Sunday 6 March 2016

REVIEW: Tobias by Prue Batten

Tobias (The Triptych Chronicle Book 1)Tobias by Prue Batten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of Prue Batten's I've read and it did not disappoint.

It is the tale of the eponymous hero of the novel, Tobias, a dwarf minstrel. To have a protagonist who has to contend with the struggles related to being born different, make for an interesting read and Batten brings to life the complexities of living with achondroplasia in medieval Europe. Tobias, his twin brother, Tomasso, and most of the cast of characters come from Prue Batten's Gisborne series of books, but they are all well-defined here and I felt I got enough of their backstory for the most part to understand their motivations and desires.

Batten's prose is rich and lush, like ribbons of embroidered silks trailing through the mind. The settings are vivid and real. It was easy to imagine the author had spent years of her life in the locales of Constantinople, Crete and Venice, but as she lives in Tasmania, I don't think this is the case. All I can assume is that she carried out exhaustive research and then fleshed it out with a delightfully detailed imagination. An imagination that sees every pebble on a beach, each bag of spices spilled onto the cobbles of the Byzantine harbour-side, every stitch on a sweat-stained gambeson. Batten is able to conjure each zephyr blowing over the Adriatic, the scent of sweet fruit syrup cordials drunk in the coolness of a merchant's walled garden, the icy bite of a steel misericorde blade slicing into pliant flesh. Her writing is sumptuous, and the plot, whilst quite straightforward, is well-drawn and leads the reader to the inexorable violent conclusion.

Although the time and the place of the story is very different, there was something about the interaction of certain characters, the absolute authenticity of the locations and the poetry of the prose that at times reminded me of the great Patrick O'Brian. For historical fiction, there is really no greater praise.

The only character I found hard to connect with was Tomasso. I found him unlikable and thoroughly unpleasant. It is clear that he is meant to be perceived that way and a large part of the plot revolves around his selfish and self-destructive behaviour, but by the end of the story, I didn't care whether he found redemption from his sins, or was utterly destroyed by his thoughtless actions. I wondered whether I would have felt differently if I'd read the previous trilogy, and whether the denouement of the plot would have been more heart-wrenching as a result.

This is a big story told through the eyes of a little person. Prue Batten brings us a rich tale of deceit, intrigue, politics and violence. And she does so with poetic writing and real verve.

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  1. This book sounds right up my alley, plus I love anything with good prose. Thanks for sharing this review:)