Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Scribe by Antonio Garrido - Another Epic Historical Novel Achievement! Out Today!

Year of Our Lord 799
  Citadel of Wurzburg, Franconia

And the Devil Came to stay...

Theresa and Gorgias were on the way to work, when they had been attacked and Gorgias hurt. Theresa has worked on it a little but they quickly took him to the surgeon...

It's the same every day, he said without lifting his eyes from the wound. Yesterday someone found old Marta on the low road with her guts cut open. And two days ago, they found Siderico the cooper at the gate to his animal pen with his head bashed in. And for what? To stead God knows what from him? The poor wretch couldn't even feed his children. Zeno seemed to know his trade well. He stitched flesh and sutured veins with the dexterity of a seamstress, spitting on the knife to keep it clean. He finished with the arm and moved on to the rest of the wounds...
Will he recover? Theresa butted in.
He might. Though, of course, he might not. The man roared with laughter, then rummaged in his sack until he found a vial containing a dark liquid. Theresa thought it might be some kind of tonic, but the physician uncorked it and took a long draft...
Theresa;s father was coming round. She ran to the side to stop him from sitting up, but Gorgias would not listen to reason. As he moved, he grunted and winced with pain. After he managed to sit up, he briefly rested before opening his. With his health arm, he nervously kept looking around as though something was missing. His irritation growing, he tipped the contents of the bag onto the floor. Quills and styluses scattered across the pavement. Who took it? Where is it? he cried.
Where is what? Korne asked.
Gorgias stared at him with a wild look, but he bit his tongue and turned his head. He rifled through the instruments again and then turned the bag on its head. When he was sure nothing was left in it, he walked over to a nearby chair, slumping into it. Closing his eyes, he whispered a prayer for his soul.
The Scribe
By Antonio Garrido
Translated by Simon Brani

I met this author through The Corpse Reader. That fantastic book already brought over 200 individuals from across the world to Book Readers Heaven, but if you haven't read my review yet, check it out! Each of these are so unique in their story line that I can't compare the two. So I'll just say I loved them both! You know, when I say that about a historical novel, which is not my favorite genre, and it is also well over 600 pages, well, you should acknowledge I'm not joking! This author sends his books to us from his home in Spain, where The Corpse Reader was the recipient of the Zaragoza International Price for best Historical novel published there.

Gorgias had been commissioned with a very important job to translate a parchment on behalf of Charlemagne.
It had been stolen when they were attacked!

Theresa was a very fortunate woman for those living at that time. She had been taught to not only read and write, but to do most of what her father's trade was. She was working at a local shop and was due to take an exam the very morning that they had been robbed. Now instead of several witnesses, Korne, her boss was able to administer the test...

Let's just say that Theresa was in the same boat as women throughout history. The men were jealous and afraid of her being able to handle their jobs, so her boss was now going to make sure that she didn't pass the exam! He started what ultimately resulted in his shop being totally burned down and one of his sons killed. Of course he blamed Theresa. She had managed to escape but a young street girl had been there that day and she was also killed; everybody thought Theresa had died...

Theresa knows that she must leave her home town, alone and the story splits at that point to follow her in her travels. At the same time her father, not only has lost the document he was to work on, but his injuries prevent him from working at all. He starts to make excuses, trying to figure out what to do. Ultimately he is imprisoned; forced to work within the home of the local official, deep in the center part where nobody knows he is. Between mourning for the loss of his beloved daughter and being taken from his wife, with little food, he sinks into poorer and poorer health.

Here you have your test, he said, and he opened the latticework lid that protected the pool. "Make ready the skin and you will earn the qualification you so crave.
Theresa's lips tightened. Scraping and preparing the skins was not a task befitting a craftsman, but if that was what Korne wanted, she would not disappoint him. She walked over to the edge of the pool and observed the layer of blood and fat floating on its surface. Taking a space, she pushed the remains left by the caustics to one side and fished around for the skin that she would work on. But after several attempts, she still could not fin one. She turned with a look of puzzlement on her face, demanding an explanation.
It's in there Korne, Korne indicated toward the deepest pool.
Theresa walked over to the pool that received the skins just as they had been torn from the animals. Carefully, she took off her boots. Then she gathered up her skirt and stepped into the water, holding her breath.
Scraps of skin and clots of blood floated in the bath, intermingling with the filth of the maceration pool. under the attentive gaze of the crowd, she lowered herself until the liquid reached her stomach. The cold made her groan.
She waited a moment before taking another deep breath and letting herself sink into the depths of the pool. For a blink of an eye she disappeared underwater, but she quickly emerged with her head veiled in grease. Spitting, she wiped the filth from her face. Then she plunged further into the center of the bath, pushing away the floating detritus. The lime stung her skin under her clothes and the ice number her bones. Under her bare feel she could feel a bed of slime. And she groped the surface like a blind woman looking for a rail to cling to. But she kept going, feeling her way forward as the water lapped against her chin.
Suddenly she bumped into something under the water, and her heart missed a beat. When she managed to calm herself down, she felt the object with her foot to try to identify it. For a moment she thought about giving up, but she remembered her father and everyone who had believed in her. She filled her lungs with air and submerged as her hands touched the object. Its sticky feel made her want to retch, but she suppressed her revulsion and continued to run her hands over the thing until she found a string of beads that felt like little shingles. She felt along the line and after a moment of uncertainty, she realized with horror she was grasping a row of teeth. She almost opened her eyes in fright and would have been blinded forever by the lime, but she kept control of herself. She let go of the jawbone and went up for air, gasping, her face flushed red as the Devil's. As she coughed and spluttered vomiting water, the remains of a putrid and deformed cow's head bobbed up in front of her...

Theresa on the other hand, has found her way to a distant town and fortunately connected with a man who needs both her skills of reading and writing. For quite some time, she is happy there... But that was after she had been saved along the road and fallen in love with a man whose family she knew...

Sure, you can keep track of the missing parchment--actually Theresa had taken her father's pouch when she left home but didn't know the document was hidden in it... She later raises all sorts of issues about what it really is...

Alcuin was the monk for whom she started to work. I doubt it was intended by the author, but I found this character somewhat like Sherlock Holmes as he got lost in the mystery of this or that. It seemed he was involved in all the intrigues that were happening and the man who she loved told her not to trust him. Indeed, readers will see and hear some questionable things, but like Holmes, Alcuin is all about solving the mystery, planning through the actions that must happen so that something else will happen. I admit that, even recognizing what he was doing, didn't always help to be sure that good was going to win!

In addition to Alcuin, I enjoyed all the characters, including a bar maid that welcomed Theresa into her home, as well as the first family that had found her...

Working the way through this maze will take time, especially if you allow yourself to get to know each of those who got involved. Theresa and her father were committed to each other, but if it hadn't been for others, they would not have survived at this time of high tensions and little food. In the end, however, it is Garrido's meticulous attention to detail that pulls his readers into the stories. Myself, I'd like to have given Krone, Theresa's first boss, a kick or two where it...hurts!

A really fabulous, and yukky, look at how parchments were first handled and used for paper. Historians, don't miss this one! Highly recommended.



A native of Spain, a former educator, and an industrial engineer, Antonio Garrido has received acclaim for the darkly compelling storytelling and nuanced historical details that shape his novels. Each is a reflection of the author's years of research into cultural, social, legal, and political aspects of ancient life. Garrido's The Corpse Reader, a fictionalized account of the early life of Song Cí, the Chinese founding father of forensic science, received the Zaragoza International Prize (Premio Internacional de Novela Histórica Ciudad de Zaragoza) for best historical novel published in Spain. His work has been translated into eighteen languages, and The Scribe is his second publication in English. Garrido finds his inspiration when he writes in his studio at the Cullera bay, watching the deep blueness of the Mediterranean Sea.

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