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Q&A | August 19, 2014

Richard Kadrey: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Richard Kadrey

Describe your latest book. The Getaway God is the sixth book in the Sandman Slim series. In it, the very unholy nephilim, James Stark, aka Sandman... Continue »
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John Lowe has commented on (7) products.

Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (C. 1050-1134) by William M. Aird
Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (C. 1050-1134)

John Lowe, November 24, 2012

This remarkably insightful biography has been touted as one of the most sympathetic and complete assessments of the life of Robert, Duke of Normandy to date, and I must agree. Aird attempts the reconstruction of the duke’s life which admittedly is very sketchy in the primary sources, and at the same time illuminates the backdrop of Norman society and its incorporation into the kingdom of the Franks. Aird presents a narrative account following the adventures of William the Conqueror, Robert’s birth and childhood, and advances through the major events to touch Normandy until the duke’s death in confinement at the hands of his duplicitous brother, Henry I.
The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis serves as the primary source for Robert’s life and deeds, and Aird spends considerable time problematizing this source, demonstrating for his readers the usefulness of contemporary accounts and the pitfalls due to personal biases, hindsight, and politic expediency. That said, Aird also typifies in his work the need for medieval historians like any scholars working with limited resources, to look at a source from every angle and to continue to ask questions that establish context and logical conclusions. From a compositional point of view, the reader is much gratified to find well researched and annotated footnotes that establish Aird’s well-formed case for a reevaluation of the life and deeds of Robert.
It is hard to establish Aird’s primary thesis other than in vague points that the reader can establish through the work. First, Aird upholds Robert’s right to the kingdom of his father and the unscrupulous acts of his brothers. Second, the argument is made that Robert’s rule of Normandy was more structured and better than has been handed down by contemporaries. Third, personal piety and the heroic participation in the First Crusade by Robert did not establish any permanent and positive results other than his popularity. Finally, Robert simply was not as ruthless as his brother Henry, and his somewhat naïve and trusting personality was not equipped to deal with the necessary amount of corruptness required to rule in the latter eleventh century. These points combined paint a picture of a tragic individual, and one whose role in Norman politics and medieval relevancy needs to be reexamined.
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King Stephen (English Monarchs) by Edmund King
King Stephen (English Monarchs)

John Lowe, November 24, 2012

In tackling the history of King Stephen of England (1135-1154), Edmund King engages his readers in a discussion of the failure of a dynasty, and the roots of an English civil war in the early 12th century. Biographical but topical in nature, King examines the events of the disputed English crown from the point of view of a moderate outsider. Henry of Huntingdon and William of Malmesbury speak for the author, who in his turn tries to identify the feelings of the English and Norman nobility who form the backdrop of the drama of rights to succession.
King demonstrates well the sympathetic situation of Stephen, by arguing alongside his subject that indeed it was the nobility who feared for their landed rights at the death of King Henry I (d.1135), who were responsible for elevating Stephen to the crown. Ignoring the rights of the late monarch’s daughter Matilda and her son Henry Fitz Empress, King argues throughout his work that Stephen was elected more or less as a powerful figurehead of the designs of the nobility. Passive, pious, and in love with pageantry, King describes a monarch whose power base derives not from himself, but from his strong willed queen Matilda of Boulogne, his brothers Henry of Winchester and Theobald, Count of Blois. The eventual loss of the crown to the future Henry II is described as the result of failures of a single man, and the mitigation of powerful magnates wanting peace within their poverty and war stricken domains.
King’s arguments are substantive and well documented, and his conclusions seem to hit the mark. His main subject is rarely quoted in the whole work, arguably to substantiate his claim that the king was slow to uphold even his own rights, but it appears to give a disadvantage to the work. The reader could use more information on the king’s actual activities, charters and words to better understand King’s thesis that the Stephen rarely raised his voice, let alone got listened too by his subjects. This one drawback underscores the whole work, which really accomplishes its goal in describing the priorities of the English and Norman nobility and the scramble to gain and keep power in 12th century England.
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