Review: Blood of The Unicorn – Mette Holm

I’ve been more than a little remiss in not remembering to post this article on my friend Mette’s book – she’s surely soon ‘pressing the button on number two’! Maybe better late than never though after such a nice dedication in the front of Unicorn, I hope she can forgive me.

Me. Today.

A while back, I was asked by Mette, to have a look at a book she was writing. We live in Denmark, and she is Danish, but she has decided to write in English. Which is why and where I come in. Not that I can write – as any of you reading more than a couple of my ramblings masquerading as reviews will attest. However, despite my obvious inadequacies, she insisted I take a look and come back with an honest opinion and suggestions for possible improvements.

Which is easier than it looks. The problem I had to deal with right from the start, was to remember to keep the criticisms objective, and the suggestions neutral. She obviously wanted me to spot the obvious grammatical errors a Danish speaker speaking English makes, but also being the world’s leading reader of Historical Fiction, as I am, she wanted my input on how the story was going. I limited myself to the grammar and the obvious mistakes, and then the inconsistencies and come with suggestions as to how they might, should she wish to, be put right. I felt pretty good when I finished that I hadn’t altered anything of her story, of her ideas, to mine.

There was a lot of work needed on the first draft, that I must admit and was thinking it was going to be something of an uphill battle, not to say a very long process, if I was going to go through a biro each subsequent draft, as I had on the first.

But no. The second draft came in and…well, I wondered, and asked her, if she’d had outside, that is to say professional, help? She hadn’t. The second version was light years from the first. The problems had been ironed out, the whole thing glowed much more pleasingly and it was actually looking like it was getting very, very close to a book. I then recommended that she get another pair of eyes on it, get another perspective, and get them to come with points that I, due to my closeness to the project as it now stood, might oversee. This also was done.

And now it’s here, well, has been for a few months now.

Under the general heading of The Mowbray Chronicles, volume one, is The Blood of The Unicorn. Why The Unicorn, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Taking place in England, France and The Holy Land, in latter half of the 14th Century, it is centred on the Mowbray family of the title and one Argyle Mowbray in particular. The story details their struggle to keep house and home and honour together under the patronage of the increasingly ‘volatile’ King Richard II.

Here’s what Mette has written on the back of the book:

“You have sworn loyalty to me, now I ask that you sacrifice yourself for your King.”
After an ill-fated tournament, Argyle Mowbray’s life changes forever when he accepts royal orders that take him far from England. Drawing a trail of blood and abomination across Europe, Argyle discovers that love, deceit, passion and murder all fuel the same desire – power.
Argyle’s allegiance to the King is tested when, in a twist of fate, Argyle discoveries leave him wondering if the King ordered the death of his own beloved friend to stave off the overweening ambitions of England’s nobles.
Making the ultimate sacrifice, Argyle desperately seeks to discover the truth before it is too late.
Blood of The Unicorn, is based on historical events and is the first volume of the Mowbray Chronicles set in and about the medieval English court of Richard II.

I’ve read books written in Danish by Danish authors and I’ve read a couple by English-speaking authors, translated to Danish. You can see the difference. You can’t here. You’d never, ever, even looking at Mette’s name, guess that English wasn’t her first language.

Mette concentrates on the feelings, the lives, the loves, the setbacks, the problems, the double-crossings and the loves and longings…of her characters. The story is in constant motion, and there are surprises and shocks a-plenty. The story takes up off across the continent, to the mysterious east as Argyle searches for the truth he needs to find, then, just when you think everything that is ever going to be settled, is settled, there’s a good, old-fashioned cliff-hanger of an ending. The writing throughout is lovely to read, no jarring, no repeats, and blessedly few, if not no, raised eyebrows. If a Danish author can go a whole 320 pages without anyone raising a single eyebrow, ‘jaundiced’ or not, then some of our supposed leading Hist Fic authors should be taking note. Mette has researched her story meticulously and it shows, which is better than some supposed experts, putting comments in the mouth of a medieval knight, that only a modern-day geologist would know of. Yes, Christian Cameron, I’m looking at you.

The main character is Argyle, he is a young lad at the start, but while the action takes place over a relatively short time, he grows fast. He has to, to survive the intrigues and outrigues of the court. Behind him – at the start anyway – is the imposing, inspiring and influential figure of La Fontaine. He is an incredible character at once fearless and feared and seeking only the best for his country and others. However, this magnanimity, whilst inspiring and shaping Argyle, puts him at odds with the other high folk of the land. He is such a well drawn, yet sparsly drwn, character, that you can believe in Argyle’s devotion immediately. You don’t need persuading, as some books do – “his praises were sung in taverns throughout the land!” “What, wait, I’ve read no evidence for any of that!” You’ve surely read many books where they try to imbue their character with a hero’s worth of reputation, by telling you so again and again. Mette has mastered the art of doing it, by not saying it. Then the subtle, twisting deviousness of some of the other characters is surely reflected by the incorruptible naivety of … well, you’ll see.

OK, I’m biased, maybe, however, this is a very good book. Even if I’d had nothing to do with it, I would think that. I tried, and I think I have succeeded, to keep the ‘me’ out of Mette’s work. I’ve seen book two, and I can promise that the standard is equally high, the story equally as compelling, the quality of writing on a similarly high level, if not better. It certainly saved on my biro ink anyway.

You can buy Blood of The Unicorn from Amazon

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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