Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman

Title: The Pindar Diamond
Author: Katie Hickman
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 2010
Pages: 288

Rating: 3 out of 10

I was really looking forward to this book. It just sounds so exciting! A mysterious woman washes up out of the sea, a supposedly cursed diamond is being tracked down, with which some nuns may be involved, and it's set in Venice. What could go wrong?

The opening lines, in which the mystery woman describes drowning, really caught my attention. I got the impression that the author carefully thought about what such an awful thing must be like, and the short section of a chapter, less than a page long, seemed almost poetic in how terrible it was.
In the next chapter, we are introduced to two traveling circus acrobats, Maryam and Elena. I loved the first descriptions of the characters, and the description of the tired little village that they come across had me reading the words in admiration. Hickman really brought to life the setting, and all on the first few pages!
I settled in, eager to get to know these characters.

However, it was not to be. The scene switches almost immediately to an entirely different set of the characters - who are the predominant ones in the story.
They were quite confusing, especially in the beginning. But even toward the end, I was still a bit confused about what was going on with them.
The author calls all the characters by both their first and last names at random. It wasn't until pretty far along in the book that I realized that "Pindar" and "Paul" were actually the same person, Paul Pindar.
Also, the characters relied almost solely on dialogue when first introduced. They dive right in to talking about some very in depth, weighty matters, which only confused me more.

Still bewildered and trying to figure out exactly who was doing what with which person, and what last name went with what first name, I was whisked away to another setting.

In this one, we meet a young, pretty nun in training named Annetta. She has trouble following all of the rules, such as not having friends and giving up her embroidered slippers.
Annetta was one of my favorite characters, even though I could never really manage to feel close to her.

This book was extremely good for about five to ten pages. The author does an extraordinarily praiseworthy job of setting up the scenery, describing the details, and really giving us a feeling of the place she has introduced.
However, the rest of this book was not so amazing.

There were many problems, the most important of which being: by the time I was a bit over 75% finished with the book, I looked at the number of pages and thought incredulously "When ever will the actual plot be introduced?"
Well, it never was.
Before beginning the book, I read and savored the description on the back cover (something I do when I'm anticipating a very good book). I had thought to myself that it sounded like an amazing story, but when I went back and looked over it, I realized that it was in fact relatively vague. The only possible plot lines I could make out were: A troupe of acrobats trying to care for a mysterious woman, or a man trying to find his beloved.
Both of these were involved in the story, but no, they certainly couldn't be called a plot.
It's a shame, because there were really a lot of great elements here. Venice! My favorite city, especially when set in historical fiction, and in the 1600's, no less! I was very disappointed to find that the city itself was barely mentioned, much less described.

The acrobats and the woman from the sea show up again over halfway through the book, just in time to neatly deliver a shocking secret about the woman's identity (an extremely obvious and predictable secret, that is). However, even if I hadn't guessed this by the fifth chapter, I wouldn't have really cared. The reader never gets a chance to know the mystery woman, or to wonder who she is. So, when we do find out, it's no revelation.

In the reading guide of this book, it describes a certain character as "a sinister villain." I thought "huh? He was a villain?" Sure, he makes some sort of evil speech at the end, but he wasn't a very prominent character.

Even with a handful of other exciting plot elements thrown in (stolen diamonds, escaped Arabian harem girls, the gambling underworld, dept collectors, courtesans of fading beauty), the author still couldn't draw up a plot.

There were also some things that didn't make sense in the book, which I'll list briefly here. (SPOILERS ahead!)

- A jewel buyer is talking about how he would pay a fortune just to touch the famous "Sultan's Blue" diamond, but on the next page he is vehemently saying that he wouldn't even touch it, because it can bring only trouble.

- Carew is looking Annetta over, and is somehow able to tell that she has a slender waist and a "nice rump." But wouldn't her nun's habit make this impossible?

- I hate badly written romances. And there was definitely one here. Annetta meets Carew rather pleasantly - he grabs her, pretends to try to strangle her in the dark, and then offers to "service her" there in the abbey garden. After that, she hates him, which really just means that she is crazy over him, and by the end, they are weeping, falling down at each others feet, presumably hopelessly in love. What? They were only in each others company for a total of about 15 minutes, over three visits!
And, to add to this, their relationship (if it can be called such) is based almost entirely on sexual harrassment. Carew makes lewd gestures simulating sex in Annetta's direction before he even meets her. Once he does meet her, he undresses her visually, and then of course, there is the scene in the garden where he attacks her. What is wrong with this picture? A lot.

- When Annetta stays out late, there is a convenient cover-up about the nuns all having "slept late." All of them. This is hundreds of women. And they all over slept. The author obviously just didn't want Annetta to get caught, but couldn't think of a logical way to go about this.

- The entire thing with The Aviary Gate. I didn't know that this was a sequel, or I would have read the other book first. No where does it say that this is a sequel - but it should have! You really have to have read the first book in order to understand a lot of what happens in this one, especially toward the end.

- (SPOILERS) Maryam and the "mermaid" baby are killed? How did the baby die? And why? Oh, let me guess... They will turn out to be alive in the sequel. Just wait and see.

- So Paul sees Celia, but doesn't recognize her, he just thinks that she resembles Celia. Then, he is certain it is her. It just really didn't seem to make sense to me, how one minute he was certain it wasn't her, and the next minute he is, without giving a reason.

And the characters also disappointed me. I felt that I only got to touch upon them briefly, and there was no one in the story that I ever particularly was rooting for, or cared about. Maryam is the only character who I really sympathized with, but this was not so much because Hickman wrote a good character, but because she wrote us such a sad background for the giantess. Even when she died, I felt no remorse.
John Carew was cast as the the typical roguish bad boy that all the women go crazy over. What is this with men assaulting the heroine and getting rewarded with eternal love? He sneaks up behind her, grabs her, and strangles her! Later, he says that he did this because he "wanted to frighten her." Does this sound like a good guy? And yet, he is cast as very much the hero.

So, there were obviously many problems with this story.
However, for some reason, I did enjoy it. It always compelled me to read on, and I may even keep it.
Despite so horribly ruining her plot, the author is good at describing things (when she bothers), and at keeping events moving along at a good pace.

This book had a lot of potential, but sadly, it did not live up to it. I may read The Aviary Gate in hopes that it will be better, but this one was nothing special.