Saturday, January 3, 2015

To Shield the Queen by Fiona Buckley


Here it is, 2015, and I'm still pretty much doing the same thing.

Still reading.

Still employed.

Still taking care of a sickly mother. Sigh.

I'm reading a few books right now. One of them, Black Swan, a book about highly unlikely events/things/happenings, is a book I've been reading on and off for months now. Another one, the Design of Everyday Things, was recommended by +Scott Rehm aka the Angry DM. It's an interesting book so far and good reading.

In terms of fiction, I just finished reading To Shield The Queen, a book set in Queen Elizabeth I's court. Written by Fiona Buckley, this is the first novel in a series of mysteries that introduces Ursula Blanchard, a woman of the court. There are over ten books in the series so far but alas, most of them go past my 'impulse buy' threshold in kindle format. They range from $5.99 to $15.99.

This is another of my $1 finds off the spinner racks of #HalfPriceBooks. It's another one that my mom initially read and I decided to snag it before returning it to the used bookstore. I figure might as well get the full dollar worth out of it.

What I'm going to say may sound contradictory but I found this an excellent example of a book written in the "tell not show" methodology. The good news though, is that the author has a good writing 'voice' if you will. Even when the author is telling us what the main character is telling the reader, it still moves quickly.

It's done in a way that prevents this 300+ page book from becoming a 400-500+ page book.

I will, if Half-Price willing, or Amazon Kindle hits up with the $1.99-$3.99 sales, be reading more of the series.

The author also includes her own research material into the era, which is always a nice tool to have for those trying to recreate the feel of a particular book they've read.

For those wondering about any gaming things I might have yanked from it as I read:

1. Female Main Character: I hate to say it, but I can recall too many conversations that tried to sideline female characters based on the pseudo historical context of a campaign setting. It's one of the reasons I'm always interested in seeing 'women warriors/queens' and other bits in that fields to show that there are always exceptions to the rules and when talking about player characters, they are by default the exceptions.

2. Multiple-Priorities: The main character, Ursula, is loyal to Queen Elizabeth. She is loyal to England. She is a woman in love. Her love is against the things she is loyal to. Ursula walks a fine line between defending the things she loves and the man she loves. While in the end she is true to queen and country, she is still tied to her love through binds of marriage as well as actual love. Fiona does a solid job of providing an antagonist that the protagonist doesn't want to kill but wants to overcome.

3. Family Live: I've mentioned it before, but the more hooks a character has in the campaign, the more ways the character can be drawn into the setting. In this instance, Ursula has a daughter, Meg, and relatives that 'took care' of her when she was young and her own parents dead. These elements come into play several times and work as not only active elements, such as when Ursula must save Meg, but as background elements as Ursula seeks a better future for herself in part to provide for her daughter. It's also a good way of siphoning off funds that don't involve the latest and great magic item or castle creation.

4. Religion: Always a touchy subject when it concerns real world religion, the degree to which people will go, then as in now, to spread their religion, is devastating to those who just want to go about their day to day business of survival. In some ways though, it's one of the problems with fantasy settings that have a pantheon. It's hard to picture an schism like that of Catholics and Protestants, especially when it was happening, occurring in a fantasy setting. While the Forgotten Realms did make a passing effort at such with the Dawnlord, as one deity of dozens of deities, the rest of the setting pretty much kept going the way it was going previously.

5. Henchmen: Ursula is a lady of court. As such, she is expected to have her own maid. She also has her own manservant. Both of these characters provide abilities and well, bodies in places when needed, to do the things that Ursula can't do because she's busy elsewhere. While the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is reknown for it's use of disposable henchmen, and the excellent adventures of +Brian Patterson and his webcomic d20 Monkey have brought us many an amusing illustration of disposable henchmen, here they are minor characters in their own right.

6. Investigation: Despite the era, despite death by smallpox to Ursula's husband before the story starts, despite her manservant being killed on the road by 'robbers', violence in and of itself is almost a secondary thing that happens in To Shield the Queen. Indeed, much of the action Ursula takes is to prevent violence. When looking at the arcs characters go through, are there any that can be designed on finding things out, rather then killing the orc to take his pie?

To Shield The Queen takes a historical event and twists it on its edge to give us a different look at how things might have rolled out.