As far as reviews go, they’re always difficult to write. There’s the need to present one’s thoughts about what you’ve read in a manner that is a) true to your experience of reading the book, b) at least a bit entertaining, and c) in your own unique voice. The most difficult thing to do? Well, that would be a) – especially when the review may turn out to be largely negative.
I’ve always tried to make my reviews as balanced as possible – after all, no novel in existence is perfect; there will always be aspects of the work that don’t hit the expected notes, that veer off the path, that make the reader blink and say either, “What? That didn’t make sense!” or “Oh, come on, that is so stereotypical it makes me feel sick.” One thing that I’ve always tried to remember is that my opinion (and it is just that, an opinion) won’t be shared by anyone else; well, it might, but not for exactly the same reasons. And as such, I shouldn’t be afraid to voice my opinions, especially when authors go to the trouble of sending either electronic copies or physical copies of their novels to me. I s’pose many people may read a certain review and think, “Hell, it’s obvious that that opinion was bought – it’s nice getting free books as bribes, huh?” and I won’t disagree with there definitely being reviewers of that ilk out there, but most of us try to be as fair and honest as possible. After all, if reviews generate purchases, then we have to be honest.
Sometimes, though, as I’m sure everyone knows, honesty can be painful, even when it’s not agreed with. So, with all this in mind, let’s get to the review.
The Caulbearer: Young Tierney is a thriller in the vein of The Da Vinci Code, a tale of an unfolding conspiracy that reveals hidden and potentially explosive facts. What is a ‘caul’, you ask? Well (and I didn’t know this at all – reading this novel is the first time I’ve heard of a ‘caul’), a caul is a covering of skin that an infant human is sometimes born with – it effectively covers the eyes, nose and mouth, and is attached to the infant’s head with loops of skin that hook around the ears. When an infant is seen to be born with a caul, doctors have to first cut incisions in the caul so that the infant can breathe, and then they proceed to remove the caul. Because it occurs so rarely, seeing a baby born with a caul is probably a frightening and inexplicable thing to see, and there seems to be quite a bit of superstition attached to it, and it is this caul around which the story revolves.
I won’t go into details (I don’t want to spoil those who’ll be reading the novel), but the novel follows a family from the time of Nostradamus all the way to our era; there is a prophecy that follows them and which certain members of the family are told about, so that the knowledge of the prophecy is never forgotten, and it is also a prophecy that groups such as the Roman Catholic Church and MI5 will do anything to either stop or find out about. Taken together, this all seems interesting and left me thinking, “Okay, this sounds cool – a pretty cool angle to write a conspiracy-thriller from,” but unfortunately the novel fails in many respects, and to be honest, I really struggled through it.
Lee may have imagined an interesting plot, but the actual writing left a lot to be desired. For example, sometimes a passage would be written in a way that confused me, or that raised questions that were never answered – ‘Within this package is my caul, Vladimir. It is the only way you can prove your identity and the only way the Brotherhood will accept you. Should you be captured along the way, it must be destroyed?’ My first question when I read this was, ‘If the caul isn’t Vladimir’s own caul, how does it prove his identity? Wouldn’t his master’s caul prove his master’s identity?’ Also, ‘the way’ is in italics – earlier in the book, ‘the way’ is in italics because it refers to something specific, but its use in this context is just plain confusing. The question mark at the end of the sentence is plainly something that slipped through during the proofing or editing, and I would have overlooked it, but it’s one of the earliest examples of similar errors throughout the novel.
Another thing that bothered me was how the plot-focus would change, moving from something that didn’t really seem important or inimical to the plot. For example, when the novel needed to focus more on the caulbearers and the reasons they had to remain hidden (and the lengths to which they went to do so), some of the focus shifted to bare-knuckle fighting; a bit too much of the focus, in my opinion. Whereas these scenes could have been used to add more characterization or more of a sense of place, they seemed to only bog down and slow down the narrative. Some things didn’t make sense only because they weren’t explained at all – such as how a family known for being good bare-knuckle fighters can gain a lot of influence and make a lot of money.
Sometimes characters acted very strangely, for example one of the characters closely connected to Young Tierney himself almost drowns, and instead of panicking and fighting, she thinks about sleeping – this would have worked if there was some kind of characteristic unique to her, or some psychological condition that led her to not panic in a situation that could lead to her death, but there was no explanation. I just can’t see someone who realizes that they might drown in the next few seconds wanting or wishing for sleep – wouldn’t there be a panic-fuelled fight for air? To breathe? It just doesn’t make sense.
There are, regrettably, many similar instances in the book and much of the time I was, honestly, incredulous.
Now I hear you asking, “Why did you carry on reading, then?” Well, the plot itself, the foundation-plot or major plot, kept me reading – it was interesting enough that I wanted to know what would happen next, and that I can only congratulate Lee for. The concept of the Caulbearer is interesting, as is the concept of a family who knows the special significance of a caul (the Tierney clan, in the novel), and also to Lee’s credit, towards the end of the book there was some very clever placing of red-herrings and an ending that I didn’t see coming at all, which definitely went a long way to helping me to decide that I would, in fact, like to read the rest of the series. I was left interested and curious enough, and that, too, I can congratulate Lee on. Yes, the book does have many flaws, but in the end the story pulled me through.
So, would I recommend that you read the book? Definitely! I did say that this review is my opinion of what I’ve read, and I’ve stated the reasons why I have the opinion I do – when you read the book, you may disagree completely; it’s one of the reasons I’ll never say ‘Don’t read this book’, because even though you may be reading this review to help you decide what to read next, the decision is ultimately yours.
I’ll give this book a strong 6 / 10, and I’m looking forward to reading the next two novels. 🙂
To order the book, click here for Amazon US, here to order from Book Depository, and if you’re in South Africa, clisk here to order from Loot.
If you want more info on Lee and his work, head on over to the blog here, and to get a preview of the book, check this out.
Until next time,