Thursday, 11 August 2011

Review: Emerald by Karen Wallace

Emerald St. John is in trouble. She has been condemned to marry a man she hates, her enemies are conspiring to have her pet bear Molly torn apart in the baiting pits, and the man she loves is far away on the high seas. And she has stumbled into a web of spies with a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth I. To save herself and the kingdom, Emerald must beat the spies at their own game - which means transforming herself from a country girl into a lady of the court. Can she do it in time?

This blurb and this cover combination had me set up to be really excited when this book came out a few days ago. Unfortunately though, it turned out to be quite a disappointment.
Having read the brilliant books by Eve Edwards set in Elizabethan England, I suppose I was expecting a high standard of writing, but I was sadly let down. 

The book is an exercise in what happens when you ignore the rule of ‘show not tell’. I was never allowed to see or feel anything for myself as a reader; it was always Emerald telling me exactly how I should feel, but often giving no explanation which just left me feeling irritated.

Emerald herself is hard to sympathise with, she never seems to become fully three dimensional – in part because we never get to see anything, we’re just told by her. She’s a very forward thinking, modern girl, but with no reasoning behind it. It’s very hard to make her character and the setting relate to each other.

And if Emerald is hard to like, the rest of the characters are even worse. The book was populated with stereotypes and horrid people. You have to have relatable sides to people, even if ultimately they aren’t very nice, but no-one really justifies their actions and they remain odd people that have mood shifts in mere seconds. There is no build up, no character development, and as a result it’s not particularly interesting to read.

A vast amount of backstory clogs up the first twenty odd pages, and whilst that information would be useful to the reader, it’s very hard work plodding through all of that when there’s no real investment in the story yet – it was enough to make me want to put down the book and stop bothering to wade through it. Backstory helps to flesh out the characters, but in this case it was monotonous, and as Emerald was telling it, highly frustrating. She would talk about how she never spoke to her father and barely saw him, and then detail all he would do with his days – details she would never actually know.

The speech is riddled with modernisms, to the point that it never really felt like we were in Elizabethan England at all. And when people are speaking they have no balance between normal speech and suddenly yelling. I never really got to care about the characters – the only nice one has two conversations with Emerald and then they’re in love, another highly irritating moment. By all means have characters fall in love, but give some reason, some sort of real interaction between them that inspires it.

The plot jerks around all over the place, with some passages and incidents so muddled and confusing that I had to go back and re-read whole sections of it. So all in all, a not particularly inspiring read.

For all that, the last eighty odd pages where the plot actually picks up are quite good. It’s still full of holes, but at least it was engaging enough that I wanted to find out what happened. However, for all the hype I wasn’t all that fussed on this book, and I won’t be seeking out any other books written by Wallace.

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