Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Thoughts: The Splendour Falls

The Splendour Falls

by Susanna Kearsley
narrated by Barbara Rosenblat

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  2.5 Stars

An ancient castle, a tragic love, and a web of secrets begins to unravel....

Emily Braden has stopped believing in fairy tales and happy endings.  When her fascinating but unreliable cousin Harry invites her on a holiday to explore the legendary town of Chinon, and promptly disappears - well, that's Harry for you.

As Emily makes the acquaintance of Chinon and its people, she begins to uncover dark secrets beneath the charm.  Legend has it that during a 13th-century siege of the castle that looms over the city, Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, hid a "treasure of great price".  And in the last days of the German occupation during World War II, there was another Isabelle living in Chinon, a girl whose love for an enemy soldier went tragically awry.

As the dangers of the past become disastrously real, Emily is drawn ever more deeply into a labyrinth of mystery as twisted as the streets and tunnels of the ancient town itself.

Upon finishing this book, as I had stated in my Pre-Review Thoughts, I've been enjoying Susanna Kearsley as far as the first couple books I've read of hers.  I know two books isn't a lot to go on, but it's enough that I enjoyed both to make my radar perk up at anything else written by Kearsley.  In fact, having been told that the first Susanna Kearsley book I read, The Shadowy Horses, was actually not one of her better books gave me something to look forward to as I did enjoy that one quite well.  In this, I'm hoping that the next book I pick up by Susanna Kearsley will prove much more interesting and less boring than The Splendour Falls.

Because the truth is, boring is exactly what The Splendour Falls turned out to be.

As Kearsley is wont to do, the writing was beautiful and the characters were all interesting in their own way.  She has a way with imagery and atmosphere, which is what had drawn me to continue reading her work in the first place.  There was even a veil of mystery to... well, to something at the beginning of the book, which continued to tingle in the background as the book progressed.

But that veil of mystery seemed to get forgotten at each new turn, or each new day that our heroine, Emily Braden, spends simply wandering Chinon... pretty much aimlessly.  As I'd mentioned before, this book's conflict doesn't even really surface until about eight hours into the audio book.  Eight hours out of a twelve hour audio book is when there's suddenly a change of tone in the book's narrative.  The previous eight hours kept hinting that something might be going on, but this was very much overshadowed by Emily's banal musings as she spends time vacationing in Chinon with her new band of friends.

For eight hours--that I listened to at random intervals--of audio book, I had no idea where this book was supposed to be going.  When I started suspecting that we'd jump back and forth in time, like she did in Every Secret Thing, between Emily's time and the historical King John and Isabelle, that tangent suddenly disappeared.  When I thought there might be a more sinister mystery of sorts involving Martine and Christian and Neil... well, that got cut off as well.  Then I thought maybe there'd be some sort of supernatural happening in the Hotel de France... but that was wishful thinking on my part.

I'm not even entirely sure the book itself knew where it was going.

Then something tragic happens after eight hours of audio book, and everything just starts falling together to create a plot.  And truth be told, I DID find myself getting extremely sad about the event that finally got the book picking up, and might have gotten a bit teary-eyed... So, kudos for that, Ms. Kearsley.  Well played.

Except that I'm not sure the build-up--or lack thereof--really got you prepared for that particular incident.  It was quite sudden, and I'm not sure whether or not for the better.

Meanwhile, before that pivotal point in the book, I pretty much just found myself both bored and frustrated.

Moreso, I found myself a bit frustrated with Emily, and not only because she's such a boring narrator.  I started getting a "reverse harem" and "speshul snowflake" vibe from her and her new band of friends after a while.  Apparently all the men she started meeting in Chinon ended up adoring her, and there's even a direct dialogue near the end that pretty much professes that if it weren't for Emily, a lot of the more wonderful things that happened wouldn't have happened.  I might have rolled my eyes out of my head at that.

It doesn't help that the only other two females in the book who feature prominently are both maligned, either as part of their character (Garland) or because Emily is jealous (Martine).  Martine is narrated as if she's a selfish, shallow, hateful person, but upon interaction with her, you quickly realize that it's really only Emily's pre-judgements coming into play.  Martine seems quite nice and bubbly--but you stop seeing her in the book as much after Emily's revelation.  Garland definitely comes off hateful, but at best she's really just crass, ignorant, and entitled.

I don't like that there are no good female friendships in this book.  And I've come to find Reverse Harems a little tacky.

I'm not sure what role Paul and Simon were supposed to play in this story.  I found Armand creepy, and Neil's existence almost, well... non-existent.  I thought Christian would have more of a role, but he's merely always in the background.  I was a bit surprised by Jim's twist in this story.  And Harry... I'm not even sure if he's really all that significant outside of giving Emily a reason to think that something sinister is going on when he never shows up at their appointed meeting time and place for vacation.

And there you have it that there might be way too many characters to follow in this book--even if they're all quite interesting in their own way.

On a side note, I have had a good experience with Barbara Rosenblat's narrations before, so had been looking forward to this particular audio book.  Somehow, her narration doesn't really do anything for me this time around, and I'm not entirely sure I can pinpoint why.  She does a great job differentiating all the characters, and wonderfully portrays accents.

I think it was the voice she gives Emily... I'm not sure.

Halloween Bingo 2018
(a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance)

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