Book Review: This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

I’m a massive fan of Celia Rees’s historical novels and Witch Child sits firmly on my ‘favourites of all time’ shelf. When I first read the synopsis for her latest novel, This is Not Forgiveness, I felt a little pang of disappointment as I’d been so looking forward to another fantastic historical read. However this was quickly followed by excitement and I was eager to give something different a go.
This Is Not Forgiveness is a tense psychological thriller told from alternating viewpoints of the three main characters, Jamie, Caro and Rob. When gorgeous and unobtainable Caro starts showing an interest in Jamie, he can’t believe his luck. He’s heard the rumours about her, particularly from his sister Martha who hates the girl with a passion, but he doesn’t care. He can’t help but be attracted to her impulsive and dangerous attitude.
But over the summer Jamie comes to realise there’s more to Caro than anyone even realised. Caro’s deeply political beliefs are becoming increasingly extremist, which Jamie feels less and less comfortable with. And that’s not his only worry. His older brother, Rob, who was injured out of the army in an explosion in Afghanistan, is falling apart; drinking heavily and becoming angry and violent. Separately, Caro and Rob are enough to keep Jamie awake at night, but when the two come together no one could have predicted the outcome.
Saying this book is different to anything I’ve read by this author before is an understatement. Firstly it’s set very much in modern times and Celia Rees proves she has as much a handle on the youth of today as she does on those in her historical novels. Her tiny observations and detailing are rich and evoke clear images making her characters both main and minor very real.
The book starts with the ending, which I wasn’t immediately aware of and prompted a little bit of confusion, as did the switching narrative. It took me a few chapters to fully get into the stride of this book and understand which viewpoint I was actually hearing from. Once I did though I couldn’t stop reading. It isn’t an easy book at all. The characters in this book are flawed and damaged, the themes are political and the ending is as desperate a climax as the lead up to it. It’s thought provoking and very much a story of our times.

This Is Not Forgiveness is at times shocking and uncomfortable reading and isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. Personally I thought it was a compelling, edgy thriller that left me thinking about its themes once I finished the last page. While it doesn’t quite match up to Rees’s historical novels for me, it does nothing to waiver my admiration for this author. I do hope for more historical from Celia Rees, but I also look forward to seeing what else she may come up with eagerly. 

Published by Bloomsbury February 2012 (PB) Kindle version available for download now.
thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

Book Review: The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees

It’s 1601. Violetta and Feste are in London, seeking out the playwright, William Shakespeare, who is enjoying success at the Globe Theatre. However, it’s not his plays they are interested in. They are there to request his help to save their beloved country, Illyria.

Daughter of the once Duke Orsin, Illyria has collapsed due to civil war and Violetta has been exiled along with her Mother’s loyal fool, Feste. Violetta is sure that an ancient relic, stolen by the evil Malvolio, is here in England and key to her return as Duchess and saviour of her country. With Shakespeare’s help they set of on a dangerous adventure packed with treachery, political intrigue,witchcraft, romance and of course, plays.

I read two of Celia Rees’ books last year and fell completely in love with her writing. I was extremely keen to read her latest book, The Fool’s Girl (released 5th April 2010 in the UK) and was more than a little excited to receive it ahead of publication. Once again Rees spins a fantastic adventure that brings history to life and has it jumping of the pages.

Now, I have to be honest and say- embarrassingly, I know almost nothing at all about Shakespeare. Apart from wading through Macbeth many years ago at school, my experience of the great bard is almost zero (should I have admitted that?). This in no way affected my enjoyment of A Fool’s Girl and in fact, I found it fascinating. I’ve heard of Twelfth Night, but until reading this book, knew nothing about it. Rees bases The Fool’s Girl around the famous play, in that the events that happened in Illyria were real, and Shakespeare is inspired to tell the story, known as Twelfth Night, after meeting and helping Violetta. Rather than feel alienated by my lack of knowledge I felt I actually learned from the book and also had my interest in Shakespeare himself piqued. I actually WANT to go and see/read some Shakespeare straight away! I was also able to pick up on some references to some of the plays, such as the three old herbalists who I presume later become the witches in Macbeth.

Where Celia Rees absolutely excels is bringing history to life. Descriptions of sights, sounds and smells all create such imagery that for a while I actually was in seventeenth century London. She doesn’t shy away from the grisly truth so at times the book is violent and slightly disturbing, especially in her descriptions of the fate of prisoners and betrayers. But this makes the book seem all the more authentic. Seventeenth century London wasn’t the nicest of places after all, with the heads of criminals hanging from London Bridge and the lack of sanitation.

Violetta is an inspiring character. She’s strong, determined, loyal and proud so even in hard times she never loses sight of herself. I found myself really routing for her and sympathetic of her plight. However at times I did feel that the emphasis on Shakespeare was too much and Violetta became a little lost. The book is told in an alternating third person narrative and then first person from several characters. I would have preferred a little more from our heroine herself, as I thoroughly enjoyed her voice, and the story was, after all, hers to tell. Feste provided a humorous and fascinating character and is complex with his moods and personality, although his devotion to Violetta never wavers.

The book is full of action, myth and romantic legends, which I absolutely adored. In particular, Violetta’s retelling of her parent’s life in Illyria is captivatingly beautiful. Rees’ writing is incredibly readable, while remaining extremely intelligent and I read the book very quickly. There was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me gripped and I finished the whole 320 pages in just over a day.

There was one area I was a little disappointed. There is a romantic thread that begins in Violetta’s childhood and continues throughout the book. I found it a little lacking, in that it felt slightly contrived and without real passion, which was a shame. Perhaps the reason for this goes back to what I said earlier, that Violetta’s voice could perhaps have been used more and thus made the romance more believable and exciting? I still enjoyed the book very much, but felt if this had been developed a little more, it would have been amazing.

Celia Rees remains one of my favourite authors, and The Fool’s Girl does nothing to change that. I remember when reading the magnificence that is Witch Child, thinking how fantastically it would have tied in with studying The Crucible at school. I think the same applies with The Fool’s Girl and Shakespeare, I’m fairly certain I would have found him more interesting had I read this book at that time. But The Fool’s Girl is also a great book just to read for enjoyment. It’s fast, it’s gripping, and it’s entertaining. I’d recommend this for anyone who enjoys an exciting historical novel, from aged 13 up, or as an introduction to this genre.

Thank you to the publishers, Bloomsbury, for sending me this book to review.

Waiting On Wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking The Spine to highlight the upcoming releases we can’t wait to read.

This weeks choice is The Fools Girl by Celia Rees. I adored Witch Child and Sorceress and read them both in just a couple of days, so I’m really looking forward to Celia’s new book.

Violetta and Feste have come to London to rescue the holy relics taken from the church in Illyria by the evil Malvolio. Their journey has been long and their adventures many, but it is not until they meet the playwright William Shakespeare that they get to tell the entire story from beginning to end! But where will this remarkable tale ultimately lead Violetta and her companion? And will they manage to save themselves, and the relics from the very evil intentions of Malvolio?

Released in the UK April 5 2010