Sunday 21 November 2021

Eternal Light of the Crypts - Alan Van't Land

Eternal Light of the Crypts:
Lux Aeterna De Cryptae: 
A Historical Fiction in the Ruins of Charlemagne’s Empire
ISBN 9781987970289

I have mixed feelings about this book. And it has taken me a few days to approach writing a review because of them. It is a debut novel so I end it some grace, it is also an author I am unfamiliar with, but it is from a publisher I trust and typically enjoy greatly. This book comes in at just under 300 pages. But I swear it felt more like 800, and not in a good way. This was book 308 this year for me. I typically read novels in a day or 2 and this one took me 19 days. It was not difficult to put it aside and read something else, then circle back. But that being said, the premise and the story did keep me coming back. The description of the book is:

“890 AD France.

The last imperial heir of Charlemagne is dead, and every duke is proclaiming himself king. Egilolf, a former soldier, could care less. He needs to steal bones. A saint’s bones.

With the prospect of a large payout, he recruits the scribe Aristeus, a refugee fleeing Viking invasions. Perhaps he should have told his new companion the true reason he’s pilfering saints. Together the thief and scribe must dodge bandits, Vikings, and warring lords—not to mention their own lies—only to find unearthing bones the easiest step.

Yet Egilolf’s fiercest battle is the one within. How can defending the weak be just, when God abandons him when he has to kill? And when Vikings become more than a faceless enemy to Aristeus, will he, like the ancient martyrs he’s always extolling, risk death to convert them?”

I really did enjoy the characters. And the premise is excellent. The action was a lot of stop and go. Capture, make a deal, or escape, recapture or capture by someone else. Aristeus dealing with the memories of the sacking of the monastery he was studying at, and Egilolf with a burden and penance that is driving him on. The whole premise of a Saint wanting to be found, and venerated, and the rise and fall of the popularity of specific saints. Miracles real and assisted. There is a lot to keep you interested. And as I said that kept me coming back. 

But I really feel the book could use a good edit, or rework. I think of the Shadow in the Dark by Antony Barone Kolenc, which had the whole trilogy published. Then picked up by a different published with a major rewrite. I recently heard about the concept of the Victorian novel triple decker. An article in the New Yorker stated:

“… the three-volume frigate that dominated Victorian novel-writing. The triple-decker, as it was called, was the form of much work by the likes of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Benjamin Disraeli, and Anthony Trollope: typically nine hundred octavo pages divided into volumes of three hundred pages each, handsomely printed and bound. “The three volumes lie before me like an interminable desert,” Reardon moans. “Impossible to get through them.” Gissing lifted such laments from his own diary; “New Grub Street” was itself a triple-decker, Gissing’s eighth, and he used every available trick to stretch it, wheezily, to length. “The padding trade,” Trollope called literature at the time.”

It summed up how I felt about this volume. I really did enjoy the story. But feel the writing could use some reworking. A good first effort. Good plot, excellent characters. Well researched. And amazing footnotes and historical notes. I game it 4/5 stars. It could have been excellent. But as it is currently it is good. And I would have no hesitation picking up another from the author.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan!

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