I can’t recall who asked me the question, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
“Is contemporary or historical fiction more popular?”
Based on the recommendations in my favorite Facebook group, I guessed it would be contemporary. But guessing isn’t good enough. I wanted to know. So, of course, I did the only logical thing. I asked.
Okay, technically I set up a poll in the group. The last time I looked, historical won out over contemporary like two to one. That threw me. Someday I’ll take the time and find out the most popular era of historical fiction, but I’ll guess Victorian and WWII. We’ll see if I’m right, eh?
The synopsis didn’t exactly say that the book would be told in three different centuries, but it hinted at it. Who could resist historical and contemporary wrapped up in one book centered on an old castle in Ireland?
Not this gal.
So, I requested a review copy and waited for it to arrive. I promptly forgot to add it to my planner, too. Thankfully, a reminder notice came in time for me to spend the day reading. It’s a tough life. We soldier on.
Note: links are affiliate links that may provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you.
The Best and Worst Parts of Castle on the Rise
I’ve never read anything by Kristy Cambron before, and after this book, I’ll be reading lots more. In fact, while my daughter was setting up this blog post for me, I checked out her other books and two I’ve wanted to read for a long time are on her list of “other books by this author.” Ahem. I didn’t know.
So, if you enjoyed The Ringmaster’s Wife or The Illusionist’s Apprentice, well… you might want to skip my review and just go get this book (or the first in the series, The Lost Castle) and save yourself some time.
But I promised the best and worst parts—and since three things are equally divided between best and worst, that’ll make it easy!
First, there’s the description.
Kristy Cambron knows how to paint a vivid picture with words and, much to my delight, without extraneous words. Most of the time. While there were a few places where I felt like the description slipped a little too close to overdone, for the most part, it couldn’t have been more perfect.
This book spans three centuries… stories being told that eventually weave together at the end. You can see where they are going—what will happen, even—but you can’t as well. Okay, perhaps those very well acquainted with Irish history might be able to. I don’t know.
But here’s the thing. Without excessive “reentry” description, every time I turned the page into a different century, I felt as though I was there. That takes some serious talent. From the late-eighteenth century to early twentieth, to present-day, it all plays out before you without once feeling as though you’re in the wrong century. That alone is proof of authorial brilliance. Just sayin’.
Then there’s the writing.
Again, both the best and the worst parts of the book can be found in this element—the writing. The worst here is once more, just a quibble. At first, I thought it was an editing issue. After all, I read an ARC and those are often still being edited. However, I’ve peeked into the “Look inside” on Amazon to see if some of my issues were corrected, and they aren’t.
Call me old-school. I know it’s nitpicky (but hey, I have to say what is worst and nitpicky is as worst as it gets), but “alright” nearly drove me crazy. I even looked it up to see if rules about it have changed. As far as I can tell, nope. Alright is not considered acceptable in edited work. And it’s all over the place in here. Seriously, it’s the worst part of the book. Alright.
Told you it was nitpicky.
The other writing issue I have is that the book is almost exclusively written in third-person limited perspective—that of the main female character of the chapter. However, several times we’re treated to a self-description that just isn’t natural. That character wouldn’t make note of her hair color as she tucked it behind her ear. The only purpose to putting that descriptor in is so we as the reader can know it. Thankfully, she didn’t do the very over-used mirror trick, but still. It jarred me out of the story every time.
And for what it’s worth, I doubt anyone else would notice.
Aside from those two bothersome bits, the writing both kept me enthralled and kept the story moving forward.
Note: this is not a fast-paced book.
Thank goodness. Seriously, a story like this shouldn’t be whizzed along on a high-speed train, and Ms. Cambron had the good sense to know that and write it with just enough tension-filled moments to keep it from lagging while not forcing it into an unnatural pace. This takes skill to do. Many authors would have dragged it on like a Dickens novel. Thank goodness that didn’t happen.
I think the shift to a different time period each chapter helped with that. Her variation from contemporary, to WWI, to 1797, and back to present-day adds to the pacing and also allows her not to have to add fluffy filler to any one section. We get just the pertinent bits played out on the page as if a movie scene, and then we cut away to the next action. It’s wonderfully well-done. I am not sorry that I requested a review copy. Can you tell?
Finally the spiritual content
In this element, we have both the weakest best and the strongest worst. The nuggets she planted into this book are solid and valuable. Then, she sprinkled a little gold dust here and there in subtle ways that, if you weren’t looking for them, you might miss. I’m so glad I was looking, and I strongly recommend readers do it. In this sense, her biggest strength in the spiritual area is that she used the story itself to preach the sermon without even drawing faith into it some of the time.
And as I said, it’s also the weakest part. If I had not been scouring the book for it, I would have likely missed some of the best elements. I don’t know what made me do it, but I’m glad I did.
So, if the spiritual content is important to you in your Christian fiction, I recommend reading with a keen eye. I enjoy subtlety in how faith is woven into the pages of my fiction, but this is really subtle. I suspect that in trying not to get into the Catholic vs. Protestant debates in Ireland, she did this deliberately. If that’s the case, I understand why, but I’m not sure any of the things she seems to be trying to convey would have fallen strongly on either side, so I don’t know that she needed to be so… discreet?
Would I recommend Castle on the Rise?
Absolutely. A caveat for those bothered by divorce and potential remarriage—it’s a thing here. I thought Ms. Cambron did a fabulous job of showing a realistic portrayal of divorce and what it does to people. I can’t say more without giving away spoilers. If changing timelines are a problem for you, this book may not be your cuppa (or should I say Guinness)?
However, Since they rotate in consistently spaced intervals (they rotate every other chapter—present, 20th, 18th, present, 20th, 18th… etc.), I didn’t find it difficult at all. And, each one is labeled with the year in case you’ve forgotten what’s next.
With a delicate, authentic writing hand, fine attention to detail and historical precision, enough creative license to keep the plot moving, and wonderful characters that I didn’t want to say goodbye to, Castle on the Rise has made a fan out of me.