Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review: Agnes Moor's Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole

3.5 stars
EDIT: I originally rated this 3 stars, but I've thought on it and it's being upped to 3.5 stars.

I've come to the conclusion that novellas are an intricate balancing act. Within a very short space, the author must achieve characters and plot comparable to much longer pieces of work.  Even if they succeed at this, the reader will often complain that a novella was 'rushed' or 'ended too soon'.  Though it irks me when other reviewers judge a novella as though it were a full-length novel, I'm going to do the same for Agnes Moor's Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole.  

The premise of Agnes Moor's Wild Knight is a fascinating one with so much damn potential, and therein is the reason I'm judging it pretty harshly.  Agnes is an African woman who is one of the 'Exotics' at the court of Scottish monarch James IV and his queen, Margaret Tudor (sister to the infamous Henry VIII). She is a novelty for the hedonistic courtiers, and James stages a tournament where a kiss from 'the Black Lady' is the prize. A mysterious knight who has hidden his identity dominates the jousting, and seems to want more from Agnes than a simple kiss.  

Cole does an excellent job of bringing a footnote in history to life, embellishing the real Tournaments of the Black Lady that happened at James' court in 1507 and 1508. For those interested in learning more about this historical basis, an interesting perspective on historical whitewashing and POC in James IV's Scotland can be found at the Secret Histories Project, while the British National Archives lists many different references to 'Moors' in the Treasurer's accounts from James' reign.

Unfortunately, the wonderful historical set-up comes at the expense of the story itself. With most of the first half devoted to Agnes position as an exotic outsider and the way she feels about this, the second half is rushed. There was little to no development of the characters as people after the knight's identity was revealed and he began to court Agnes. Without this I found myself uninvested in the relationship between the two.

So, as much as I hate to be one of those reviewers, my essential problem with Agnes Moor's Wild Knight was that it was a novella.  I would have loved to see it be a bit longer, allowing for more forward movement in the character's relationship, and more development of the male lead in general. Nonetheless, I'm eternally grateful to Cole that she wrote about such an interesting historical event that has been sidelined our larger historical metanarratives, even if I found the result less than superb.

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