Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Saturday, April 2, 2011

'Sparrowhawk, Book Two: Hugh Kenrick'

Sparrowhawk, Book Two: Hugh Kenrick, by Edward Cline, is the second novel in the Sparrowhawk series. It picks up the historical timeline in England right after the end of Book One (around 1750), with a new but familiar cast of characters. The main difference in the two stories arises from the differing social status of the titular characters. Where Jack Frake was a working class boy who became a smuggler, Hugh Kenrick is the only son of a wealthy aristocrat who becomes an intellectual radical. Hugh's father and uncle, in addition to their titles of Baron and Earl respectively, are secret investors in various smuggling operations, reaping the rewards of the illegal activity without any real risk. The story chronicles Hugh's coming of age much the way Book One did with young Jack.

The two main characters are also similar in sharing the moral outlook inspired in author Edward Cline by the novels of Ayn Rand. Thus, Hugh Kenrick and his actions suffer from the same plausibility issues that marred Jack's story. Hugh's very different social standing directs him through a very different set of circumstances, but the same moral challenges. Many of the supporting cast are also familiar from Book One. Instead of a band of philosophical smugglers, Hugh trades insights with a secret society of London free-thinkers. Instead of a villainous step-father, family resistance comes this time from Hugh's class-conscious, vindictive uncle. Henoch Pannell, bane of the smugglers in Book One, shows up again to personify the amoral social climber. An African former slave with the colorful name of Glorious Swain, also a member of the secret group, becomes Hugh's friend and mentor following a chance meeting, much as Jack Frake was befriended by one of the smugglers.

Despite the predictability of the fictional story and characters, Cline has studied his history and doesn't take obvious liberties with it. The novel includes many interesting details of life among 18th century British gentry. How does it score on my five criteria? See the post on Book One. All the scores are identical, and the accompanying comments very similar. I'm still interested in reading more of the Sparrowhawk series, but perhaps a bit less so this time.

It's time to try something different, so my next historical novel read will be Outlander, first in the time-travel-to-the-past series by Diana Gabaldon.

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