Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Tide Mill - Richard Herley

    2008; 352 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction.  Oerall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Life's been rough on young Ralf Grigg.  His father's carpentry business has failed, saddling the family with overwhelming debt, and rendering them FVT (Fishing Village Trash).  They are still freemen, but they're just one step above the lowly serfs.

    Ralf is content with his lot, but Fate throws his life a twist when he saves the (local) baron's son, Godric, from drowning in the saltings.  Despite the difference in their social status, the boys develop a keen friendship, which opens new doors for Ralf.  But not always for the better.

What's To Like...
    The Tide Mill is a fine piece of Historical Fiction, set along the south coast of England in the 1250's AD.  Richard Herley gives vivid and detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna, the homes and furnishings, and the daily lives of everyone from nobility  to serfs.  The segues from story to settings are smoother here than in the other two of the author's books I've read (reviewed here and here).

    Of course, the Fiction is equally important to Historical Fiction, and here the storyline holds its own quite well.  Ralf is gifted in both art and engineering, but Herley also makes him a Shakespearean tragi-hero, smitten with a girl he cannot have.

    There is action, there is drama, there are several romances, and there is political tension between the Church and the Crown.  The characters are deep and likeable, and I liked the ending.  Through it all, we follow the construction of the ingenious Tide Mill.  Tide mills really exist, although today they are obsolete.  The Wikipedia article on them, including a couple great pics, is here.

Kewlest New Word...
Immured : Enclosed or confined against one's will.

    A baron was a vassal of the King.  The King was a vassal of God.  The archbishops who had presided at his coronation derived their authority from the Pope.
    The King was sovereign, above all.  His court, his treasury, and his army were the visible symbols of his might; but the wealth and power of the Church, more shrewdly exercised, were no less.  The revenues of the Alincester diocese alone were rumoured to be greater than the King's(loc. 524)

    Last night Godric had professed himself fascinated.  He knew little more of mathematics than Ralf himself, whose prior experience had only been of the addition, subtraction, and simple geometry used in bench carpentry.  Linsell's knowledge derived from Master Hampden and the masons who had raised the Cathedral.  Having glimpsed its potential, Ralf now burned to have it for himself, and to go much further, to know what Diccon and Parfett knew.  Mathematics was like Latin, the future Latin, purer and more important, the language of engineering, and Ralf daily badgered his father for lessons.  (loc. 2137)

Kindle Details...
    The Tide Mills sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  Full disclosure : The author generously gifted me a copy of the book for my enjoyment and review.  Thank you, Richard Herley, sir!

"None of us is free.  Only God.  Only God is free."  (loc. 3107)
    For me, the overriding theme in The Tide Mill was that no one in medieval life was truly free.  Not the serfs, not the freemen, not the Baron and his family, not the priests, and not even the King and the Pope.  Everyone has a pre-defined role to play, and woe to anybody, great or small, who tries to shirk his duty or change the system.

    I am a History buff, so I thoroughly relished being immersed in 13th-century English life.  My Kindle's glossary contained most of the medieval words, and it also helped that Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series (set in England a century earlier) had already introduced me to a lot of these terms.  The design and construction of the tide mill was at times quite technical, but I think engineers would delight in it.

    8½ Stars.  It's nice to see that there still is some fine Historical Fiction being written.

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