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THIS TIME by Joan Szechtman

Joan Szechtman is one of those novelists who has such a good idea, that you wish you’d had it yourself. The idea of Richard III being wrenched from a near-death experience and deposited in 21st-century Portland, Oregon is mind-blowing in all its implications. What is Richard really like? How will he get on in a democracy? What will he think of the 21st century? And in light of what he learns, what sense is he going to make of the life he left behind, and some of the truly awful things he did?

But the novel didn’t really answer these questions, at least not in a deeply resonant way. Why?

The major problem as I see it is the quality of the writing. What the author needed to do was to plunge the reader into Richard’s skin, and make his experiences viscerally real. That would have involved many more sensory descriptions, as well as much more interior monologue.

I think the reason why the novel didn’t work is because so much of what happens to Richard is presented as a summary, almost as if we were reading a newspaper account. But newspaper reportage is not the best way of gripping the reader’s attention. Nor is summary.

Although Ms Szechtman made a few nods to the need to capture what Richard’s bewilderment at being in the 21st century must have been like, it wasn’t enough to be realistic. The storyline wasn’t believable. It just didn’t make sense that Richard, of all people, should learn to trust 21st-century strangers so completely that he married one of them and because CEO of a company in the space of one year! I know this book is meant to be a fantasy, but each book has its own internal logic. In the case of THIS TIME, the author violated that logic.

One way to have dealt with these problems would have been to make Richard far less active in the 21st century, to give him more time to speak about his past, in particular to paint a vivid picture of the crisis of the spring of 1483, when his brother King Edward IV suddenly died, and of the events leading up to the disappearance of his nephews. That would have been fascinating.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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