Monday, 18 January 2016

Review: Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore by Jane Carter Barrett

3.5 stars
Release Date: 9th February 2016
I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. My opinion is my own. 

The first thing I’ll say about Antonia Barclay and her Scottish Claymore is that if your pedantry for historical accuracy has no ‘off’ switch, this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s intentionally anachronistic, with references to modern cultural touchstones, practices and scientific understandings overlayed on a setting of 16th century Scotland. 

The heroine, the eponymous Antonia Barclay, has grown up as the daughter of Lord and Lady Barclay in the Scottish border region, but at nineteen discovers that she’s actually the legitimate daughter of Mary, Queen of Scots and her third husband. Unfortunately, Basil Throckmorton, evil slimy Englishman, has also discovered Antonia’s true heritage and hopes to secure the Scottish throne for himself by marrying her. When Antonia sets out to rescue her mother from house arrest in England, she is kidnapped by Basil and his even slimier son Rex. Luckily, Antonia's suitor – Mr Claymore, creator of Claymore Swords (TM) – is hot in pursuit, determined to save his beloved. 

If it sounds overblown, that’s because it is, but a light-hearted awareness of its own incredibility made it funny instead of eye-rollingly stupid. Stylistically, the only comparisons I can make are to George MacDonald Fraser’s old comic novels and The Princess Bride (which might well be an influence, since it is referenced several times).

As a whole, Antonia Barclay and Her Scottish Claymore is a humorous breath of fresh air, but I still found it overcooked in some areas and underdone in others. In the overcooked column was some of the action, plot devices and descriptions. As much as the novel uses its OTT nature to send up some common tropes of both historical and contemporary romance, it also sometimes falls victim to its own hyperbole. Having made the point that a particular character is fashionably dressed or extremely stupid, the author can't help but reiterate this point ad nauseum.

On the other hand, the relationships between the characters were underdone. The reader doesn't meet Mr Claymore until 11% of the way through the book, at which point he instantly falls in love with Antonia, and she with him, despite the fact that she (or the reader) knows nothing about him except the fact that he has nice blue eyes. I don't mind that he's a bit of a mystery 
 after all, the story isn't really about him – but I was unable to suspend reality enough to believe that he'd go to all this trouble to rescue Antonia when he's had about two conversations with her. As for the other characters, their interactions often came across as one-dimensional. 

However, despite my criticisms, kudos must go out to Carter Barrett for such an original debut, because the book's synopsis was right when it said that "readers of historical romances will enjoy the feisty heroine, her outrageous adventures, and the humorous take on a well-loved genre". 

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