Friday, March 18, 2016

A Daring Sacrifice- Jody Hedlund

Published: March 1st, Zondervan, 256 Pages
 Print, Ebook and Audio

In a reverse twist on the Robin Hood story, a young medieval maiden stands up for the rights of the mistreated, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
All the while, she fights against her cruel uncle who has taken over the land that is rightfully hers.
Forced to live in the woods and hide with the poor people she's grown to love, she works to save and protect them, but she never anticipates falling in love with the wealthy knight who represents all she's come to despise. 
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I had concerns about this book before even picking it up but I decided to give it a chance. In a way, I think my response reflects what I thought of the last one. It had the grain of a good story and content- but sadly this was surrounded by a hard shell of silliness. There were some important messages about redemptive love and overcoming selfishness and bitterness. The thing was even enjoyable in places, but once again there were too many negatives.

The heroine Julianna seemed rather too goody-goody, and her irrational prejudice against the nobility did nothing to endear her to me (her Uncle deposed her father, therefore all nobles are evil and corrupt oppressors). Her pontificating on the matter just proved grating and annoying. It was almost a relief that she eventually stopped doing it, and realized that her view was unreasonable by the end. I think she could have taken a more sensible course of action a lot more quickly, but I guess without her unwise choices there wouldn’t be a story.
Sir Colin was altogether more interesting, and a little more fun. The Romance could have been, and even tried to be sweet- but came across as cheesy, mushy, and some have said, shallow. Obviously, Julianna and Colin were to use the age old trope 'meant to be together'. Cue the kissing and then the angst about why they 'obviously' couldn't be.

On a more negative note, the characters speech was riddled with modern terms and Americanisms. Those who know me will realise that this is a particular niggle of mine in fiction. It was jarring, and did not fit in with the setting at all to have 14th century characters talking like modern Americans- saying things like 'pulling a stunt', 'spunky' or talking about going to the 'creek' to get water- what British people of the time (and today) would call a stream or brook.
Nor did the detail about the outlaws communicating with the call of a Bluejay help matters. The bird is indigenous to North America, so a Medieval European would not have known what one sounded like. Even Julianna's outlaw nickname 'The Cloaked Bandit' sounded like it could have come out of some spaghetti Western. Its like no attempt was made to make the characters langauge authentic for the time, and little care was taken over the finer details by an author whose lack of familiarity with the setting sadly showed through.

This was not the only way in which historical accuracy or credibility was lacking, however. Towards the end the whole thing resembled a collection of silly myths involving torture and horrible punishments. Yup, like in the last book there seems to be an unhealthy obsession with torture-and far too much emphasis is placed on it. So Julianna’s wicked Uncle (your fairly typical cardboard cut-out type villain) naturally has his own torture chamber in his castle complete with thumbscrews and other diabolical instruments that you see in movies.

The worst part for me was when he wanted to have Julianna burned at the stake- for stealing. Seriously, that has to have been one of the worst travesties against historical truth I have ever encountered in fiction. Now some might say that this was not inaccurate, as people were burned at the stake in the Middle- Ages. Indeed it did happen- but it was almost always the punishment for heresy or High Treason- (and it wasn't anything like as common as Hollywood movies make out) not stealing or shooting squirrels. For the record, Hanging drawing and quartering was only ever a punishment for Treason too.
The whole passage was just so far-fetched and implausible. It's like the most extreme punishments ever devised in history have been found, and applied to the most trivial offences imaginable for the sole purpose of shocking the audience and creating drama.

Now it might be argued that I’m over analysing, and that the story is ‘meant to be a fairy tale- not set in a real country or the actual historical past. That may well be, although the use of sone place names, such as Wessex, Windsor and Maidstone, which are names of actual regions, towns or cities in England did make me wonder. Really, its the principle of the thing that made scenes like the above objectionable.
I can accept a certain degree of inaccuracy- but it saddens me that ‘Medieval’ fiction seems to be a licence to include references to unnecessary acts of violence and abuse- to depict all of the pre-American past as some quagmire of violence as lawlessness.
It’s also the fact that some are liable to take what they read in books like this as a true and factual representation of past reality. It is very far from that.

So in conclusion, the story had a few plusses, but overall it just seemed sloppy and rather OTT. A bit too much like a rip-off of various Robin Hood movies, and other girl outlaw spin-offs with the odd original scene or incident, but not a lot to distinguish it from others except the torture (not a good thing).
As YA Medieval Romantic Fiction goes, I prefer Melanie Dickerson and Dina Sleiman’s Dauntless- which is in a similar vein. I almost got the impression that perhaps not as much care was taken over this series as other titles by the same author- that perhaps it was churned out in something of a hurry to cater for popular demand.

I received a free e-book edition of this title from Zondervan via Booklook Bloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

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