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SONG AT DAWN by Jean Gill – my review no.60

There are so many aspects which earn this book a great review – from the attention to each detail in the big picture, to the gorgeous settings, a myriad of lifelike side characters, heroes and heroines you will love, villains you will despise and fear, and complicated social, religious and political relationships pulling at everyone’s chords. 

When I started writing the review, it was like retelling a great book or movie to a friend – I kept remembering more details and qualities I wanted to draw attention to, which you can see from the length of the review itself. But bear with me! Song at Dawn made history come to life for me and I love that. 

Following the main characters through cliffhanger dangers and passionate romance not once lost its power when the author explained the political and religious turbulences, court intrigue or social customs of the time. Blending fact and fiction into a beautiful painting, with a memorable hero and heroine, each unique and striking in their own turn, is masterful. Missing sleep to chase after Dragonetz and Estela was no problem for me! The rulers, both female and male, are so fascinating, and I was in awe of Ermengarde’s strategy, especially at the end of the book, and found Alienor intimidating (I wonder what she does in book 2).

ESTELA

The author creates such a great concept of the heroine, ripening from girl into womanhood through turmoil. What a brave and interesting idea introducing her attitude towards sexual relationships so that she compares herself to a man and goes after what she wants. At first it is far from what she pictured though. As she searches for her own place under the sun, she makes blunders and successes, and you feel that you too grow with her. One of my favourite parts of the book is Gilles’s lesson to Estela on glamour and true quality using knives as illustration. It is a lovely morality tale, inserted to show the critical thinking Estela was brought into. When she learns about the life of a lady in the Queen’s entourage, this is what she says.

‘You do know how to behave like a lady?’‘Yes,’ but that didn’t mean she would always do so, Estela promised herself.
When she first meets Dragonetz and he becomes her mentor, it is quite memorable, and sums her up pretty well. 

‘I want to teach you everything I possibly can,’ he told her simply and saw the irritation dissolve. ‘Do you want to learn or to be a table decoration?’

Estela is fearless but not reckless. ‘She was too interested in all that was offered to her hungry mind to take refuge in the coward’s fear of the unknown.’ 

When she starts being aware of her feminine powers, she is amazing.
‘This favour is mine to bestow where I will. If your spirit is free, would you wear this for me, in token of your loyal service, be willing to protect me should there be need, whether my name or my body, and ,’ she paused and looked him straight in the eyes, ‘and expect nothing in return, nothing whatsoever.’

The way she learns to accept her arranged marriage is a clear sign of her strength, and how she respects true friendship with both women and men is phenomenal. And when she loves…

 ‘She had learned to read his face and his tone, not just the words he chose.’

DRAGONETZ

The main hero, Dragonetz, a charming troubadour and the leader of the Queen’s guards, is a fascinating character, depicted in so many layers and defined by his actions, but what I found particularly interesting about him is his thirst for knowledge, his ability to see the big picture and dream bigger than one might expect. He is a true romantic in all aspects, not just regarding women. Not that everything goes according to his plan, but he truly is a striking man. Details of his behaviour are woven into the story so wonderfully. For instance, this tiny detail in a turbulent chapter when his horse’s death is merely a tiny event in the whole turmoil.
‘…​the question for Dragonetz was not whether horses had souls, but whether men did.’

His relationships with his men, his Arab friend, his ability to dance the thin line between the court ladies and his own heart, his assigned enemies and his distinction between right and wrong, are simply amazing. To be able to step back from all that and never yield to arrogance towards anyone shows real strength. Yep, book crush, what can I say!

THE AUTHOR & THE BIG PICTURE

I admire the author, who takes her time to develop the characters, the romance, mystery and intrigue, with no rush, no prescribed writing, not aiming for sales but staying loyal to her characters. In these modern times, writing in such a non-sensationalist way is kind of like riding a horse – you get there slowly, but you do enjoy the scenery. Because sensations, shocks, intense emotion, gore and intimacy are not lacking – they ooze throughout the story, but grow out of the events naturally, not forced.The details are impeccable – from the tender scene of Dragonetz combing Estela’s hair to the horribly striking scene of a girl tortured in noble halls. The author’s style is truly special and I have bookmarked so many beautiful quotes. There is a sound distribution of descriptions, serenity and action, and Jean Gill writes excellent dialogues. Here is an example of that, illustrating the delicate relationship between Queen Alienor and Dragonetz. As he asks her to give him leave from her service, and she summons him to one last task, a really dangerous one…

‘You don’t make my life easy, do you,’ was all he said. ‘I thought that was what you liked,’ she responded but her heart wasn’t in the banter and he left her sitting hunched in her chair , a foreshadowing of the old woman she would one day become.

The silent moments matter too. After a lengthy conversation between the Queen and her close friend, the ruler of Narbonne, this scene is so important.

‘…the silence told as much of the relationship between the two women as their free speech.’

The conflict beween religion and politics is timeless, and the following quote caught my eye.

‘…perhaps today’s heresy will be tomorrow’s reason.’

Jean Gill’s approach to historical details is admirable. There are so many delicate details described lovingly with respect for history, culture, tradition and character.
“No doubt some serious application of lemon paste would be part of the royal sojourn at Narbonne. Estela sighed, knowing that she could scrape her skin to the bone and it would remain the same smooth olive she was born with.”

I loved the mention of scientists, artists, farming, medicine and libraries. It reminded me of books by a Croatian author M. J. Zagorka who wrote about Croatian history in a similar, life-like way and made me love learning history. 

OVERALL 

Historical fiction, if done well, such as this, makes history alive, makes you feel for the people from the period, makes you curious about their customs, achievements and lives. You feel as if you’ve travelled in time and are lost into the book.

Despite the complicated political maze, which I sometimes got lost in (but I do in real life, so that was to be expected), I was amazed by the seemingly little things such as discovering the reason for the huge ladies’ entourage to the Queen – eavesdropping on their gossip to distill information about their families and/or use them as leverage in negotiation. Another shocking revelation was Estela’s attitude towards marriage as freedom, at only 16, because it did mean that at the time for a girl her age, financial security, status and the possibility of court service and proper education she may have not gotten otherwise. I still cannot decide on my favourite character, but Arnaut, Malik and Sancha rank high up there with Estela and Dragonetz. My most hated one is clear, but am not giving away the name – spoiler alert! 

What I particularly loved about the book is that it awoke in me the feeling of romance, so dulled by day-to-day activities, and it revived my interest in history. For a historical romance, I believe it achieves its goal perfectly! Book 2 is already in my kindle.

This review will be added to the Readers Review Room  and by their ranking system, it deserves (more than) the gold worm.

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Bladesong by Jean Gill – my review

My only regret after having read book one in the Troubadour series by Jean Gill was not having read the sequel sooner.

Bladesong has been quite an adventure! The final chapters of the book whooshed by so intensely and so fast that I was almost out of breath when I finished reading them. It is an amazing feast for everyone who enjoys a great political thriller, historical fiction, romance (not in the traditional ‘swooning’ manner though) and fantastic characters. I can just bet the author felt it was an adventure, too, while writing it. It feels like an incredible journey in time, through countries, customs, culture and languages, and above all – human hearts, both at their worst and their best.

I have learned to love Estela and Dragonetz in Song at Dawn (book 1 in this series) so much that the author could have spent this sequel merely describing them having tea and that would have been a joy in itself. But she didn’t. Some readers of historical fiction sometimes complain of authors going into too much detail of fact listing, politics, intrigue and history. Memo to them – historical fiction is supposed to go into researched detail. What I love about this book is that, despite or because of such dedicated attention to detail, the author never once drops the ball and loses from her focus the main characters and their destinies, emotions and thoughts, despite how far they may actually be distanced geographically. (No spoilers for those who will read this, but they will be distanced and yet… Estela and Dragonetz separated by an ocean, numerous powerful people and huge ordeal, even chapters, looking up at the same starts with the same thoughts – that was so masterfully woven into the plot, and felt like a balm on this reader’s tormented heart.)

The author displays the characters with all their faults and virtues, providing timely background and explanation, but not making excuses. Their growth and development is remarkable, and even the villains got the attention and, as weird as it may sound, the respect they deserve. The fact that this is a series allows the author time and space to develop even the tiniest detail, but she uses her time and space with every respect for her readers, never squandering a single line. By chapter 8, I already had 8 favourite quotes marked, and that is saying something. Blending detail into the bigger picture, never losing the importance of either the big picture or the value of each detail, makes Jean Gill a great strategist and general of all the battles in this book, be they the ones in bedchambers, stables, battlefields, courts or the eyes of people when they meet or avoid each other.

History is alive in these books. Alive because you can hear the languages and music the characters use, the echoes and the hushed whispers of secrets, the drums and purposeful noise of those in public display of power, the clamour of dynamic battle, the breaths of those living their lives for their partners, friends, animal friends. You can smell the scents of food and beverages offered or denied, the fresh sea breeze turning sea-sickness into health, the strong odour of physical illness and human malice, of blood flowing queitly down the streets after a vicious, unnoticed murder. You can touch the silk and cloth of dresses and robes, the cold metal of armour and shiny curves of blades… You can laugh with them all, and cry with them all, and love. And when the book is finished, you might linger in that world for a while, not wanting to be torn away from it.

I could write essays about the faulty and powerful queens, the admirable leaders, the courageous lieges, the unyielding nursemaids, the incredible horses and dogs… but you’d better read the book(s). Book three is next for me. There is so much more to know.

Jean Gill’s website

As a reviewer for the Readers’ Review Room, I gladly give this book a gold bookworm. Might as well be diamond.

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Plaint for Provence by Jean Gill – my review

(Warning : this is not going to be a short review. Books like this deserve all the respect a reader can provide. However, for those who enjoy short reviews – this is an etremely intriguing historical fiction about love, life and death. Read it, but it would be a shame to skip the first 2 books in the series.)

It took me a while to completely get into the book. At first I thought it was just my temporary mood, and trusting the process and all of Jean Gill’s books I’d read before (especially Song at Dawn and Bladesong, the first two in this series), I knew the story would grab me. And boy, oh boy, did it! To be honest, it is difficult to get it out of my head now.

By the time I was one third into the story, the feeling of the calm before the storm had crawled into my bones, and the faith of the characters seemed to rest solely on my ability to read it all till the end in one single read, which I practically did. And never regretted one second of my book-induced insomnia!

The growth of the characters from book 1 to this one, their relationships, political powerplay and the social changes are followed through perfectly. Estela and Dragonetz are fascinating in their strengths and weaknesses, their entrepreneurial spirit and the way they grow together as a couple but also individually. DeRancon and Hugues keep balancing the see-saw between good decision and wrong choices, constantly pulling at yournerves as they interact with others. Malik, Gilles and Sancha are so strong in their loyalty and staying true to themselves. The rulers, would-be rulers, nobility which is more or less noble, servants who remain below the radar actually pulling the strings from the shadows… all of this is written with precision, perfection and passion.

Just read the initial chapter to see what I mean – the interchange between measly messengers over a drink is so well guided – it shows the author’s authoritative command of researched historical facts, beautifully flowing syntax which abides by the vernacular of the time without losing its natural twists and turns, a phenomenal sense of showing the big picture through the simplest details and making history alive and exciting by engaging all of the reader’s senses – you can see their faces, smell the stench of travellers robes, hear the hushed voices eager to divulge their information but bound by secrecy, feel their excitement and fear at the impact of their news… And this is just chapter one! (Ending the book with another important messenger situation is a cliffhanger which will make you want to dive into book 4 immeditely.)

The introductions into chapters are something some readers might skip, but I particularly enjoyed them. Again, a sort of calm before the storm. As Estela’s interest in science and medicine grows, she reads all sorts of medical texts, which the author shares in introductory paragraphs very briefly, but so up to point that it would be a pity to miss them. Not only do they offer a glimpse into the way people of the time thought and lived, but the remedies and maladies mentioned often serve as an introduction into the events which follow, in a perfectly well-masked manner. The author pays a lot of attention to customs in this book (women’s medical issues, hunting and working with birds of prey, money making, etc.), but historical fact never turns this book into a history coursebook. In fact, it serves the story, builds it up and grows naturally with the plots and characters.

The intimate moments between characters, their sensuality, tenderness, debates, concerns, doubts, conflicts make you feel especially privileged to witness. I mean, you get to witness a liege talking to a ruler, a villain whispering a threat into your heroine’s ear in plain sight of a full court of noble guests.

After a while, you realize each and every chapter ends on a very cleverly planted cliffhanger which transports you into the next one and then the next one. Let me just repeat my own words from the time when I finished the first book – history has never been more exciting!

I cannot choose my favourite quote or my favourite character, although the punishment Hugues deserves from Estela for his sexual advances is still one of my favourite scenes. No more spoilers, I promise.

The ‘calm before the storm’ feeling, by the way, stayed with me till the very end, which shows the author’s genius as book four is out, so I am definitely getting it. Now!

Plaint for Provence

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Why authors ♡ their characters? -by Jean Gill

Jean Gill is one of those authors who still hasn’t written something I’d even remotely be able to dislike. She weaves such wonderful stories, be it contemporary or historical fiction, that I cannot help but admire her. It is indeed a rare pleasure to have such a guest on my blog. If you read her books, I have no doubt you will fall in love with her characters. Even she has.

Why I love Dragonetz – by Jean Gill

When Dragonetz asks Estela, ‘Do you want to learn or to be a table decoration?’ he starts a master-student relationship based on their shared talent as troubadours, but their music lessons sizzle with the attraction they try to fight. Dragonetz is a master troubadour and a master swordsman, a born leader who has honed his talents through experience and hard work, but who is afraid of his own effect on others. 

Like his Damascene sword, Dragonetz was forged in the Holy Land. In the disastrous Second Crusade, he was Commander and troubadour to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his idealism died in the war although he did not. Racked by guilt, he tries to keep others at a distance, for their own sake. 

And then he forgets, driven by his own passions; for the invention of a watermill, for a crazy tournament against a Viking Prince, for a woman.

Like Estela, I am fascinated by this complex man and I want to keep up with him, be his partner in song and in love. Like the men who ride with him, I would follow him without question. He is that rare being; a charismatic leader who never loses his sense of responsibility, his quest for what is right and honourable. He lied to himself. His idealism never died; he just learned to hide it.

I have lived with Dragonetz in the 12th century for the last ten years, and, believe me, history really never has been more exciting! I have now written half of the fourth and last book of The Troubadours Quartet and it will be as difficult to leave Dragonetz as if I were his lover, parting after a song at dawn. I will always love ‘my knight’ the best.
Know that whereso’er I wander

Never shall I find true rest

Without the circle of your kisses

And may you love your Night the best.

Meet Dragonetz! ‘Song at Dawn’, Book 1 of the award-winning Troubadours Quartet is on limited offer at 99c and available free to subscribers who sign up to Jean’s newsletter here http://eepurl.com/AGvy5
Contact jean.gill@wanadoo.fr

IPPY Award for Best Author Website http://www.jeangill.com

Blog http://www.jeangill.blogspot.com

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The Troubadours Page 

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Watch the book trailers on youtube 

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The Joys of Good Historical Fiction

​Reading Jean Gill’s Song at Dawn, a historical fiction about the troubadours of the Renaissance, and I love it. 

Not only has Jean Gill become one of my favourite authors, but her approach to history reminds me of one of my favourite Croatian authors, M. J. Zagorka, who had the amazing skill of making characters come to life and stand out of the social and political intrigue of the time, so that she kept my interest in the story as well as the history. 

The first paper mill, the trade and religious skirmishes, the ‘game of thrones’, the marital conventions, the status of every single person at court… and in the midst of that, a proper romance, with all the dangers and passion… 

And I am only half way through the book, so this is not even a review yet:)

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And what do YOU have to say? – J. GILL – interview no.14

INTERVIEW TIME

With multitasking and multitalent written in her bones, Jean Gill cannot just talk about her books, so feel free to expect various topics covered in this interview. Her book topics themselves have a wide range, so let her guide you into her wonderful world of imagination.

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1. You have a wonderful new book with an unusual main character – a dog. You’re a dog owner and have lots of experience in this field. Still, was it difficult to get into the mind of a dog?

What’s worrying is how easy it was! Finding how to express it in the right voice was more difficult.One of my readers told me that she was half-way through the book when the postman rang the doorbell – and her instinct was to growl. That’s exactly what it’s like. Re-morphing to human is harder;)!

2. You also write historical texts. Which period, person or event would you like to write about?

I’ve never told anyone else this but I have some research about Robert Recorde, the 16th C Welsh mathematician who invented the equals sign – I would love to write a novel based on his life but I need to finish the 12th C Troubadours Quartet first.

3. Your publishing experience is linked both to traditional publishing and self-publishing. Could you share with us the best of both worlds?

It is a magical moment when the Editor of a reputable Press says he/she loves your book and is going to publish it. Your work is good! Then there are disappointments: delays/ a book jacket you hate/lack of marketing/lack of support at a festival at which you’re appearing – because the publishers have their own constraints and aims. I write in many genres so with each book I had to start over to find a publisher and the rejections left me miserable, unable to write, convinced my work was awful. Now I waste no time on rejections. I have a network of critical, pro friends who make sure my work is good before publication, I can still write whatever I like and publish it looking exactly as I want it to. I love the control over my work – but of course it is all my responsibility too. If I’d ever found ‘Editor Right’ who loved everything I wrote, I’d have been hers for life. It didn’t happen and self-publishing suits me.
4. When you think back to all your books, what’s the one thing you most love about each and why?

You don’t really want me to talk about 18 books J but I like to think that each one has a little magic in it, a story that wanted to get out into the world.

5. How do people react when you tell them you are an author?

If it comes up, the reaction is better than when I said I was a poet, which is how I was first published. Being a woman poet is very low status J Numbers impress people so if I want to be impressive I say 18 books. The same applies to my photography. If I say, ‘I made 800 dollars from one photo’ (which is also true) people will be impressed. In fact, none of this matters because a) it’s not profit and b) it doesn’t mean my books or photos are any good – which is still what I care about. When people read one of my books and ask me questions about it because they liked it, that is what matters. Money is a bonus, a sign that I am getting better at the business aspects. But then, I had a day job long enough to support my writing/photography addictions.

6. One of your many interests and occupations is also photography. Do you think it is important for a good photograph to tell a story, or is it all in the eye of the beholder?

There are many different genres of photograph and I sell commercial images that are boring and useful as well as more artistic/story-telling ones. Sometimes I’m aiming to show a mood, a sense of place; sometimes I want to surprise the viewer with a concept. My galleries show a selection of my photos that I really like.

7. What makes a story good in your reader’s mind? Give us examples of your favourite authors or stories if you wish?

Complete involvement. I didn’t read the Narnia books as a child, I lived in them and my favourite books take me completely into their world. I see and hear the characters, care what happens to them, live their adventures. More recently, I felt like that about Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’, about Jane Davis’ ‘An Unchoreographed Life’, about China Mieville’s ‘The City and the City’

8. How did it feel the first time you held your printed book in your hand?

A mix of pride, disappointment and nerves – when I had no say in book jackets, the ones chosen left me cold and spoiled the pleasure of publication. You’ll find the old jacket for ‘Snake on Saturdays’ still on amazon and I remember thinking, ‘But the main character is a red-head’. The nerves come from feeling exposed and wondering whether any reader will like the book – I still get publication nerves but now, I always love seeing the printed book – and the jacket – no disappointments!

9. What do you love and hate most about writing?

I love disappearing into my own world. At the moment I live in the 12th century. I also love hearing from fans, which happens regularly now and is so encouraging. I hate the redrafting and editing but no external editor can make your book the way you want it to be so it’s part of the work.

10. Which famous book character would you like to meet and why?

Aslan. I would like to curl up between his paws and sleep. It was a huge disappointment when I realised as an adult how much Christian imagery was in the Narnia stories but now I have come full circle and what I like has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with a huge furry friend, who is protective and understanding.

11. Would you like to add anything about your current work or send a message to the readers?

Readers – if you review one of my books, your dog can feature in the Hall of fame on my beautiful new website.
 
I am half-way through the third book of The Troubadours Quartet, set in Provence, 1152. Today I wrote part where the nobles come to Les Baux to pay allegiance to the Comte de Barcelone (and really to choose sides during this supposed truce between him and his host/reluctant vassal, the widowed ruler Etiennette – all real historical characters). Estela and Dragonetz (our fictional troubadour heroes & lovers) are playing the political balancing-act when Estela is confronted by the very people who abused her as a girl, who turn up among the nobles swearing fealty…so today’s scene had lots of poisonous references and insults, attempts to undermine a young woman’s confidence and threaten those she loves.
 
‘Plaint for Provence’ is due out on November 1st so you have time to read ‘Song at Dawn’ (Bk 1 which won the Global Ebooks award for Historical Fiction)

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Jean’s links:
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Anita Kovacevic

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Who’s afraid of pixie dust?

FOREST FAIRY

 
The forest was gentle
And chirping so sweet,
And happy she flew
Reaching flowers with feet.

All night long she so fluttered
And played with the leaves,
Chatting with beasties,
Her tender heart’s thieves.

She drank the night dew
From the petals of flowers,
She felt tiny, and the trees
Seemed like high castle towers.

As the night breeze caressed
Her butterfly wings,
The fairy flew higher
To the sparkling things.

The moon called them stars,
She loved their light,
Like diamonds they sparkled
On the blanket of night.

And the fairy felt free,
Welcomed by every creature,
As the nature was generous
and shared its every feature.

The fairy wished time could stop
And she’d just stay there forever.
But her inner clock kept ticking,
Ruthless, but honest as ever.

And she knew dawn would come
And this music would end,
For the sun was close by,
Dozing just round the bend.

She flew down on a mushroom,
Curling up like a child,
Wishing life would be this calm
And reality mild.

She soaked up the sounds,
Bathed skin in fresh air,
Eyelids closed up like veils,
Keeping distance from cares.

So she sat in the forest,
Just feeding her heart,
She hated to wake up
And with this world part.

This dream was serene,
Her sanctuary, her shrine.
In her forest all were good
And everything went fine.

When awake, she is different,
Wears a mask – we all do.
But if you visit her forest,
She’ll reveal herself to you.

Daytime keeps her in shoes,
Wings hidden under clothes,
Her flight is a walk,
Her song has no notes.

But these seconds before dawn,
Stealing them from the time,
She’s a real forest fairy,
Eternal in rhyme.

 

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Anita Kovacevic

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A LULLABY

May the angels like butterflies
land gently on your eyelids.
May they turn your worries
into the innocence of kids.
May their rhythmic flutter
lull you deeply into sleep,
and that feeling of serenity
may you always keep.
May the mermaids in the sea of dreams
sing you their sweetest song,
and the soft waves of dream’s caress
make right from every wrong.
May unicorns go galloping
through the meadows of dreamland,
and heel your every worry,
turn each foe into a friend.
May the sweet smell of flowers
fill your every pore,
sleep and dream till the dawn,
and then just a bit more…

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Anita Kovacevic

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