12 September 2008

The Tide Mill

I have gathered all the readers' reviews I can find, good or bad, from various places on the web, and reproduce them here at the risk of infringing the reviewers' copyright - if you have written one of these and object, please email me and I'll take it down right away.


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spacecat56 20 Jun 09

A compelling story told in lucid yet lyrical prose. This work is packed with fascinating detail on 13th Century life, technology, and relationships, all contributing to the story. I used to think that Creative Commons novels were mainly for writers whose work was "not quite there yet", but this is a novel of the first rank, a product of considerable talent and skill.

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Paul K. Biba, TeleRead 28 Oct 08

Our contributor Richard Herley describes this book on his website as: In 13th-century Sussex, an illicit love-affair and ruthless power-politics find focus in a masterwork of medieval engineering. Well, it certainly is that.

I decided to download Richard’s books (he is offering them for free on his site and asks you to make a contribution if you like what you’ve read) as I was intrigued by the time frame in which it was set, as well as by the the concept of medieval engineering. The book centers around the attempt of an English Lord to erect a mill that is powered by the tides, rather than by a stream or other watercourse. This is to avoid taxation of the mill by the Church: “A mill driven by the wind or rain, which are held to be sacred. Only the Church can license one. Because [our mill] is driven by the tide, and has no millstream, we say ours falls outside the definition. It must therefore by a molendinium profanum, an ordinary mill. That is the top and tail of the dispute.”

We have, in The Tide Mill, a fascinating exploration of medieval theology and its conflict with the secular administration. As well, we also have an extremely detailed, and absolutely absorbing, foray into medieval engineering. The design of the mill is described in some detail and I must admit that I had absolutely no idea that medieval engineers were so sophisticated. Herley must have done an incredible amount of research into medieval engineering and construction techniques – or he made it all up and is fooling all of us :-)

We also get into medieval economics and law, how a manor run, the relations of serfs, freemen and nobles, clothing (did you know that a “dreadnought” is not only a battleship but also a piece of English foul weather clothing made of heavy woolen cloth?), etiquette, transportation, and everything else that makes 13th century society run. I found it completely absorbing. The only downside of the book, to an American, is that it takes place at the English seaside, and has, of necessity, a fair amount of description of English littoral plants and animals. To be honest, I had to use my Kindle’s dictionary because I didn’t know 80% of the terms he was using as they are specific to the English environment. I did find this a bit annoying, but I don’t know what else he could have done.

Of course there is a love story, and I don’t like love stories. Suffice it to say that I cried at the end. Also, the social morés surrounding the love interest were quite interesting. Illicit love as treason, punishable by death – I guess things have changed a bit.

All-in-all a rousing good read, and I think it could be made into a fascinating movie. I’ll give Richard a rest for a bit and then go on to his next book. Needless to say, I’m happy that I made a contribution.

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Rod 3 Apr 08
****.

Great story and characters, but the end of the book is missing!!! [Fixed]

3 comments:

John Q Hamhead said...

Richard,

I recently started reading The Tide Mill. It is a wonderful book. I am so impressed with the background, the detailed description of the different aspects and work of those times. I sit in awe of the research you must have done.

The story itself is a fine one, of course, but I also feel I am getting a lesson in ancient English history.

Thanks for a great read.

Mike

Richard Herley said...

Mike,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I did do quite a bit of reading about the 13th century, but I am no historian. If the setting forms a cohesive basis for the story, then I reckon I've done my job. The Stone Arrow came in for some nitpicking from a certain professional archaeologist, but then I had a letter from an anthropologist saying I was right and the other guy was wrong -- when in fact I had made most of it up ... necessary, really, because in truth no one knows much about domestic life in the Stone Age.

Such are the perils of the historical novel.

Benjamin Duffy said...

Originally posted as a review (*****) on Goodreads.com

The Tide Mill is an immaculately crafted work of period fiction where love, pain, gritty daily detail, natural beauty, and human ingenuity meld seamlessly into something almost epic. The depth and richness of Herley’s language is always a treat: through his writing, he constantly reminds the reader that the perfect word for the situation is not always the common or expected word. As terse and economical as his prose is, he seems bent on selecting every word for maximum impact, and succeeds over and over again, achieving an exhilarating mix of fast-moving action and rich detail. Herley is one of the few authors who can send me scrambling for the dictionary without seeming as if he’s showing off.

Much like the other books of Herley’s that I’ve read, The Tide Mill inspires not primarily because of the ending – which is never uniformly sweet in his books – but because of the characters’ personal journeys. Herley’s protagonists are never static. They err, fail, learn, grow, and eventually achieve a kind of personal redemption that is utterly believable, and The Tide Mill's Ralf Grigg is no exception to this rule.

The Tide Mill is also a love letter to England. Not the urban, tourist England of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, but a wild, unspoiled England that I’ve never seen but, thanks to Herley’s powers of description, I feel I know. This is another running theme in Herley’s books: in The Penal Colony, the protagonist had to be exiled from civilization to find and appreciate it; in Refuge, it took the death of virtually every human on earth. Even in The Tide Mill, set in a time when England was far more sparsely populated, there’s a hint of mistrust of the city, and a naked affection for the flora, fauna, and geography of the land.

As always, Herley’s level of detail and knowledge of his setting and subject immerse the reader in the world of the story, without ever resorting to didactic, 20 page long "research dumps" - the exposition always propels the story along, rather than slowing it down. Above all, Herley is a craftsman: you feel that he knows his subject, his story, and his characters perfectly, and that every sentence of every paragraph has been meticulously honed. I was shocked to find out that The Tide Mill and Refuge were self-edited, because the pacing and continuity, normally the most obvious victims of self-edited novels, are virtually flawless here. The word "perfectionist" comes to mind.

This is my favorite book of all the ones I’ve read this year, and given the assortment of #1 bestsellers, genre essentials, and literary classics that that entails, I think that’s the highest praise I could give it.