As an author I am not unique in valuing feedback from actual readers and for the most part I have to admit that it has proven a rather positive experience. Every now and again, however, you come across something that is now so encouraging. The review, and I use that term very loosely here, reproduced below was posted just prior to Christmas on Amazon UK:
3.0 out of 5 stars FRUMBYRDLING
By Hondo on 21 December 2017
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Methinks, mayhap, that thee may find yon book reads a little like a 1950s Arthurian or Robin Hood film. Thou mayest feel that olde fashioned language adds to the atmosphere … I didn’t, I found it grating, especially “mayhap” which was unknown before 1531 .. yes I had did look it up it annoyed me that much!
I found the points of view shifts between characters didn’t always take the story forward or help with character development.
The premise had promise but proved predictable. I was a little disappointed.
I felt it necessary to respond and replied with this:
Hondo, I am sorry that you did not enjoy reading my book. Since I first read your review, I have taken the time to consider your points and I would like to respond to them now.
It is not unusual for writers to create a particular idiom for historical novels to present a more distinct feel to their work. Using modern language would be incorrect in the world of 1066 but using Old English would have been very difficult and probably limited the appeal of the book to a very small audience. Of the words you used in your review, the following appeared in my novel as follows: ‘methinks’ once, ‘mayhap’ ninety-eight times, ‘thee’ fifty-five times, and ‘yon’, ‘thou’, ‘mayest’, and ‘olde’ did not appear at all. In a work of approximately 100,000 words ‘mayhap’ makes up less than 0.1%, which hardly suggests that it renders the prose ‘olde fashioned’. To state that the word was unknown prior to 1531 is also incorrect. As with many words, we can only guess at when they first came into usage based on the earliest surviving written example. Like the fossil record, the literary record is incomplete and not wholly reliable, especially in respect of oral cultures. In the case of ‘mayhap’ I claim artistic licence as an author; I simply felt that it sounded better than ‘perhaps’.
Utilising various different points of view seemed necessary in order to explain the motivations of the principal historical characters and how their choices impacted upon the people, represented within the book by the fictional characters that I created. I am aware that this style of writing does not please everyone but the nature of the project, recounting the three major battles of 1066, seemed best served by this approach.
As to the premise proving predictable, well it is a work of historical fiction. I mentioned in my author’s notes at the end of the book that I had tried to represent the events truthfully, to that end I invested a lot of time in researching them. As a work of historical fiction ‘The War Wolf’ is inevitably constrained by those same historical events. I wished to maintain a significant degree of integrity in the book and I chose to write a truthful account accordingly. The only way I could have produced a different ending to the Battle of Fulford Gate would be by opting to write an alternative history novel, but that is an entirely different genre.
For anyone who is unsure the title of Hondo’s review, ‘Frumbyrdling’, refers to a boy growing his first beard. Personally, I failed to see the relevance.
I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Hondo’s comments. Amazon Customer Reviews are public and do have an impact on prospective readers choosing to by your book but there is very little compliance with regard to the customer producing a balanced account. I do not believe that Hondo did this. In fact their review suggests that I used a lot of archaic language, which was not the case and I was able to prove this. The observation that the premise was predictable suggests that they do not understand the historical fiction genre. In my experience readers are often most critical when an author veers away from established fact, not when they adhere to it.
Clearly, customer reviews are two-edged swords. This is only the second one that I have received that has proven less than useful, so I suppose that I am rather lucky in that respect. Nevertheless, after having spent so long working on the book it does grate somewhat when someone comes along and disparages it with just a few lines of ill-considered and unsubstantiated negativity in barely five minutes!