Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Lady of Monkton by Elizabeth Byrd

Title: Lady of Monkton
Author: Elizabeth Byrd
Publisher: MacMillan
Published: 1975
Pages: 224

Rating: 2 out of 10 stars

In 1460 Scotland, young Catherine Grandison is married off by proxy to a man whom she has never seen. She has no idea if he is young or old, cruel or kind, or anything else about him.
After becoming the new lady of his estate, Monkton, she does her best to adjust to her life there while waiting for his return home.
In the months she spends waiting to meet her mysterious husband, Catherine befriends a strange man who professes to be a doctor, experiences the Plague, makes friends and enemies, and finds herself beginning a love affair with a priest, Symon.

I picked this book out of a trash bin, and read it the next day. Though I certainly believe that no book deserves to be thrown away, I admit that I can't blame whoever put it there.

This book was horridly written, and I am sorry that I wasted an hour on it.

Every character is flat and lifeless, either seeming stupid and unpredictable or seeming like nothing at all - just a textbook person who is there because they must be, nothing more.

The heroine Catherine was my least favorite. What little character the author did manage to breathe into her was a bad one. She shows little concern over the flurry of events that take place within two paragraphs of beginning the book. Her father dies, she is placed into an arranged marriage, she is taken away from her home and placed in a new one, and married. It is a lot, to be sure, but Catherine seems not to mind. She never shows the slightest grief over any of this, not even her father's death. The only worry she has is that her new husband, Roger, may be ugly, or very old.
She is a very stupid girl who falls in love with a selfish, conniving man. Yes, her naivety may excuse her a bit, but she shows herself through out the affair to be weak willed and pathetic.
Also, I found it ridiculous that she "loves" three different men in this book. Symon gets the majority of it, but at the end, she loves another man, and then within a few pages, she loves someone else.

The character of Symon could have been interesting. He is a priest who preys upon Catherine's loneliness and innocence and persuades her to sleep with him again and again. It is obvious what his trick is, but we never see any of his character. He simply doesn't seem to be there, it is just words.

The character of Mistress Adam was built up as if she is going to be the villain. It is hinted that she may be a witch, or that she murdered Douglas's first wife, or that she secretly loves Douglas and wants him for herself. Many things are hinted at, but they never become anything at all. She simply disappears toward the end of the story, never having done anything at all.

This makes the book void of any conflict or villains. I was incredulous at the build-up of Mistress Adam, followed by her being tossed aside.
It was as if you know the entire book that some dangerous storm is approaching, closer, closer, closer...
And then!
It's gone. Oh, it was never coming at all. Sorry. Tricked you!

Why on earth the author made the writing decisions she did, I cannot comprehend. Would it have been so hard to at least write a scene where Mistress Adam threatens Catherine in any way? Professes twisted love for Douglas? Anything?
But alas, nothing of the sort.

Even when the Plague strikes Monkton, a few pages lightly mentioned it, but it never comes to anything.
It was as if the author was too afraid to ever let anything bad happen to her characters, or anything even close to it.

The only conflicts in this book were these:
- Robert may not be handsome. Oh my, just imagine!
- Someone may find out that Catherine has a lover, and Symon may not even love her.

The second could have at least been made into some tragic love story, I suppose, but it was simply too badly written to be inspiring or interesting.

And lastly, what was this with Michael Scot being a time traveler? Apparently he has lived for thousands of years, and has met kings and queens throughout the ages, and is now in Monkton. There was absolutely NO POINT to add this sci-fi element into historical fiction! Besides him, there is nothing fantastical to the story. And his being a "time traveler" did not even affect the plot. If he had simply been a wise, traveling healer or perhaps a former royal physician in exile, it would have worked out the same way.
I am thinking up these possibilities off the top of my head. And yet nothing of the sort ever occurred to the author.

What a waste of a book!