Book Review: The Bookseller’s Tale

Personally, I would never consider moving to Oxford, England. Like Gotham City, it is home to way too many fictional murders. But I love reading about them. Which is why today I have a book review of The Bookseller’s Tale by Ann Swinfen.

The Bookseller’s tale is (spoiler alert) a tale of a Bookseller in medieval Oxford who finds himself sucked into a murder mystery. But the mystery itself is not the most interesting part of this book.

Many historical novels I read use the history as a colorful background, sometimes even as a way to move the plot along. One might, for instance, set a story in revolutionary France and move the plot along by having one’s heroine bear a remarkable and unfortunate resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

Sometimes the setting proscribes the plot so strictly, it can only move in certain directions if it is to maintain structural integrity. Regencies, for instance, focus heavily on the social protocols of a specific subset of British nobility. The rules and whether a hero obeys or flauts them are almost as significant as the actual physical setting.

So I do respect the significance of setting and time in a novel. It’s just that many historical novels can be a bit wearisome in their determination. It’s almost as though the author is trying to demonstrate the depths of her research by using absolutely every jot and tittle of it in the book, whether the information applies or not.

This is not the case with The Bookseller’s Tale which is why it won this week’s book review contest.

Ann Swinfen winds up her characters, places them in a medieval college town just after the plague has backed off, and lets them go the way they must. As a result, the historicity is organic.

Swinfen doesn’t lecture. She just lets the story unfold.

And in the process, the reader develops a fascinating picture of the challenges and also the good things about life during that period.

There are some things I wished for when I was reading. I’m not usually a fan of maps in books, but I would have liked one in this case.

I would also have loved a glossary of some of the terms. Swinfen is good at slipping unfamiliar words in contextually so you can guess what they mean. But that’s not the same as knowing.

I understood cotte was a garment but I had no clue what type. Similarly I was sure pease pudding was food. But I had to look it up to figure out how it might be a sliceable food.

Still, these are minor complaints. Because now I’ve read one, I want to read more. If I’m lucky the next in the series will be illuminated and I can settle down to read it while sipping a stoup of ale.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.