I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I was fascinated by the description and the concept behind this historical novel. A story of spies, trade, politics, brotherly love, prejudice, song and art, set up in the era of knights, noble houses, the Crusades and Byzantium, the book had story, adventure and interesting characters (including the protagonists, achondroplasic twin brothers, Tobias and Tomasso, dwarves who are not only minstrels and accomplished musicians, but can fight with the best and are spies too).
Although there is plenty to recommend this story (beautiful writing, incredible description of settings, power relations, ships, trade routes, and even social and religious customs), my difficulty with it was that I felt I caught the story half-way through after lots of it had already happened. Not having read the previous series the author has dedicated to the noble house of Gisborne, the constant references to facts and adventures that had happened before made me feel as if was missing a big chunk of the action (although this is book one, and that could cause confusion to some readers).
The story is told in the third person but from Tobias’s point of view and I had some difficulty with the amount of telling that required at times, as due to their small stature and the need to be discreet because of the risks involved in the business at hand (the trading in an illegal and very valuable purple dye, that has come to embody power and everybody wants), the brothers are in hiding often and others have to tell them what happened. I felt the style of these fragments was not different enough from the rest of the book as to clearly indicate another speaker, rather than something once again seen from Tobias’s point of view.
I also felt I needed further information to fully empathise with the main character and his hesitation, ambivalence, difficulty making decisions, and his strained relationship with his brother (whom I found the more interesting of the two, perhaps because more morally ambivalent, with several shades of grey). Not knowing how Tomas had changed, or what their relationship had been like before, other than in a brief flashback to their time in Paris, didn’t help me fully understand why he found him so difficult now. By contrast, I thought some of the secondary characters like the captain of the ship, who is always handy to save Toby, and the doctor, were fascinating and well deserving of their own books (perhaps that’s already planned).
A solid book about a fascinating topic, with historical detail of the period beautifully rendered, that I feel it will be enjoyed more by readers already familiar with the characters and their backgrounds.