Book Review: A Foreign Country (With Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country
by Joanne R. Larner

See below for details on how you can win a free, signed copy of

A Foreign Country!

… as well as how to get your FREE Kindle edition of 
Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third.

Not having recalled reading in the past any alternative history, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked up Joanne R. Larner’s debut work, Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day. To its credit, the book doesn’t take itself overly seriously, though it does present us with a marvelous package of imagination and poignant insight. Moving forward now to its sequel, A Foreign Country, we delve deeper into Rose’s brush with time travel and the last Plantagenet king.

Previously we witnessed King Richard’s appearance in our modern times; now, as the novel’s title implies, we—along with Rose, of course—journey to a land that has simultaneously fascinated and been ignored: the past. Following a year spent with the king in which he trains and they plan for his success at the “next” Battle of Bosworth, Rose marks the first anniversary of Richard’s departure by attempting renewed contact through a time fault. After some failure, she makes her way to Richard and his court, where by necessity he introduces the time traveler as “Princess Rose of Norway.”

I was pleased to see Larner repeat her pattern of using song names as chapter headings. As before, titles, not necessarily any song’s words, reflect each chapter’s events, and the author matches marvelously. An early section, titled “The Court of the Crimson King,” shows Richard as Rose first sees him on the night of a formal event:

His doublet was of a deep, dark blue, crossed with gold thread, with a thin, golden collar and edging, the fastenings down the front jeweled with pink rubies and sapphires. It enhanced the deep blue of his eyes.

 We catch further delightful glimpses in phrase, such as “sleeves slashed with lemon silk,” as Larner takes us through a wide array of songs and artists accompanying Rose and King Richard’s experiences, passages winding their way through the pair’s beings as well as the storyline, in much the same way we, too, recall movie or music lines within certain real-life contexts.

As the narrative moves forward, Richard and Rose have opportunity to get to know each other better, now in his own time, though still with the limitations he has placed on their relationship. By now he is married with children and loves his wife deeply, while maintaining a strong bond with Rose. However, suspicions arise and there is recognition that something is afoot, and while fears color ideas regarding what it all may be about, the details are clear to none, characters and readers alike. Mixed in with this are Rose’s own personal anxieties that grow stronger as time passes, until she can no longer dismiss them.

While not falling away from the plot, the author digs in a bit deeper as well, referencing mutual deals and the Hanseatic League’s stranglehold on European business interests, as well as Rose’s wry observation that bureaucracy in the fifteenth century is just as convoluted and outlandish as in her twenty-first. Even as citation, Larner’s mention of various historical trade and further political doings adds substance to her story as well as life in this era, a time many seem to perceive as made mostly of various narcissistic wars.

Brought into this mix is Leonardo da Vinci, who very much plays his own part while also mirroring the old and the new, and the mixing of the two, within the tale. We see both Richard and Rose’s roles reflected within his persona: an acceptance of other, and retention of attitudes prevalent in his own time, the contrasts creating new layers of each individual as they explore, directly or via proxy, someone else’s world. Rose and Leonardo, too, come to know one another better as Larner sketches in the artistic angle with proficiency and grace while the great polymath seeks out the new and different to examine. During one journey da Vinci

was often in a litter too, because he enjoyed looking out over the countryside and sketching in his notebook, occasionally making a caricature of one of the company. He particularly liked drawing subjects with interesting faces: those with exaggerated features, such as prominent noses, bushy eyebrows, large moles or deep wrinkles … She learned by watching him[.]

 While on one level a lighthearted and unpretentious tale, A Foreign Country works on and within others, too, that examine the world and its strange attractions, the division and meeting of these and the complicated manners in which humans respond to a variety of stimuli. Like the actors between the novel’s covers, events are typically more complicated than they appear. Still, Larner’s aim for an entertaining yarn more than succeeds as we read through the smoothly-written narrative, easily transported from one scene to the next and reluctant to put it down at any point. With a larger cast than the first book and multiple plotlines, one is eager to see where the author could possibly take this story next in the series’ final installment, Hearts Never Change. That readers mightn’t be able to conceive the path forward for Richard and Rose is not a worry, for Joanne Larner has established herself as a proficient storyteller. Given her passion for Richard III, there is also a great eagerness to travel to wherever she may wish to take us.

For your chance to win a free, signed copy of A Foreign Country, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here. All names will be entered into a giveaway and a winner drawn in two weeks.

About the author …

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has 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, of which A Foreign Country is the second part. This 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.

In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I) at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UKRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK.

Dickon’s Diaries

will be FREE on Kindle this Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20. 

Click one of the Amazon links below to get yours!

Joanne has also collaborated with Susan Lamb to write a humorous book about Richard called Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third, also available on Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. The pair will again team up for a second volume, and Joanne  is working on another Richard book, which will be called Distant Echoes and will involve a fictional technology, Richard’s DNA and his story in his own words.

To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

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A copy of Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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Author photo courtesy Joanne R. Larner

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Book Review: Richard Liveth Yet (With Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day

(Book I in the Richard Liveth Yet Trilogy)

by Joanne R. Larner

See below for how you can win a free, signed copy of this fantabulous novel!

On occasion I receive a book for review that makes me a bit nervous. Perhaps I don’t typically care for that genre, or the setting isn’t one I am usually drawn to. In this instance I was thrilled to be asked to review Joanne Larner’s Richard Liveth Yet, as it had two strong points going for it: time travel and Richard III, both of which are amongst my favorites. And that great judgment everyone makes: the cover. A painting of the author’s “fantasy Richard,” it is attractive and true to how the last Plantagenet king probably looked, with a more subtly modern appearance to its frame.

richard-liveth-yet-book-i-coverHaving also previously read time travel featuring the medieval king and later criticism of how he too quickly adapts to his new surroundings, I wondered how the author would handle his transition in this book. I knew that covering every possible nuance of the immense amount of change he would encounter would simply be impossible, that a certain amount of summary, as with the aforementioned novel, would have to occur if the story was ever to take place. So I wasn’t preoccupied with Richard moving into the modern world too fast—it was more a case of anticipation, like unwrapping a Christmas present to see what’s inside.

As it turns out, Larner knows exactly what to pick out and wrap up, and how much to leave to the imagination. As I got started I could see the novel was, as described in a showcase blurb, a lighthearted story, easy to read, perhaps not seeking to take itself too seriously.

Having said that last bit, I would caution that the tale of Richard meeting Rose and what happens between them also develops some rather poignant and lovely scenes, strong enough to bring humor into the mix and provide an all-around delight for readers every step of the way.

Like her creator, Rose Archer is an osteopath, so her experience in treating musculoskeletal problems comes in handy when she meets up with the time-transported Richard III, who suffers from painful spinal curvature. Larner cleverly avoids potential awkwardness between the two—as well as between characters and readers—by displaying Rose’s suspicion that her friend Laura, knowing of her obsession with the medieval monarch, has set her up in this situation, only to laugh at her later.

Richard, for his part, is tense but curious, periodically restraining himself for fear of sorcery or the unacceptably alien. With his behavior the author also introduces the concept that in fact a medieval man might very well have enjoyed some of our ways or technological advances if given the chance to sample them—even if the introduction entails a bit of hesitation, or he balks at other elements. Indeed, why not?

As the story moves forward, Richard and Rose get to know each other better, she introducing him to the ways of her world and he talking about his life and history, both of them at times filling in the blanks for each other. As their mutual trust begins to build and Richard’s back problems come up in conversation, he agrees to therapy, and readers are treated to a taste of time-transport humor, which mixes in a bit of Richard’s own.

From the new patient’s case history sheet:

Name: Richard Gloucestre, aka Ricardus Tertius Rex

 Date of birth: 02/10/1452

 Age: 32/561

 Address: Middleham Castle, Middleham, Wensleydale; Crosby House, London; Nottingham Castle, Nottingham; Windsor Castle, Windsor; and many others.

 Occupation: King

 Phone number: (Puzzled frown)

 Road accidents (e.g. whiplash): Was whipped occasionally as a child!!!!

 Presenting complaint: Chronic mid and low back pain and stiffness, with associated headaches, twenty years’ duration, getting worse

 Medication: Willow bark

At some point, as readers themselves know, and Rose as well, though she tries to avoid it, Richard would encounter information about his own end in all its horrifying details. They both know he cannot remain in the twenty-first century indefinitely, and they begin to develop a plan to return him to face what he must. Looming before he left his time was the Battle of Bosworth, where Rose knows he will die. With the benefit of hindsight in all the historical details in our time, continual training and Rose’s treatments and instructions how to care for himself, King Richard sets about adding to his plans for complete victory in the dreaded battle that otherwise would lead to his demise and the start of the Tudor dynasty.

rose-as-perceived-by-author
Introducing Rose Archer, the female lead character from Richard Liveth Yet.

In her introduction Larner writes that she aims for historical accuracy, though she does—and this is true of most historical novelists—take some liberties in unclear areas. This would certainly be linked to one disputed event in which John Neville, who like his brother the Kingmaker died at the chaotic Battle of Barnet, is said to have been wearing Yorkist colors beneath his armor, despite his stated allegiance to Warwick and the Lancaster cause. While there are those who call into question this version of events, Larner utilizes it to show a side of the king she and Rose both see, one who mourns for even the divided dead, recognizing the tragedy of having to choose between treasured loyalties. “I wept for [John] and Warwick. It should have been so different.”

Even Richard’s pleasures of the new age reflect what concerns him. After a particular treatment Rose asks,

“How was that, Sire?”

 “Reem!” he replied. He had heard the expression on one of the reality TV shows and used it all the time now. He never ceased to surprise her, the strange things he liked about modern life. He enjoyed the reality shows because he said they were about ‘real people with real problems and emotions.’ It seemed to be true that he genuinely cared about ordinary people.

Rose is a person who enjoys getting to and doing things, seeing various sights, and having a time-traveling visitor doesn’t stop her. In fact, her active lifestyle becomes a method of research in the pair’s aim to restore Richard to the fifteenth century, in turn revealing the author’s strength in connecting her narrative to history and significant locales within it. We are given insight into how various places appeared in Richard’s day while he takes it in, as do we, within that new moment. It brings the worlds together in a manner that guidebooks by their nature don’t, and places within it a humanity absent from such literature. We witness Richard’s responses to the changes—for better or worse—and see a bit of the reality from his time: “real people with real problems and emotions” once walked these locales and through Larner’s story their spirits continue to breathe meaning and life, allowing their significance to remain part of what continually makes these places dear to those who live or visit there now.

Also addressed in the novel is the universal effect of music, which Larner presents as scene headings named after songs on “Richard’s Playlist,” an inventory of songs included on an iPod he is gifted. While the lyrics don’t always exactly match what occurs in each passage, the titles do reflect scene content and speak to the manner in which so often music resonates with events in our lives, providing a backdrop that can comfort or even exacerbate sadness in moments when we sometimes need to let that emotion play itself out. Not only a very creative manner in which to involve Richard with music, it is also cleverly mapped because this medium would be inescapable to someone traveling to our time, it being such a large part of our lives. It being vastly important is of course true for other eras, but newer technology enables its ever presence in the day to day, and it is absolutely on target that Larner has it play such a role in the book as it does.

As historical fantasy, Richard Liveth Yet covers a lot of bases: through a magnificently-written story readers learn a great deal about historical events and possible explanations, including very plausible bits of information coming from Richard himself. It does not seek to portray him as perfect, and indeed the king admits to some of his own flaws. Narrated in third person, it enables us to get a taste of both Rose and Richard’s perspectives, as well as a reasonable evolution of their friendship and all they both encounter presented with a weight that satisfies the thirst to know how he views the modern world, without dropping into tedium. It is an exceedingly readable tale encompassing the history with a touch of romance and of course a bit of magic, leading to a conclusion we don’t expect but that primes us for the sequels, A Foreign Country and Hearts Never Change.

Larner has taken great pains to match history with her portrayal of Richard, simultaneously cracking the stereotypical portrayal of a medieval man who naturally hates everything in the new time, and in which his presence within it only chaos can ensue. In so doing she adds to his character by showcasing his willingness to examine the alien, even to embrace some, and care about the people amongst it all. She also provides an address to the controversial decision regarding his final resting place, and Richard’s own views on the matter may surprise some, while they reveal Larner’s idea of what Richard III himself finds most important.

A finely crafted novel, easy to read and carrier of a wealth of information and ideas, Richard Liveth Yet is a joy to unwrap; to encounter and witness the characters’ own discoveries and connections is a privilege, and traveling the roads of time through their eyes is indeed a gift from the author, unforgettable as it settles into our own landscape, making us all the richer.

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For your chance to win a free, signed copy of Richard Liveth Yet, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here. All names will be entered into a giveaway and a name drawn in three weeks. 

Update: Drawing November 21

About the author …

larner-author-imageJoanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has 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.

In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I) at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UK.

Richard Liveth Yet‘s sequel, A Foreign Country, is also available for purchase at BlurbAmazon and Amazon UK.

Her third book, Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change, is almost completed and should be published on Kindle and Blurb by the end of the year.

richard-liveth-yet-book-ii-cover

hearts-never-change

To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at FacebookTwitter and her blog.

We are also delighted to note the music video, called “Richard Liveth Yet,” by the Legendary Ten Seconds, with images of locations from the book, and the book itself.

A lovely photo album of places and people depicted in Richard Liveth Yet.

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All images courtesy Joanne Larner.

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A copy of Richard Liveth Yet was provided to facilitate an honest review. 

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This post was updated to add specific date of drawing