Readable, if highly problematic. And usually when the word “problematic” is bandied about, reviewers are considering subject matter or character/authorial point of view. My use of the word comes more from the way Dana Chamblee Carpenter has treated actual history in the service of her tale: abusively, to be blunt about it.
Going off on a bit of a tangent here, I used to edit a fan fiction site, that I also wrote for. Good fan fiction takes its setting and not only respects it but tells a terrific tale that makes you look at the world it’s set in a little differently, with more depth, perhaps, or color. It is good, solid writing and nothing to be sneered at. Bad fan fiction, on the other hand, comes in many shapes and forms. We’re all familiar with bad writing, or narratives that are clear wish fulfillment with no actual plot involved. But the really bad fan fiction, I always felt, was the stuff that bent the setting to the whims of the main character instead of using it to provide a framework for the imagination.
And in no setting is this more upsetting, I feel, than in actual recorded history. Granted, medieval Bohemia is not the best known of all historical epochs, but for fuck’s sake, it’s well-known enough that the liberties Ms Carpenter takes with actual history seem lazy to the point of being offensive. I could forgive her Nicholas’ parentage, I could forgive her the entire ridiculousness of Lady Emma and her subsequent marriage, but that final battle scene was a huge fuck no. That’s not what happened. You don’t get to fuck with history on that large a scale.
The best historical fiction imagines why actual people did what they did, or puts imaginary people into important times and situations in order to explore the milieu. It does not bend history in order to suit the entirely nonsensical story of a goddamn Mary Sue. Everything up to Houska was pretty good, but it all went downhill rapidly after that, and soon lost any pretense of having a meaningful plot (much less deep characters or suspenseful revelations.) There was just a lot of “and this happened, then this happened, then meander meander oooh climactic battle that makes no goddamn sense.” It’s almost like Ms Carpenter wrote each chapter according to how she was feeling that day, as a series of barely related sense impressions. Like with the wolf and the sculptures in the forest. I gave no fucks because none of it felt like organic plot growth but more like scenes shoehorned in to make a word count, or in this case, to fill in fifteen years till our irritating protagonist could do something else monumentally stupid.
And the ending was so annoying! My initial reaction was “oh gosh, I need to read the sequel” (to which, kudos, Ms Carpenter, your writing style is indeed engaging) but after reading the first chapter of The Devil’s Bible, I was just… repulsed. Bohemian Gospel plays fast and loose with history in order to set up a crappy modern-day “I’m so lonely and misunderstood” heroine. What a waste of an interesting premise. I should have paid more attention to the comparisons to Kostova’s The Historian, which was another exceedingly over-rated book, and skipped over this one.