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Review: The Scribe by Antonio Garrido


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The Scribe
by Antonio Garrido (translated by Simon Bruni)


In eighth-century Würzburg, there aren’t many opportunities for young women. Thanks to her kindly, devoted father, Theresa has been blessed with an education and the ability to read and write. But the men willing to hire a female scribe are few and far between, so Theresa works for a parchment-maker. The town’s parchment-maker, a lecherous bully named Korne, sabotages Theresa’s test to become a full-fledged parchment-maker, and as they argue his workshop is accidentally set alight. Theresa escapes the flames and flees, afraid of Korne, and everyone believes she is dead. As Theresa finds new work as a scribe in another town, her father mourns the loss of both his daughter and a secret parchment, which was stolen the day of the fire. With an injured arm, he cannot complete the document, but if it isn’t ready before Charlemagne’s representative arrives in town the entire country will be in danger.

Closing in on six hundred pages, The Scribe is a densely packed novel about medieval life under the reign of Charlemagne. It depicts a harsh world, where women are treated dreadfully, beaten and subject to sexual harassment at every turn. Theresa’s survival as a single woman, without protection of husband or father, is miraculous. But then again, a woman in the right place and at the right time, with the right skills – well, perhaps it is possible that she could rise as quickly as Theresa does, thanks to the patronage of several powerful men.

At times, it seems as if the book is at war with itself. Alcuin of York, Theresa’s mentor, is something of a medieval Sherlock Holmes, and he spends much of the novel manipulating lesser-educated men in order to solve a mystery. He makes much of his powers of observation and deductive reasoning. Meanwhile, Theresa is often mooning over her love interest, a young man named Hoos who saved her from a pack of Anglo-Saxon rapist, and the purple prose of lovemaking clashes with Alcuin’s calculation and carefully-worded pronouncements. Of course, it is entirely possible that the text flowed a little better in the novel’s original Spanish, and that the fault lies with a problematic translation. Nevertheless, it feels like a romance novel and a mystery thriller are trying to unite under the umbrella of historical fiction, and the union of genres never quite works out.

To the credit of the author, it’s obvious that Antonio Garrido did a lot of research into daily life during the reign of Charlemagne, for the scenes in the workshop of the parchment-maker and the scriptorium of the abbey rink with authenticity. But the stilted translation and shallow characterizations of our heroes and villains made it difficult to be drawn into the book completely.

3 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Scribe, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.





Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Magician King (Th Magicians #2) by Lev Grossman
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: Bookmooch Journal: Cold as Ice
2010: News: Why Historical Romances Have Headless Women on the Covers
2009: Contest #6 Winner
Tags: ***, 2011, 2013, amazon vine, death, europe, fiction, germany, historical fiction, medieval, murder, mystery, r2014
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