‘The Black Book of Secrets’ reviewed by Eoin Sweetman

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The February Book of the Month, ‘The Black Book of Secrets’ by F.E. Higgins was recommended by Eoin Sweetman. He recently wrote a review of the book. Here’s his review, which should encourage everyone who hasn’t started yet, to get a copy of this gripping and hard-to-put-down read: 

Eoin’s Cover Design

Summary

‘The Black Book of Secrets’ is set in the late 19th century. The main character, Ludlow Fitch, grew up with his cruel alcoholic parents but runs away when they try to sell his teeth for money to buy drink. Ludlow stows away on the back of Jeremiah Ratchet’s horse and cart and arrives in the mountain village of Pagus Paruns. Here he meets Joe Zabbidou who offers him a job and a home. Joe is a pawnbroker but rarely makes any money. He owns a poisonous frog with yellow spots.

After a period of time, Joe invites people individually to his house and tells them to confide their deepest darkest secret which Ludlow writes into a black notebook. In return, Joe gives quite a substantial payment and swears never to tell a soul. Soon the whole town who were in debt to Jeremiah Ratchet begin to pay him back. This does bot suit him as he was always owed favours as well as money from the locals. 

Jeremiah turns sour on Joe and tells tales about how he has told their secrets. Joe is innocent and has done a lot for the village but the community is fickle and tries to drive Joe out of the village. On the night Joe is about to leave, Jeremiah tries to steal the Black Book of Secrets. While stealing it, he decides to take Joe’s beloved frog just in spite. However, the frog bites Jeremiah and he dies.

Joe and Ludlow run away for days and nights. Eventually they reach a secret place where Joe keeps all the black book of secrets he has written. He asks Ludlow to be his apprentice and eventually takes over from him.

Joe

Joe is a reserved man, and throughout his and Ludlow’s time together, he prefers to let Ludlow figure things out for himself if he can. Joe is a generous man but Ludlow finds he has many secrets to hide himself. Joe’s secrets unravel as the novel goes on. 

Ludlow

Ludlow is the main character. He has some of his parents’ bad stealing habits but Joe recognises the good loyal boy under a skin of petty crimes. For Ludlow, the trust he places in Joe is questioned many times but Joe always comes out on the good side. 

Recommendations

I would recommend this book to everyone with an interest in reading. At first glance the book may seem dark and you may not think it is your type of book, but stick with it. It has opened up a different type of book for me.

Thanks very much Eoin for that review. Well done, and no doubt you have encouraged many readers to pick up this fascinating book.

Review of ‘A Game of Thrones’ by Matthew Mollahan

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The book of the month at Franciscan College Gormanston is ‘A Game of Thrones’ by George RR Martin. Many of our students are currently reading  this book, or another one of the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series. Matthew Mollahan from 5th year has written an excellent review of this book. Here it is:

Introduction

How do you summarise an 800 page book? Well…

‘A Game of Thrones’ is the first in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R. R. Martin. It is set in a mythical, medieval world and takes place on the continents of Westeros and Essos. The majority of the story is featured in Westeros, a continent divided into seven kingdoms, each with its own ruling family. However, there is one king who rules over all The Seven Kingdoms whom everyone must obey. In Westeros, the power and honour of your family name is of the utmost importance. Seven powerful families aspire for The Iron Throne and control over Westeros. They arrange marriages, start wars, murder, and even wed brother to sister to maintain control over The Seven Kingdoms. The novel is told from the viewpoint of eight different people, so it may seem difficult to explain, however it can be roughly divided into three main intertwined story lines.

The first and predominant story line follows the honourable Stark family and their war with the wealthy, powerful Lannister house. When Brandon Stark, a boy of eight, unexpectedly stumbles across Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime Lannister’s incestuous activities, the siblings attempt to kill him to maintain the honour of their family name. He survives, however he can no longer walk, when they learn the boy survived, an assassin turns up in Winterfell to finish the job they started. At a later date his father Eddard Stark publicly accuses the queen of incest and adultery, claiming her son is not the true heir to The Iron Throne. He is accused of treason and executed. His eldest son Robb then declares war on the Lannisters.

The second story line follows Jon Snow, the illegitimate son of Eddard Stark who has sworn allegiance to the Nights Watch. This is a military order of rangers who have sworn oaths to defend The Wall – an eight thousand year old, seven hundred foot tall divide that was established to protect The Seven Kingdoms from the horrors of the north. We follow sixteen year old Jon on his journey with the Night’s Watch and discover what truly lies beyond The Wall.

The third story line follows 14 year old Daenarys Targaryen on the continent of Essos. Her ancestors were the ruling family in Westeros for 300 years. However due to corruption, her father “The Mad King” Aaerys was overthrown when she was a baby, so her older brother Viserys fled to Essos with her, and they were left with nothing. The only reason they survived was because of the respect their name commanded. To gain power, Dany was wed to a powerful nomadic king called Khal Drogo. As a wedding gift, she received three extremely rare dragons eggs. After her brother, husband and unborn child were killed, she strode into a blazing pyre with her dragon eggs, attempting to end her life. However she emerged unscathed with three new born dragons…

Characters

As I said, the story is told from the viewpoint of 8 people: Eddard, Catelyn, Robb, Sansa, Arya and Bran Stark, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister.

Eddard Stark

Eddard (Ned) Stark is the lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North and is later made Hand of the King by King Robert. He’s married to Catelyn Tully and has fathered 5 children with her: Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. He also has an illegitimate son called Jon, Jon’s presence in Winterfell causes friction with Lady Catelyn who sees Jon as a reminder of Ned’s infidelity. Ned is a loyal friend, an honourable man, and a dutiful and stoic leader. He commands great respect over the people he governs due to his generosity and righteousness. He does however, have a short temper, which is evident throughout the novel.

When he is appointed Hand of the King, he must travel south to King’s Landing. He becomes curious as to how the previous Hand died, so he begins to investigate. After Ned discovering that he was poisoned to hide the knowledge of Prince Joffrey’s true parentage, Ned publicly states that Joffrey is not the son of the late King Robert, thus not the heir to The Seven Kingdoms. He is charged with treason and imprisoned. Later on he is beheaded, an act which sparks war across Westeros, with the Starks seeking justice and several other powerful houses striving for power.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister is the wife or Robert Baratheon, and Queen of Westeros. She is noted for her great beauty, however she is not very popular, to put it nicely, even her husband loathes her. She is seen to be very demanding, cold, cruel and she’s never truly happy. The only people she cares about are her children and her brother Jaime. After king Robert’s death, she swiftly installs her son Joffrey as king of Westeros, even though he is not the rightful heir. When Ned confronts her about her adultery she vaguely replies “In the game of thrones, you win or you die”. She essentially runs the kingdoms through her son, whispering commands in Joffrey’s ear, however when Joffrey orders Ned Starks death, she is shocked and urges him to reconsider as it would not be diplomatic.

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion Lannister is more commonly known as “The Imp” due to his dwarfism. Because of his condition, he is not physically imposing, so he must use his money and his mind to retain respect. It’s clear from the outset that he is not like his siblings Cersei and Jaime, and he is by far the most intelligent character in the novel. He takes great interest in Bran Starks ‘accident’, and he develops a special saddle so the boy can ride even in his crippled state. However, Catelyn Stark wrongly accuses him of sending an assassin after Bran, and she takes him hostage. When Tyrion is released, he is made Hand of the King. His brilliant mind and his diplomatic reasoning are his outstanding features.

Evaluation & Recommendation

It’s true, eight hundred pages is a lot for anyone to attempt, but once you get into this book, there’s no getting out of it. You begin to read slowly at first, and eventually the chapters flow into one another. You reach the point where putting down the book is like removing a part of your own body and when you reach the final page you think to yourself “Was that really eight hundred pages?”.

I think this book is perfect for anyone who enjoys fantasy writing. It’s often compared to sagas like The Lord of the Rings, however I think it’s quite different from most fantasy novels out there today. It’s clear a lot of thought went into it. Every character has their weaknesses and their strengths, so there isn’t one “perfect” hero in the book, each character has their part to play. It’s not all-out war, there are alliances and enmities that are built and dissolved and that’s what makes this more complex than most novels.

This book isn’t for everyone, it has to be said, but if you’re a person who enjoys reading, and you’re fond of the fantasy genre, this is perfect for you. Personally, I really enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be reading the next book, in the saga. However I can understand how it wouldn’t be someone’s cup of tea.

Well done Matthew!