Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Book Review: "The Valley" by Helen Bryan
Published: July 19, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Left suddenly penniless, the Honorable Sophia Grafton, a viscount’s orphaned daughter, sails to the New World to claim the only property left to her name: a tobacco plantation in the remote wilds of colonial Virginia. Enlisting the reluctant assistance of a handsome young French spy—at gunpoint—she gathers an unlikely group of escaped slaves and indentured servants, each seeking their own safe haven in the untamed New World.
What follows will test her courage and that of her companions as they struggle to survive a journey deep into a hostile wilderness and eventually forge a community of homesteads and deep bonds that will unite them for generations.
Folks, I can't sugar coat it--this book was a mess. I was actually quite excited to read this book because, based on the summary, this was totally up my alley. Instead, it just failed on several levels. I'm not going to rant on about this book (as I have already done when telling people about it). But I do want to point out the 3 biggest problems that I had with it.
The first issue that I came across here is that there are some serious plot issues. As in, there really isn't a plot. The first 100 or so pages of this book shouldn't even exist. I could see a very short prologue of when Sophia first met Henri when they were children, as that actually has some bearing on the rest of the novel, but I really didn't need (or care for) Sophia's complete life history up to the point where she stands on a ship heading to the Colonies (where this book should have began). Any other pertinent information could have been revealed to the reader as the story progressed.
I never found a real plot here--there were whiffs of a plot, but then that story line would be dropped. There were story lines that just sort of appeared out of nowhere and then never connected to anything bigger. Probably most infuriating of all, Bryan ends the book with an entirely new story line, with new characters, that she never connects to anything or ties up. I guess she might have been trying to create a cliffhanger for the second book in the trilogy, but it only created frustration.
The second issue is that there needed to be far more editing. The writing was both overly florid and sloppy. The point of view, which was never truly omniscient, would jump between characters at odd places--like the middle of paragraphs--so much that it was hard to follow. Far too many times, characters would not be in a scene, and then just appear for no reason. There are frequently unidentified pronouns, so the reader can't even be sure which character is speaking! All these issues could have been prevented with tighter editing.
The final issue is one of my biggest pet peeves with Historical Fiction. There are things in this book that are, shall we say, historically inaccurate. I'm thinking specifically of Sophia's attitudes towards African Americans. We are told early on that she was taken to abolitionist meetings in England and was opposed to slavery, which is believable. However, she becomes a friend to the former slaves in her group in a way that just would not have happened in the 18th century. While Abolitionists didn't believe in slavery, that doesn't mean that they saw African Americans as equals. In fact, English Abolitionists would still have considered them to be an "inferior race." Yes, it is ugly--but it is true. When you take into account that this novel is based on Bryan's ancestors, this comes across almost as whitewashing ("well, my family was different..." sort of thing),which I find offensive. Slavery and the treatment of African Americans was a very dark, terrible thing--but to make light of it is disrespectful.
I'm very disappointed that this book failed for me, as I really do believe that it could have been wonderful.
Helen Bryan is a Virginia native who grew up in Tennessee. After graduating from Barnard College, she moved to England, where she studied law and was a barrister for ten years before devoting herself to writing full-time.
A member of the Inner Temple, Bryan is the author of four previous books: the World War II novel War Brides; the historical novel The Sisterhood; the biography Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty, which won an Award of Merit from the Colonial Dames of America; and the legal handbook Planning Applications and Appeals. The Valley is the first in a planned trilogy based on her childhood stories of ancestors who settled in Virginia and Maryland before Tennessee became a state.
I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.
Tuesday, July 19th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, July 20th: A Book Geek
Thursday, July 21st: Kritter’s Ramblings
Friday, July 22nd: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, July 22nd: Reading is My Superpower
Monday, July 25th: WV Stitcher
Monday, July 25th: FictionZeal
Tuesday, July 26th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot
Thursday, July 28th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, August 1st: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, August 2nd: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, August 3rd: Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, August 4th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, August 8th: A. Holland Reads
Tuesday, August 9th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, August 10th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Monday, August 15th: BookNAround
Wednesday, August 17th: The Maiden’s Court