Owen Parry,
Honor's Kingdom
(Harper Torch, 2002)

An engaging historical fiction set in Victorian-era Great Britain, Honor's Kingdom is a fun mix of crime drama, history and conspiracies. Author Owen Parry does a truly excellent job at bringing the history alive; the streets of London and Glasgow are made vivid to all of the senses (which, in those times, was not usually pleasant). Since time machines are not yet available to us, this is probably as close a field trip to the 1860s as you can get.

Parry uses many actual personages from the day, including prime ministers Lord Palmerston and Benjamin Disraeli, as well as Charles and Henry Adams. There are short appearances from other famous figures, such as Karl Marx and James Whistler (which, to be honest, often feel more than a little contrived). Whether real or fictional, Parry does a really good job of bringing them to life with individual personalities.

The narrator and main character, Major Abel Jones, is a fascinating mix of character traits. He is modest, yet brash; small, yet dominating in battle; strict in his Christian principles, yet ever questioning their value. He is a great narrator for the story, constantly injecting his thoughts and opinions.

The indomitable dancer, Miss Polly Perkins is a lot of fun, and Arthur Langley, the Earl of Thretford, ranks with Moriarty in terms of intelligent villainy.

The dialogue between characters is entertaining, with all of the different accents of England, Scotland and Ireland (and more besides). Jones' narrative is amusing at times because his religious compunctions make him apologize or censor his use of their crude language. Indeed, the most entertaining parts of the historical fiction are when Jones ventures into the poorer areas of the cities he visits.

The downsides of the novel are few, but there are some flaws that may turn certain readers away. Parry occasionally falls into the familiar trap of historical fiction writers: forcing moments and characters from their research in when they don't serve the story. I have a lot of patience for that kind of stuff (since I find history interesting), but people who are more plot-focused will likely get bored at times. There is also a lot of philosophical musing and times of reflection that slow the story down to a level some may find tedious. However, I think the book has enough action and twists that most readers will feel rewarded.

Honor's Kingdom is a really well-written and immersive historical drama with great characters, and it grabbed me in a way few novels have since I was much younger. That says a lot about Owen Parry's abilities as a story-teller, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

book review by
Patrick Derksen

11 April 2015

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