Gentle, Mary - '1610: A Sundial In A Grave'
What a fantastic novel this is! Gentle has produced a tale of epic proportions that starts off amazingly and builds to a crescendo. A potential problem with books of this length is that the start can be poor, but this couldn't be further from the truth with 1610 – after just two or three pages you are well-ensconced and enjoying every word. Further, the sheer length of the story means that the characters have been given space to develop and the detail included is second to none.
The originality of the storyline is breathtaking. It is set in France and London in 1610 and concerns the life and loves of an infamous Parisian dualist, Valentin Rochefort, and the people that he meets along the way. It is about love, betrayal, forgiveness and honour, with lashings of sex thrown in for good measure. Basically, after being blackmailed into killing the French King, by none other than said King's wife, Rochefort is forced to flee France for his own safety and ends up in London, where his problems are only just beginning.
In London, Rochefort has a chance, or, as it turns out, not so chance, encounter with Robert Fludd, a philosopher cum fortune teller who predicts the future by means of these amazingly complicated calculations. He has foreseen a horrendous global disaster some 400 years into the future and is attempting to avert it by changing the course of history. He attempts to win an extremely sceptical Rochefort over to his side and sets a plan in motion that, if successful, will see the death of the British King and his son on the throne in his place. Rochefort is central to these plans since, according to Fludd's calculations, it is he that will kill the King and, thereby, prevent the future horrors from taking place.
Rochefort is not the type of man that can easily be told what to do and the tale follows his actions as he tries to outwit Fludd. His adventures take him to Japan and back; see him becoming confidante to the British King; have him begging for his life on his knees in front of his Lord, the Duc de Sully; and falling in love in a most unlikely manner. By the end of the book you feel as if you have known Rochefort all your life and the ending is just perfect.
One of the many attractive features of this novel is that the fact that it is written as if taken from Rochefort's memoirs, with an overview from someone else's perspective in italics between the sections. There are also short excerpts from other people's writings that fill in some of the missing details and give a different angle on some of the action.
I love the way this book is presented and flows. It is my first foray into anything by Mary Gentle and I am now curious to read some of her other work. If you are looking for an absorbing read that will take you away to another place for a good long time, this is definitely the one for you.
Amanda Gillies, Scotland
European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.