying to reach her goal, etc., and we only find out who and where they are in the very last chapter! After that, there’s not even a resolution, because she still doesn’t find them! This seriously pissed me off. After year after year of searching and waiting for Lydia, and painfully boring chapters for me, I don’t even get a resolution? What kind of ending is that?

Finally, a quick word on the character building. Lydia is a cardboard character, and I didn’t fully like her. Everyone loves her, she doesn’t have any faults, and everyone who gets to know her can’t help but loving her *eye roll*. No one is like that, as far as I know, and although I was mildly surprised by Lydia’s parentage and royalty, I was too bored to care. At the point in which that’s revealed, I just wanted to be over with the book once and for all. My point is that she, and the rest of the good ones, are very good, nothing is ever their fault and they possess every virtue. That’s their essence, and they don’t feel even remotely human, because no human being is just a big pool of goodness and love. On the other hand, the villains, like Cleopatra, Herod and Salome, are bad, and only bad, they are never humanly vulnerable or show any concern in regards of those around them, their only worries are about their power and the things that could threaten it, and for me, that’s not enough. The worst of them was, definitely, Salome, she’s the witch in every fairytale, she’s nothing more than pure evil. Both her and Herod are not far from the stereotypical villain who creates suffering for no reason, and sometimes it felt like the only thing they had left was to twist a handlebar moustache and tie a woman to the train tracks to fully complete the villainy chart. 

Phew! That was long, and without covering the details (please don’t make me). I just want to add that this is definitely a no for this author. I tried, and I just couldn’t. If all of her books are like this one, I think I’ll pass. Sorry.


**For a deepening on show vs. tell, I recommend watching Jenna Moreci’s vlogs on the topic, here:
- Show.
- Tell.



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