Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Date Published: May 7, 2014
Number of Pages: 358
Print Price: $8.44
eBook Price: $2.99
Aachen is a self-published historical novel written by Gary Ludlam. I admit that I love reading historical fiction and was drawn to this book by the cover notes that state, “The life of an 8th century peasant is, as they say, ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Stephen of Orlans wants none of that.” This quote describes the motivation and drive of the main character, Stephen, throughout much of the book. Although Stephen is presented as a basically decent person, his desire to escape the life of a peasant clouds his judgment at several crucial junctures. The conflict within Stephen between the holiness he strives to attain and the desire to climb out of the poverty of peasantry is perfectly balanced against the excitement of an excellent story with unexpected twists and a superbly satisfying, albeit surprising, ending.
As the story opens we are introduced to Stephen returning with other soldiers who have been fighting the Spanish in Charlemagne’s army. He is a slave who fought as the proxy for a nobleman, Egbert, with the promise of freedom upon his return. He gains his freedom and returns to the monastery where previously he was secretly being schooled by a holy monk on Sundays. He is also reunited with the young woman, Bertrada, who he had begun a relationship just prior to his leaving for battle.
The author portrays, accurately I think, the time period as being permeated with Catholic morality. This is evident in the fact that the main character is terrified of committing mortal sin, especially with the woman he grows to love. His resistance to Bertrada’s desire for intimacy initially seems to be explained away as evidence of his youth and innocence. But the culture of that century held high the virtue of purity, even as some in positions of power did not practice it.
Fornication is not the only mortal sin against which Stephen struggles. He has killed a man in battle, lied to others on numerous occasions, and suggests to a pregnant woman that herbs be taken to induce an abortion. In fact, for much of the book, he feels the weight of his sins and the lack of God’s grace, available through the sacraments, if he would only have availed himself. This affects the decisions he makes and nearly destroys him in several difficult situations.
Lest I give the wrong impression that this is just a moral treatise or a hard to understand cerebral book… in fact this is a book full of adventure, misadventure, and white knuckled excitement. With good monks, bad monks, noblemen and noble idiots, the story does not sugarcoat the difficulty a peasant must have had surviving in this century. Yet there remains a sense of justice, a knowledge of right and wrong, that provides hope for the reader that things will turn out well for Stephen. This is indeed the gift of the Church to an otherwise brutish time.
Throughout the book, I was impressed by the character development, the imaginative story, and the author’s excellent use of descriptive language. As an example, the following excerpt presents the beginning of a snow storm: “A few snowflakes made their drunken, lazy way to the ground. They were big and wet, looking like small tufts of wool falling from the sky.” This novel provides 347 pages of proof that Gary Ludlam has a firm command of the English language. As someone who usually skims past the descriptive language in novels, this is high praise. I did not skim through any portion of this book, but instead savored every wonderfully crafted paragraph. Other self-published novels that I have read have contained numerous spelling and consistency errors. This novel had only two typographical errors, neither of which are of any consequence and do not detract from my overall evaluation of the story.
As a reviewer and avid reader, I read self-published novels in hopes of discovering the diamond in the rough--that yet-undiscovered masterpiece that everyone will someday want to read. This book has made all my searching worthwhile. It is a true gem in every sense of the word. In his acknowledgements in the front of this book, Mr. Ludlam indicates this is his first novel and it has taken 25 years from the time the first idea came into his head until the book’s completion. Epic novels take time, and yes, I do not hesitate to call this book ‘epic.’ I can image this book as a 3 hour movie on the order of Ben Hur or Gladiator. It is my sincere hope that this author continues to write and that he will publish another historical novel soon.Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Original Language: English
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