Book Review: Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks! by Joanne R. Larner

In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details about the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.

Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.

Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into the latter Wars of the Roses era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.

Larner opens the novel with protagonist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.

It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.

Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485, and those that develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?

One of the best elements of Larner’s novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just simmer near the first. Instead, they both marinate, the two forming a deliciously satisfying whole impossible to forget.

Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once wild ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.

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Before a few tweaks, this review first appeared at Murray and Blue.

About the Author

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present DayRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.

For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at FacebookTwitter and her blogDistant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Browsing Books: Ricardian Reading Edition

It’s happened! Our local library has re-opened for limited browsing, though I haven’t yet been in. I’ve had the good fortune, however, of receiving lots of reading recommendations, most online, and today I share a few, including a couple of the lesser-known titles. Here’s to bulging bookshelves!

Death and the Chapman by Kate Sedley – In truth, I’m not quite sure who recommended this one, though I can guess. I ordered it from the library, received it, forgot about it and then just yesterday started to read it. I haven’t gotten terrifically far in yet, but it’s enough to see this isn’t precisely Ricardian reading as we tend to define it. Still, I include it here because the narrator, Roger Chapman, an old man who looks back into his youth when Richard III was king, mentions Richard and a few pages later gives a lengthy enough explanation of how the seeds of the dynastic wars of his era were sown – with Bolingbroke usurping Richard II’s throne – and how Richard III became king. Lengthy enough, that is, to make me wonder if more of this will come into play within Roger’s own story. So this I have yet to see, but even if it doesn’t, it appeals to me because I’m terribly interested in the ordinary people of the day, how they made their living, what their struggles were, their thoughts about the monarchs and those in their courts. 

The Rose in Spring: The Fascinating Story of Cecily Neville (Book I in the Cecily Neville quartet) by Eleanor Fairburn – Based on one review, this looks to be the story one wishes to read about Proud Cis: not a bodice ripper, it is said to present a reasonable story of the early years of the Rose of Raby, through her engagement to Richard Plantagenet (father of Richard III), and concluding at the time of her husband’s exile to Ireland. Every Ricardian has heard much about Cecily Neville: her strength, her will and determination, that she outlived every one of her sons. Some, however, myself included, know very little about her up close, and this historical fiction series seems to present a great opportunity to begin changing that.

Garland of the Realm by Janet Kilbourne – Presents Richard III in the last years of his life and, interestingly enough, written when the author was just fourteen. This knowledge may bias any conversation regarding the book’s worth, having read a quite glowing but fair review, as well as commentary about it being filled with clichés and “one of the worst” of Ricardian fiction. The reviewer maintains her position, citing examples such as individuality bestowed on characters and a “childlike animosity” from Prince Edward and conversations “done nicely” between this heir and Richard, at the time Lord Protector. The ending described also seems quite fascinating and I am intrigued to read how Richard’s realizations, as the reviewer mentions, play out in his mind. 

I, Richard Plantagenet: The Road from Fotheringhay by J. P. Reedman – It’s a bit tricky here because not only has Reedman written a boatload of books, I also want just about all of them (and you may as well, so fair warning). A reconstruction of Richard Plantagenet’s early childhood, it opens with Richard in later life musing about those days as he makes a notation into his Book of Hours. This story draws me to it because for years I’ve read that we know very little of Richard’s earlier years, but here the author draws upon recent research and DNA – and of course other, already-established documentation – to piece together a tale said to be worthy of a king. For instance, the death of Richard’s father and older brother Edmund, and Richard’s own subsequent exile as his mother is captured by Margaret of Anjou’s army. The childhood story continues in Tante le Desiree, and I don’t plan on missing either of them.

The White Rose and the Red: A Narrative Poem about the Battle of Wakefield by Bard of Burgh Conan – This entry perhaps jumped out at me the most because of its presentation. I’ve never before come across a full Ricardian story in verse, a genre ideally suited not just to any Ricardian tale, but specifically the one it does concern itself with: the Battle of Wakefield. This is where Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund, mentioned just above, were brutally killed, the former’s head displayed on a pike at Micklegate Bar and further mocked with the placement of a paper crown. Less than forty pages, it is chancy to say this is an evening’s read, as I’m unsure how dense the writing is or is not, or how much reflection might be involved. Nevertheless, it strikes me as a must-read piece, and I look forward to adding it to my collection. Note: Upon searching for the poem online, I saw that it appears only to be available as an e-book. However, I did stumble upon a notation that it was to be included in a collection: Conisbrough Tales: A Canterbury Tales for Conisbrough by Christopher Webster, Bard of Burgh Conan. 

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