“Queen Mary’s Daughter” by Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Today I am doing something I have never done before. I am writing a review of a book I did not finish. But this author has put a great deal of research, creativity, and toil into the project, and that deserves to be acknowledged.

I was impressed with the main character of the story. She is a strong, likeable female lead, and from the beginning the reader wants her to succeed. The plot of the story is well known to fans of Diana Gabaldon: a girl goes to Scotland and is overtaken by her Scots heritage and transported to the past to affect events there. I was impressed at the depth of knowledge of Scottish History required to keep the story on track, and the incredible amount of information revealed in the clothing, tools, weapons, and lifestyle of the ancient era of Mary, Queen of Scots.

And Therein Lies the Problem.

The author has far too much knowledge and is far too eager to impart it to us. This extends to the thoughts and motivations of the characters. There is far too much explanation of everything that is going on and why everyone is doing whatever they are doing. Combined with a lack of decent editing, this makes it a difficult read. Here is an example:

“She picked up the sword and fingered the sharp line of the blade. She recalled the many times she had sparred with an instructor in the arts of medieval warfare, as well as the times she parried with her grandmother. Good memories. The weight of the sword felt just right as she lifted it to study its contours. A typical broadsword of Scottish origin, it had been fashioned for a woman to bear. A basket wrapped around the hilt, an innovative addition to protect the sword hand. There was a distinct pattern on the basket of the princess’s sword: a unicorn with its horn woven in gold filigree, an image from the Royal Stuart emblem.”

There is little wrong with this paragraph save for a few minor proof-reading details. It is smoothly written with excellent description and an eye for detail, and the technical points sound accurate. However, the paragraph before that described her adjusting her sword belt. The whole page before that dealt with the intimate details of the hiding place for her family treasures. Before that, a description of her other weapons. Before that, her dress and her saddle. The following paragraph discusses her accuracy with a bow. And in all this time, nothing has happened.

The whole book goes on like this. There is “active” action no doubt, but it is interspersed with detail, detail, detail. Descriptions of crossing rivers. Descriptions of battle interrupted by information about the medical school where she studied, and the anatomical knowledge that allows her to hit the right artery when she slashes at her opponent. We are swamped by a barrage of details that we don’t need to know in order to understand and enjoy the story.

Another quibble that I frequently mention in reviews: the overuse of magic in all the fantasy sub-genres. In this case, the ability to time travel at will means that no chase scene — and there are plenty — can ever create a great deal of suspense, because the reader is aware that at any moment the victims can simply disappear.

I apologize to the author because I really wanted to like this novel, but I simply do not have the time or the motivation to plow through the mass of wonderful information to find out what happens at the end.

I will not post my review anywhere except my blog, because I have no intention of interfering with this author’s ability to sell her book.

Full disclosure; I’m not a great fan of Diana Gabaldon, either. Readers might want to take that into account when deciding whether to try the book.

A style of writing recommended only for intent fans of in-depth historically-oriented fantasy.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

About the Author: Gordon Long

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