Book Review: Song at Dawn by Jean Gill
3 out of 5 stars
To introduce you to the novel, the description is:
1150 in Provence, where love and marriage are as divided as Christian and Muslim.
On the run from abuse, Estela’s musical talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the finest troubadour of the age, Alienor’s Commander of the Guard. Weary of war, Dragonetz los Pros uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, drawing the wrath of the Church down on his head. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne
Let me say up front that this is a good story. It did take me a few chapters to really get into it (apparently I’m not as into historic fantasy as I thought and often found myself skimming through paragraphs on alliances and lineages), but once I did I was swept along with the characters and the story.
The reason for the mediocre stars is twofold. The first is the book needs some basic editing. I could have lived with the chapter breaks not being on a new page, but there are other errors that were distracting. The worst was a paragraph return in the middle of the sentence, which happens regularly throughout the novel. I would be caught up in a scene only to be dropped out in confusion when I couldn’t follow a partial sentence. Then I would realize that the sentence continued below and would continue on. It is such a simple and easy fix, and I do hope Ms. Gill corrects this error. It was easily the biggest.
Other smaller errors included such items as missing commas and using one quotation mark for dialogue instead of the traditional double. There was also a point where a one armed man helped a lady onto a horse using his “hands.” The next paragraph he was back to being one handed though. With another round of editing, the story is strong enough to receive four stars.
I did love the setting of Narbonne. The inclusion of a variety of cultures, all persecuted at the time, was fantastic. Ms. Gill interwove respect within the story, even detailing how the Moors were far more advanced in sciences at this time period. I adored Lady Sancha, as well as Estela and Dragonetz, of course!
What kept this novel from really shining minus the editing is the other reason for only three stars. I found the frequent switching of POV within chapters tedious. Though the switch was clear and it was easy enough to see whose head the reader found themselves, the frequent breaks detracted from the flow. There are a few occasions where the POV moves to a character part of the story but had never been in the forefront – and sometimes never is again. This need to jump to numerous characters and then drop them to relay a tiny bit of information could be cleaned up with some work and would really snap the novel together.
And I will say that though I enjoyed the novel, the ending didn’t leave me satisfied. Without giving anything away, the lead up to it was well done and it seemed to be the only option available, but . . . when I sat and thought about it a few aspects of it didn’t make sense. I’d love to sit down for a tete-a-tete with Ms. Gill and ask a ton of questions! And not just about the ending. A few characters aren’t so neatly wrapped up and loose ends are left without the feeling that a sequel was going to solve them, at least to me.
So, even with the editing errors corrected, this novel would hold 4 stars. The story is lovely and shows great potential. I think we’ll see some great novels from Ms. Gill in the future. If you are a fan of historical fiction/romance, do give this one a try. There are parts I really loved – enough that it made me want to see a bit more from the story.