#SPFBO Review (5): A Wind from the Wilderness (Watchers of Outremer #1) by Suzannah Rowntree

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My previous four book reviews can be found here, here, here and here.  Today I am reviewing my fifth finalist.

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A Wind from the Wilderness is the finalist put forward by the Fantasy Hive and their review can be found here.

I have very mixed feelings for this book which can be loosely summed up as : incredible respect for the historical depiction of a fascinating period, a love of the author’s prose, an almost wonderfully unsettling feeling of quite literally being swept into a period so thoroughly that it sometimes felt like I was witnessing the scenes in person, standing bewildered as battles took place around me and yet, even with all that incredible imagery and impressive attention to the period, I was unable to really connect with the central character and I had a frustrating feeling, even after finishing, that I was missing something fundamental.  So, mixed feelings.

AWftW reads like historical fiction with very light fantasy elements – which although a little on the skimpy side did feel pertinent to the period.  There’s almost a biblical feel to the whole thing that makes me think of brooding skies and smiting!  However, I cannot deny that the start of the book gave me expectations that there would be more sorcery involved when one of our main characters is thrown forward in time.  As it is, the fantasy elements are indeed subtle.  There’s a feeling throughout of events being slightly manipulated by a dark presence that haunts the crusades, one of the characters is driven by prophecy and the final chapters give a promise of darker things yet to come.

Lukas Bessarion is the main character and the one who finds himself thrown forward in time almost 400 years.  For the most part Lukas is trying to return to his family and mindful of that need finds himself marching towards Jerusalem with the allied forces.  He becomes attached to a young woman known as Ayla who is also on her own particular quest.  Ayla seeks revenge for the death of her father.  The two form an unlikely attraction, both keeping secrets that would make them natural enemies.  The third character is Raymond St Gilles, a knight of the crusades whose inclusion gives us a means of following the crusade as the allied forces move slowly forward, battling and strategising.

I will admit that I’m not an expert on this period of history, that being said I really don’t think you need to be because the author has clearly researched this particular period very thoroughly and the story comes across as very well grounded.  The infighting, petty jealousies and difficulties in simply moving such a large contingent, from A to B, really come across well.  There are frustrating times where battles feel on the brink of disaster simply because forces that should be working together are pulling in opposite directions due to lack of true commitment to each other and then added to this is this dark element that seems to stalk the battlefields causing misery and despair.  All told I think Rowntree has done a remarkable job of bringing this particular period to life and giving a fictional account of events that feels like a plausible account

The plot is perhaps something that I felt a little puzzled about.  Lukas is the clear focus for the story and we know that he has a strategy to move forward towards Jerusalem.  This part of the story felt a little loose for me, I didn’t really have a real grip on how Lukas expected to make changes or find a way back to his family – any more than he did to be honest, which is probably why it felt perplexing.  Even as the story ended I’m not sure how Lukas’s story will ever come to a conclusion, I expect that might be part of the bigger plan for the series but even with that in mind I felt like I was missing something somehow.

As I mentioned the writing is really good. The author does a fantastic job of creating a sense of place and time and really bringing events to life – but, I felt like the pacing was slow and I think that links into the slightly floundering feeling that I mentioned above in respect to the plot.  In fairness, the start was intriguing and I really enjoyed meeting Ayla.  She’s a character that stole the show a little for me in fact I found myself looking forward to the chapters in which she appeared.  It’s difficult to put my finger on what slowed this down for me, again I think it boils down to puzzlement about where things were headed which left me at certain points feeling like this was more a historical recounting than anything else.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I mentioned that this feels more like historical fiction with a loose scattering of fantasy.  To be honest that wasn’t particular an issue for me as I like this type of read and I thought the fantasy elements fit well with the story told here.  I think my main problem is that I didn’t really connect with the characters. I didn’t really buy into the romance and think I would have preferred this to remain a friendship, and the ending was very bitter sweet – which is a little ironic as the author makes quite clear early on about the direction that one of the characters is going in – so really it shouldn’t be unexpected – and yet I did find myself unpleasantly surprised.  I also had issues with the pacing at stages which left me conflicted because I was enjoying the way the author told the story but at the same time was finding certain chapters very slow to get through.

Overall, my feelings remain mixed ont this.  On the one hand I’m not sure I’m giving the book all the credit it’s due with this review which feels confused or conflicted at best.  On the other hand, although I loved the way the author writes and think she’s done an incredible job in many respects I still remain very detached in terms of the main character and this gives me a lot of difficulty in terms of scoring this one.

After much internal debate I would rate this as a 7 out of 10.

My thanks to the author for a copy for review.  The above is my own opinion.

10 Responses to “#SPFBO Review (5): A Wind from the Wilderness (Watchers of Outremer #1) by Suzannah Rowntree”

  1. Tammy

    I also need that connection to the characters in order to fully love a book. Sorry this didn’t quite work, although it sounds really atmospheric.

    • @lynnsbooks

      To be fair it’s very good, just the connection was missing for me which is a shame.
      Lynn 😀

  2. waytoofantasy

    Hmm, I don’t mind the ‘mostly historical fiction’ part because honestly I used to read a lot more of that back in the day. But I think the connection with the characters would be a huge issue for me. Great review, Lynn!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I also used to read much more historical fiction and I liked this in that respect, just not the connection with the characters.
      Lynn 😀

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