Monday, 28 October 2013

Two Minute Review - The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

This weekend, I finally finished reading The Plantagenets by Dan Jones.  Man, this one was a struggle.

First off, it should be hard to write a bad book about this period of English history, populated as it is by so many famour figures; The Lionheart, King John, Edward Longshanks, Henry III, Simon de Monteforte, Richard II. Indeed, the author manages to write a competent enough history of the period; this happened, that happened, this is why they happened, nothing spectacular, but simple enough to read through.

The unfortunate problem with The Plantagenets is all to do with the structure and editing used.  Jones has chosen to write a narrative history, so it's very easy to read, no long sentences, next to no dates or direct quotes from sources are used.  Indeed, you are left with a rough picture of what happened rather than a explicit sequence of events.  Nothing wrong with that, but the structure chosen for the books disrupts all efforts to forge a coherent and stable narrative.

In medias res, is a narrative technique as old as literature itself (a story starts in the middle of events, summarises how we arrived there and they plays out the rest of the tale.)  In The Plantagenets, Jones uses this technique to such an extent that it borders on the ridiculous. I would suggest (allowing for my critical viewpoint) that two thirds of the chapters in the book begin this way.  You barely get caught up with events before jumping forward ten or fifteen years.  Now this wouldn't be such a critical problem if there were any length to the chapters, but the book flies by. Some of the chapters here are barely 1200 words in length (that's three and a half pages!)

The Plantagenets struck me as a book simply in need of a good edit.  The author does thank his editor in the preface, but I honestly don't know what she did to earn her pay on this one. First up, the a decent editor would have picked up on the problematic structure before a first draft was completed.  Secondly, some elementary errors really bothered me.  If you're going to abandon dates and simply use years to track events, at least get the years right.  I'm not an expert on Medieval England,  but if you state an event happens in two different years, then I'm going to know something's up! Lastly, and from my point of view, the most frustrating; if you don't know how to use a word properly, just don't use it! Worst example; bode. Just don't.

There might be a decent enough narrative history here, but the author has does all he can to keep it from you.

Incidentally, The Plantagenets fails at my wargamer-history rule, in that, it doesn't even tempt me into wargaming the time period in general or any of the notable battles in particular. Poor.