Monday, April 28, 2014

The Queen of Sparta by T.S. Chaudhry

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 27, 2014

Xerxes, the Great King of Persia invades Greece in 480 B.C. at the head of over a million barbarians. 300 Spartan’s led by King Leonidas die heroically blocking the Persian advance at the pass of Thermopylae. The Persians are poised to conquer all of Greece. The only one standing in their way is a woman – Gorgo, Queen of Sparta. Though history has relegated her role to an interested bystander, what if she played a central part at the heart of the Greek resistance to the Persian invasion. What if she kept her true role a secret in order to play it more effectively? What if she was hiding other secrets too – dark secrets of murder and vengeance? What if the only person who truly appreciated her genius was an enemy prisoner? What if after their victory, the Greeks start to turn on each other? What if, eventually, Gorgo has to choose between the security of Sparta and safety of her son? And what if the only one who could find a way out is the same prisoner whom she has vowed to kill?

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When I looked at T.S. Chaudhry's The Queen of Sparta I told myself $9.99 was too much for a kindle book, I told myself I'd regret it, I told myself to wait for a detailed review, and then I told myself to shut up... not one of my better moments, I assure you.

The Queen of Sparta is fact heavy, so much so that reading it felt like attending an academic dissertation. The text is chock full of names, pedigrees, alliances, military campaigns and political discourse. Don't get me wrong, meticulous research is well and good, but trying to keep up with this piece was mentally exhausting, especially as my understanding of the Peloponnesian War is limited to the basics. The end result is informative, but also taxing and that is not something I particularly appreciate in fiction.

There is no thematic material to be seen in this piece. No underlying ideas or motifs. The story is glaringly self-evident, lacking both drama and tension. There is not a single character arc in the entire novel, nor a clearly defined antagonist for that matter. Yes, the idea that Gorgo might have been the mastermind behind the Greek resistance is intriguing, but it does not make a story in and of itself. Chaudhry needed to bring depth and dimension to the narrative and his failure to so left me disheartened and unsatisfied. 

The narrative is almost entirely driven by dialogue, conversations that are splendidly eloquent, but wooden and uninteresting for their excessive exposition. The characters are universally flat and static, with many like Elpinince, Lampito and Cleonice who seem to exist for the sole purpose of expounding superfluous accounts of archaic detail. Even Gorgo's relationship with Sherzada lacks tangible emotion. 

To be perfectly honest, I feel cheated of both my time and money. This piece had loads of potential, but the reality of its execution left much to be desired. 

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Battle, they say, is everything that manhood is about; the very epitome of glory. But what glory, I asked myself, is there in a spear-point sticking out of a jaw or a mangled headless body rotting on the ground?
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7 comments:

Daphne said...

I thought about getting this one since it is something a little different - but I'm glad I didn't! Sorry for your misery though :)

jencorkill said...

That is the downside of many historical novels. They read more like history books than fictional pieces. I bought a book from amazon for .99 and returned it because of the horrible writing. I could not support a small publisher that put out sub-par publications. Hopefully you can return it?

The Flashlight Reader said...

Unfortunately I waited and missed the return window. Again, not one of the brightest decisions I've ever made, but the fact that I was stuck with it forced me to finish the book which is not something I would have done otherwise.

Judith Schara said...

I find your comments/honest review very interesting because I am faced with a similar problem with someone in my writing group. A retired academic, her book fails as a historical fiction because the subject matter is only comprehensible to another academic. It challenges my diplomatic abilities!
But I really enjoyed hearing your honest assessment. I wish more reviewers were more candid.

Heather R said...

Thanks for this review. I hadn't heard of this book - but if I had seen the cover/read the blurb I would have been compelled to at least add it to my TBR. I'm sorry the book fell flat for you - those are such disappointing moments - hopefully they are few and far between. On a separate note - I had no idea you could return a Kindle book - so at least this review taught me something!

The Flashlight Reader said...

If memory serves, you have a seven day window to return for a full refund Heather.

The Flashlight Reader said...

I'm glad yoi found it useful Judith. Perhaps you can show her this review and initiate a general discussion of heavy handed historicals?