“The Gargoyle”February 5, 2009 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments
The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson, is the kind of book that’s likely to incite strong feelings in people. You’ll know within the first, say, two pages whether you’ll love it or hate it. Davidson’s style is brash and bold. I confess I couldn’t read more than 15 pages at a sitting until I was nearly a quarter of the way through the book.
The reason I’m reviewing this book six months after everyone else has read it is that it pinged my historian radar. The book jacket claims that Davidson, a man with a BA in English literature, spent seven years researching and working on the book. I take it as my sworn duty to help my readers sift through history and “history” so they can continue to focus on fiction and leave the nonfiction to me.
Davidson’s historical research seems to have been broad rather than deep. I’m going to focus on chapter 21, since Viking-age Scandinavia is my special area of focus. Davidson has his characters sitting in a tavern. This is a pretty nice trick, considering that Iceland did not have any towns at the time. Another Scandinavian settlement area, such as Bjorgvin or Jorvik, would have been a good choice if it were necessary to include a tavern scene. Part of what’s so fascinating about early Iceland is that the fiercely independent people took care of their own needs, meeting once a year at the Althing to trade, arrange marriages, sell property, and settle legal disputes. Reykjavik didn’t really become a town in the way we think of these things until the 18th century.
Women’s costume is another area where I have to drill down. I’m an intermediate-level medieval costumer. Davidson’s Viking lady wears a chain around her waist, something that thousands of grave finds have yet to produce. Keys were worn suspended from a pair of matching brooches at the chest. No mention of this iconic, widespread type of jewelry is made. She wears an “apron dress,” although the way she “closes” it suggests that Davidson hasn’t looked closely at a picture and doesn’t really understand what this garment is for. The apron dress almost certainly hung suspended from shoulder straps, and could have been pulled down at the chest by unfastening the brooches. It wasn’t like a bathrobe or anything.
There is a “morning gift” that makes its appearance at several places in the story. Traditionally this gift was a form of compensation to the woman for her lost virginity, a distinction missed in The Gargoyle. Early northern Europe had some highly idiosyncratic courtship traditions, including night running, bundling, and trial marriages, and there was not a close association between virginity and weddings. We also have to separate the morning gift from the dowry and the bride price. Some marriages would have involved all three transactions. Giving a “morning gift” to a new couple would have been inappropriate to say the least; it’s akin to the level of intimacy involved with an engagement ring.
History is more than a backdrop. It’s better, with fantasy, to stick to entirely imaginary environments.
I think The Gargoyle was a pretty cool idea. I think it’s the sort of story, like The Notebook, that would make a movie that surpasses the book. Davidson has a distinctive style, and with a staff of professional editors, he has a chance to carve a niche for himself.
That was me spitting my tongue out of my cheek. I can’t do it anymore. I really tried to be as nice as possible. I just found The Gargoyle painful to read. Romance doesn’t do it for me, and fantasy usually doesn’t either, but even taking this into account, I thought there was no chemistry between the romantic leads. I’m having trouble believing it has four stars on Amazon, but hey, if you generally like pulp fiction, gothic storylines, fantasy or romance, give it a shot.