Book Review: From Waterloo to Water Street

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not read From Waterloo to Water Street by S.E. Morgan is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’m going to be completely honest: as much as I find history fascinating in a casual sort of way, I am no historian beyond what I had to study at school (mostly Nazis and the Civil Rights movement) and what I studied in college (church history). And so, as much as I am interested in history, I often find I am hindered by my lack of knowledge whenever I come to read a piece of historical fiction. The world I’m reading about is often too alien for me to truly appreciate the significance of what’s going on, especially if the author focuses heavily on giving a history lecture rather than telling a story of human beings and the things they care about.

That was not my experience with From Waterloo to Water Street by S.E. Morgan: a frankly beautiful piece of writing which is set in 19th century Wales, where the Rebecca Riots are in full swing. In addition to the civil unrest which took place in Wales at that time, this book also draws heavily on the Napoleonic Wars, as one of the main characters (Gu) recounts his own personal memories of serving as a soldier for the British army in those conflicts.

For an entry-level historian such as myself, there is real potential to be bogged down by tedious details which I had little prior knowledge of in a story like this one; and while I am sure a little extra knowledge would have been a boon for me (isn’t it always?), this simply wasn’t the case with From Waterloo to Water Street. Morgan’s character driven writing immediately draws even the most uninitiated reader into the 19th century Welsh country, where desperate farmers are battling for their livelihoods. You really get a feel for the plight of the individual characters (e.g.: Gu’s struggle with PTSD or Will’s conflicting sense of estrangement and solidarity with his own people) as well as the battle that is being fought in the background between agricultural workers and the local authorities.

I have very little to say that is negative about this book. I will concede that the beginning was a little slow as we were introduced to a fair number of characters early on while still trying to understand what was at stake at that point in history but this had very little impact on my overall enjoyment of the novel. Once the story got underway, it was easy to get into the skin of all the main players; to hear their distinctive voices, to understand their motives and to care about what they hoped to accomplish. Gu, in particular, was a deeply complex and well rounded character, so expertly crafted and cooked to perfection that he almost felt like a real person. By the time we reached the climax both in Gu’s memories and in the events unfolding in Will’s own life, I was so deeply involved in the events described in this book that I could not put it down until it was finished.

If you’re wanting to read a piece of intelligent historical fiction with real character-driven substance and a plot which marches decisively towards a satisfying climax, you should read this book. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who loves a rich story, both history buffs and laymen alike, will appreciate From Waterloo to Water Street for the masterpiece it is.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Click here to read my interview with S.E. Morgan, author of From Waterloo to Water Street.


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

First published: 16/09/2019
SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

This review reflects only my own personal opinions and impressions.

Well last week it was all about children’s books; this week I’m reviewing a book that is definitely not suitable for children. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a hefty tome about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in 12th century England. It’s full of lovable and deplorable characters, political intrigue, technical details about medieval construction and just a little bit more sex and sexual violence than was necessary.

One of my favourite things about this story was how well paced it was. Given that this is a story about building a cathedral and is set over a period of several decades, and also bearing in mind that thrillers are Ken Follett’s usual racket, there was a very real danger of this story either being an absolute drag or being inappropriately fast-paced. I needn’t have worried. The blend of fast scenes and slow scenes is beautiful and appropriate, making this lengthy novel a constant page-turner from start to finish.

Now let’s talk characters. I honestly can’t decide if the characters in this story are one of its best qualities or one of its worst. In some ways I liked them. They’re all quite distinctive with clearly defined personality traits and its also pretty clear that each character is driven by firmly established motives and goals. Very good indeed. If we know what drives a character, it’s easy to care about what happens to him, even if the subject matter is foreign or uninteresting to us. This makes The Pillars of the Earth a real page-turner when it could have just as easily been a bore.

When I first began to talk about the idea for Pillars, some people hated the idea. “Nobody cares about building a church in the Middle Ages,” they said. But readers will care about it if the characters care.

Ken Follett, Goodreads Notes and Highlights on The Pillars of the Earth

Having said that, there was also something a little bit tedious about some of the characters (with the major exception of Philip and, to a lesser extent, Jack). The female protagonists are strong and beautiful (oh and Aliena has huge breasts, we’re constantly reminded); the male protagonists are brave and noble and the antagonists are devious and brutal. William Hamleigh, the primary antagonist, is the worst for this. He’s devious, cowardly, violent, greedy and licentious with absolutely no redeeming qualities. But just in case we’re in any doubt that he’s the bad guy, he rapes way more people than is necessary for one story. Seriously, this guy does a lot of raping, pretty much whenever he’s not tormenting the poor or burning villages. The good guys in this story never rape of course, but they do have lots of consensual sex to the point of implausibility. While most of the sex scenes are not explicitly described (though a few are), some of the characters are portrayed as being at it on a several-times-a-day-every-day basis and still find time to build a cathedral, overcome one disaster after another and fight the bad guys. I dunno, maybe they’re just really good at organising their time, but between this and the manifold references to the size of Aliena’s breasts, it sometimes just felt a bit like the authors’ mind was wandering. That’s just my opinion though.

In many respects, this is a story with several different layers to it. There are several protagonists whose stories we follow, each overlapping and interacting with one another while yet remaining distinctive. Tom wants nothing more than to build a cathedral but cares for his family. Jack is a boy who lived in the forest, now growing into a man who is consumed with questions about his deceased father. His very much a coming-of-age type story. Aliena is the daughter of a disgraced earl who has sworn to help her brother reclaim the earldom, and finds herself constantly pulled in all directions by her sense of duty to others. Prior Philip is driven by his zealous faith in God and his sense of righteousness. He tries earnestly to do what is right on earth and to glorify God by the building of the cathedral and yet is in constant conflict with his own sense of pride and self-doubt. These are just a selection of the main players in this story, all of whose individual story-lines overlap and diverge to create an intricate tapestry of skilfully executed fiction. It really is a thing of beauty.

All in all, The Pillars of the Earth is a great story. It’s got plenty of excitement, plenty of sentiment and Aliena has big breasts all of the characters are driven by goals and motives that we really care about. The many threads that comprise the plot are magnificently woven together to form a novel which is well constructed and handles potentially dry subject matter in a way which is enjoyable and entertaining. Worth a look, even if it’s not your usual preferred genre. Just don’t read it to your kids.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Spotlight: From Waterloo to Water Street by S.E. Morgan

West Wales 1843: Daughters of Rebecca are marching, breaking down toll gates that circle Carmarthen. Cantankerous veteran, Thomas Lewis, is tormented by nightmares of the wars against the French in Spain and the Low Countries nearly thirty years earlier.  The Welsh countryside is in turmoil; livelihoods destroyed by unfair tithes and taxes. The workhouse provides a starvation diet for the “deserving poor”. The people’s fight for fair-handed justice has begun.  In the Newport uprising three years earlier protesters were gaoled, transported and shot by a government afraid Wales might follow the path of revolution, like France.  Carpenter’s apprentice, clever but cautious Will, grapples with resentment that he will not inherit the family farm. Will’s jealousy increases when his handsome, radical older brother falls in love with his best friend, Ellen.  Could telling Will the story of his campaigns and battles with the 44th East Essex Regiment help Thomas find peace? 

Praise for From Waterloo to Water Street


Have you read From Waterloo to Water Street? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Buy From Waterloo to Water Street on Amazon


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here: