Prue Batten has long been one of my favourite writers for quality of prose. Her word-spinning ability is at the top of her craft and anything she writes is enticing and enthralling, flowing across the pages with simple grace. The fact that the more she moves into the world of medieval historical fiction the more her plots also deepen and improve just adds to the reasons to read her work.
The Gisborne trilogy started out somewhere on the border between historical fiction and historical romance, and despite that not really being my thing, I read them it and loved it because, as I’ve said before, Prue could write a phone book and make it absorbing. But with the second and third volume in that series, the focus moved more towards the traditional historical genre and the action increased along with the intrigue, all without losing anything of character or style.
Tobias is the first novel in a series of standalone spin-off novels from that series and while it retains every aspect of skill and beauty I’ve come to expect from Prue, the novel also shows once again a strengthening of plot and deepening of knowledge and centrality in the medieval world. Here’s how Tobias as a novel really wins for me in 5 points.
- The characters. Tobias and his brother Tomasso are two of my favourite characters from the Gisborne trilogy. They stand out as a fascinating pair and, being dwarves, there is a real depth to them, given the medieval fascination with such folk. They are written truly sympathetically and beautifully and rather than being so empathically written that their stature does not affect the tale, rather it does affect the tale as it should and the reader starts to see the world from that height, which is an amazing thing. The supporting cast are also excellent, in particular including Mehmet, who is again one of my favourite characters from the series and probably deserves a book of his own, Prue (hint, hint…)
- The location. In addition to the ship on which the characters travel, the cast stop at Crete, which is one of my favourite places, and the plot centres very heavily on Constantinople, where the majority of the tale takes place. And Istanbul is one of my top 2 places on Earth, with which I am very familiar. So as well as loving the settings, I could feel the heady atmosphere of the place and picture every junction, facade and doorway.
- The plot is beautifully crafted, like the ribbons around a maypole, each thread entwining with the others, under, over, under, over. For the plot given at the start of the book, and what drives our heroes into their long and fraught journey is only the opening salvo of what is a deep, complex and in places surprising plot, involving a clandestine business deal, a woman of great importance with enemies across Byzantium, a missing holy icon and a sinister force hunting the pair.
- The interaction between the two brothers. The pair may be virtually identical to others but they are very different people and the growing rift between them and the way they deal with each other in their turbulent relationship throughout is perfectly done.
- Atmopshere. In the Gisborne series, we have felt the cold, damp, dour atmosphere of Medieval England, the hot, dusty, dangerous atmosphere of Outremer, the glittering, cultured atmospheres of Genoa and Venice. Well now, Prue has turned her attention to that cultural melting pot that is Istanbul and the join between Europe and Asia. It is one of my favourite things to experience and I felt it oozing out from the pages, so well done there, Prue.
So there we go. I don’t think I’ve spoiled the plot for you, but if you’ve not read the Gisborne series, I heartily recommend them. If you have, you’ll LOVE Tobias. The novel can be read as a standalone if you so desire, but you’ll get a lot more from it if you’ve read the Gisborne books and have a grounding in the characters, so that’s definitely the best way to do it if you have the leisure.
Another Batten masterpiece. And it’s out today. Go get it and be entranced.
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