ARC provided by Simon and Schuster Children's Books through Netgalley
Frances was not a lovely girl which is why when her child is born small, dark, and hairy, much like her, she rebelled against her husband's family and servants who insisted the baby was a changeling who should be left in the woods in hopes that the fairies would return the true baby.
Unfortunately, weakened by childbirth, Frances was unable to stop them from taking her child. But when she goes to retrieve the baby's body from the unforgiving cold of the woods', another child is waiting in his place. A plump, rosy, golden haired boy. Not her boy.
This was a very compelling start, I really felt for Frances, married to a weak-minded and weak-willed husband who only cared for her riches, her child taken from her and replaced by a stranger. But we don't really follow Frances' story. We follow this golden child's: Barnaby. And the story was weaker for it.
Barnaby is not an interesting character. You'd think that, with such a past, there would be something compelling about him, but no. He is vain, proud, steals form the poor, thinks ill of his parents, is ungrateful, tries to make girls fall in love with him for a lark, and then feels guilty about everything he does wrong... and then does it again. What is the point of such character, when he doesn't learn from his mistakes, when there is very little growth to him throughout the entire story?
Then there is Naomi. Naomi is a farmer's daughter who saved Barnaby from drowning - an extraneous scene, one among many in the book - and then goes to work as a servant for his family. Their relationship is barely developed, since Barnaby is too busy being goaded into dares, hunting, and eating. Naomi doesn't even seem to care much for him, but apparently he cares enough to try and risk his life to save her from being charged of witchcraft.
There wasn't a single character in the whole book who was properly developed. There is Frances who all but vanishes after the beginning, showing up to scorn her usurper child and dote on her younger son. There is Henry, the weak husband and father who is fond of eating and drinking and dresses inappropriately. There is Abel, Barnaby's younger brother, whose single motivation is jealousy and who attempts to destroy the lives of everyone he dislikes, his brother's above all. There are other clichés from stories set in medieval times.
But there is never much more to them than what I wrote here.
At 304 pages there should be a stronger plot. There should be a solid mystery, a point to the whole thing. Instead the writing meanders through the daily lives of medieval merchants and servants. There were countless scenes which made me pay my utmost attention because they were so trivial I was sure they would have a hidden significance later on in the story. Not so...
If you are writing a book every detail should be there with a purpose. If you go on to mention a path of berries, a monstrous pike, or a day-long harvest by an inept merchant, the reader will assume these are relevant to the plot and not just writing for the sake of writing.
The setting barely feels like the Middle Ages... There are some stock references, and the ever present mention of witches and curses... there was more to day to day life in the Middle Ages than that (even though it would have been Renaissance by the date offered, since it feels even less like Renaissance, I'm assuming the author was going for a Medieval feel...).
As I mentioned, there wasn't much of a plot. There is a supposed changeling, a jealous brother, and accusations of witchcraft. From that sentence alone you can guess the whole plot.
It's a pity, because Naughton can write. Wasted potential in an aimless book.