Historical fiction, it can be many things, all depending on the mix of the recipe. It can be dry and stale as an actual textbook or as flavorful as the finest genre fiction. As with all other literary treats, it often comes down to what ingredients the chef throws in and how skillfully they cook it all up. Today’s treat is a dish that looks to the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the tale of two brothers essential to the success of his first voyage.
Before we take apart the layers and taste the gooey centers, let’s recount the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
What is, at first blush, a tasty lure for Brothers is its look into the truth behind the common myths many have about Columbus’ voyage in 1492. Now, for those up to date with their history, this isn’t a surprise, but there is much more to the tale than ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492’. Mr. Knight whips up in this literary concoction a more complete telling of the tale, hewing closely to historical fact, allowing fiction to come in to flesh out those things unknown to history.
On one layer, Mr. Knight succeeds. There is a wealth of historical information here and, considering the history, he draws fair conclusions about the luminaries involved in this voyage, as well as adding a few wholly fictional characters to provide some additional viewpoints. Technically sound and historically accurate, Brothers delivers on the ‘historical’ front of the historical fiction recipe.
The problem is that the fiction aspect is rather bland. In this I mean that the fictional elements introduced are written rather clumsily and have no real spark of flavor. The narrative is unfocused, bouncing between the thoughts and intimations of its characters freely, as well as being a bit fast-and-loose with continuity, sometimes summarizing a series of events before then skipping back to explain them in detail. These parts read almost exactly as an actual history text would as opposed to a fictional tale about historical events.
This dry, textbook-like style, while sound in terms of wordsmithing, makes the reading itself similar to chewing through slightly-dried cupcakes. There’s some flavor there and you can recognize the value of it, but it’s so dry and crumbly that it becomes harder and harder to digest as your progress. Also, the dry style and sometimes overwrought nods to explaining precise historical facts kill the pacing with a volley of cannon fire. Brothers hews so closely to its academic roots that the recipe itself creates something more textbook than gripping fiction.
There is really little else to say. Forgotten Brothers is a technically-competent but somewhat flat piece of historical fiction, interesting in its facts but bland in its fiction. If you’re curious as to a more in-depth exploration of Columbus’ voyage and the famous Pinzon brothers, you should look this up. If, however, you are looking for an intriguing piece of historical fiction, you’ll walk away from this meal with an unsatisfied tummy.
FINAL VERDICT: *** (A competent but flat piece of historical fiction, interesting in facts but bland in fiction!)