Monday, July 13, 2009

Fiction: The Best of Men by Claire Letemendia

Even in a season reasonably stuffed with weighty works of historical fiction, The Best of Men (McClelland & Stewart) stands out. Debut author Claire Letemendia has the right sort of academic pedigree to get the details right in her vast epic tale of England in the middle of the 17th century. But even with a doctorate in Political Theory, Letemendia doesn’t write like an academic. Rather, she drops us deftly right into the center of her story and we find ourselves in England in 1642, with Laurence Beaumont, newly returned from the wars that have changed the map of Europe.

For all of Letemendia’s knowledge and the intricacies of her plotting here, there are times when the reader is aware of every single one of the book’s nearly 700 pages. The reduction -- or even elimination -- of some of the less important storylines would have created a more tense, exciting read. As it stands, there are times when the action seems to come almost to a standstill.

Fortunately, the bogged down moments in The Best of Men are infrequent and, for the most part, the reader is swept away in the world Letemendia shares. And that’s a good thing as The Best of Men won’t be a one-off: the author has promised a trilogy.

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