27 September 2015

#BookReview - The Bull At The Gate

A short stint in hospital for orthopaedic surgery and an on-going long stint of re-hab has somewhat curbed my writing of late; certainly medication does little to enhance concentration even though I can now write quite lucidly about coming off two weeks' morphine derivatives 'cold turkey'. However, research experiences apart, I've not been keeping an eye on my own ball but enjoying an extended run of reading and reviewing other people's novellas and novels.

So it was a somewhat golden surprise to have Google Alerts flag my name and to find a brilliant review for Book 2 in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy from someone who knows both its setting, York, and its Roman history. In depth reviews such as this don't come very often, so readers of this blog will have to excuse me while I bask:

"Her reputation as prolific East Yorkshire writer put Linda Acaster’s ‘Bull at the Gate’ (2014) onto my own ‘must-read’ list a while ago now. Half-way point in her boldly-conceived ‘Torc of Moonlight’ trilogy, this book’s immediate appeal is its firm location within the English city of York (Roman ‘Eboracvm’) - why I started her cycle here. And if Acaster’s title puns lightly on the taurean emblem adopted by her location’s one-time garrison, the legendary Sixth Victorious Legion, she also hints strongly what crossings and contrasts might still exist today. ‘Gates’ between then and now; between a modern tourist honeypot and the foremost northern fortress of a long-gone empire. A city where life was short and the gods unpredictable; need appeasing with sacrifice – ancient rituals of Mithras and Luna with which her twin-tracked story starts, ordeals by fire and water.

"The highly-strung modern protagonist finding himself confronting such ethereal crossings is once again ‘Nick’ - now moved to York to attempt a fresh start. Traumatised by the watery end of a former girlfriend in the first book of this trilogy, and haunted by her still, his days are spent in low-grade clerical work, inputting archaeological data and draining the office coffee-machine. His nights are different by any standard - spent in fear, love and loathing; waiting with camera and tarpaulin for a warning water-sprite who appears like a cyclone out of the bed itself, in his riverside bedsit. Episodes amongst the most original, well-described, and astonishing in the book; although explaining the damp stains and damage from these night-time emanations to a twitching landlady, or the woman in the local launderette, soon become the least of Nick’s troubles; as yet another girl in the archaeology department goes missing and even the constabulary sit up and take notice…..

"Today’s York and the powerful Roman city which lies beneath are as much characters in the tale as Nick and his shape-shifting opponents; together enabling a journey of discovery that takes him street-by-street, building-by-building; hunting on instinct for water and tunnels. Gone in hot pursuit of two lost girls and the cold spirit which detains them, down there below the street-line on a mission into the past. If Acaster’s style is sometimes complex along the way, her concepts unusual (sometimes cryptic, demanding concentration) or else what (for me, personally) most resonated here were a heroine with auburn hair, echoes in modern coinage of a Roman ‘Britannia’, or vignettes set in the Yorkshire Museum; any other reader knowing the city of York as well will be equally drawn–in by that ongoing-sense of mystery which trails Nick’s ‘A-Z’ quest through the busy streets and pages of this book. Tantalising tale of the paranormal as much as historical novel, ‘Bull at the Gate’ is sure to immerse a wide tranche of readers, willing to retrace his watery footsteps on a thrilling journey I’d recommend to any of them."

For a writer, there's a time when reading becomes a displacement activity. It's time, methinks, to pull my finger out and get on with the final novel in the series, Pilgrims of the Pool!

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