I'm a novelist, get me out of here

In the "old days" there wasn't much in the way of series as far as books (or even TV) were concerned. Think about it, on TV there was the odd soap that went on for years, there might be extended series about popular characters (Dr. Kildare, Dr. Finlay), but otherwise most television serials were one-off dramas that ran for a set number of episodes and that was it. Although of course there was the odd exception just to prove the rule. And it was the same with books, you might get popular characters like Sherlock Holmes that would run for several books, but, except in the world of children's fiction, it was fairly rare to have a large number of volumes all based around a small number of characters. How things have changed.....

As trends in TV alter, so they change in fiction. Now, if a character proves to be popular, a writer can end up chained to them for life. I do feel a bit sorry for an author in this situation - how do you escape the character that made your name? Is it possible? How do you do it?

I've recently read two novels that are both "escape" novels, and it's interesting to see how they compare. Bookhounders may remember that I recently reviewed Michael Jeck's City of fiends, a medieval murder mystery set in Exeter, and the latest in a series of 30 Knights Templar novels - all shamefully unknown to me. Templar's Acre is both the last (for the foreseeable future) novel in the series, and is also a prequel to what appears to be a much-loved series.

Siege of Tripoli (took place 2 years before
the Siege of Acre)
Wikimedia Commons
Actually I think a prequel is a pretty good way of wrapping up a series, it keeps the fans happy by giving them some much needed extra info on their favourite characters, while giving new readers a great intro to the series. I must say I loved Templar's Acre, although I suspect that if I had already ploughed my way through the rest of the series I might have been a little disappointed. As far as I know the rest of the series has been firmly medieval murder mystery genre. Templar's is an out-and-out historical novel, much more like Conn Iggulden or Ken Follett. But putting the change of genre aside, I loved this novel. Set at the Siege of Acre in 1291, when the city fell to the Saracens, this was part Boys' Own Adventure, and part an extremely moving tale. A young Baldwin de Furnshill turns up at Acre desperate to atone for his sins and win his spurs - he is very much a man of his time. The story of how his experiences there will change his life forever is brilliantly well written. A great adventure story it may be, but as an historical novel it also rates highly - hugely readable and memorable, with characters that you genuinely care for.
I also had a great moment when I discovered that the siege engines that pulverised the walls of Acre were built in Jordan at Kerak, a place I'd been to many years ago. The story of moving the siege engines from their desert stronghold to the city was mesmerising.

Lindsey Davis' The Ides of April is a rather different departure. Much as I love the Falco stories, they have started to lose their sparkle over the last couple of volumes. So...Davis has ditched her much loved character, and started a new "Falco : the next generation" series centring around Falco's adopted daughter Flavia Albia, and her life as an investigator in the rather nastier Rome of Domitian. It's a clever idea, as there's still the odd bit of detail about the characters you love, but the new set-up is refreshing.

Wasn't sure when I first started the novel, how I was going to feel about it. But I think these novels are going to be every bit as good as the Falcos with a rather different feminine twist to them. I thoroughly liked the main characters including the possible love-interest, and Flavia Albia emerges as a very likeable feisty character. Judging by this first novel in the series, these may be slightly more serious than the Falco novels - Ides of April centres upon a serial killer on the loose; and although there is all the humour you'd expect from the author of the successful Falco series, it is rather blacker in hue, and not quite as frequent.

The good thing about Ides is that you don't need to be a Falco fan to enjoy it, but if you like a good historical murder mystery, you're going to love this. So, two very different novels, both with writers looking to do a spot of re-inventing, and jolly good luck to both of them.


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