Review by Daniel Grieve:
“My story will take you into times and spaces alike rude and uncivil. Blood will be spilt, virgins suffer distresses; the horn will sound through woodland glades; dogs, wolves, deer, and men, Beauty and the Beasts, will tumble each other, seeking life or death with their proper tools.” (The Forrest Lovers Pg.1)
The opening paragraph to this novel was one of the most intriguing openings to a novel I have read and it immediately gripped me from the start. The rest of the novel, however, did not give what had been promised with this opening statement. Although there are battles between “Beauty and the Beasts” very little blood is spilt and, during the most climatic battle of the novel, none is spilt whatsoever as Prosper le Gai (the main character in the novel) spares the life of the Dom Galors, the man whom had been pursuing him the entire novel. Therefore, after the build up through the entire novel to this duel, I was left feeling somewhat let down and wanting more from it than was given.
The novel is largely about Prosper le Gai and begins with him setting out into the forest in search of numerous adventures. His first begins with out running Dom Galors, a knight who accuses Prosper of murder after seeing him bury a dead body and continues to pursue Prosper despite his innocence. Prosper says outright from the start that there is “more than one adventure in life” than marriage and so it is very surprising when he meets a woman named Isolut la Desirous and proceeds to marry her in the same chapter! This is, however, merely to save her from an abusive monk whom she fears and he makes a point that the marriage was not for love. He then takes her along with him on his journey. Seeing the many good deeds he performs Desirous falls in love with Prosper but it is a love that Prosper does not reciprocate as he states that love is too fatiguing. The duration of the novel is then Desirous attempting to make Prosper fall in love with her as they outrun Galors. Desirous eventually runs away for fear he will never love her and is caught by Galors. She is saved from an unwanted marriage with him by the wedding ring on her finger. Prosper then, after dreaming Desirous is dead, wakes up and immediately sets out to save her. This results in a confrontation between Prosper and Galors. A duel commences between them that Prosper wins but spares Galors life. Prosper then takes Desirous back to West March, a town in which they had stayed previously, and acknowledges their marriage together leading to days of festival in the town. The novel ends with Desirous asking Prosper what he would like of her, to which he replies a child.
In terms of historical fiction it was difficult to place this book into a specific time period when first beginning to read it. Although it is obviously set during the Medieval period, due to it’s numerous references to Knights, Castles and Chivalry, no specific date is given. It was not until page 85 when I managed to work out a more specific time period as it states “Prosper had learned a trick from his father, which he in turn had had at Acre from the Moslems” (The Forrest Lovers p.85). Even then it remained slightly ambiguous and it was only thanks to studying the Crusades during college that I knew of the battle between the Moslems and Crusaders at Acre and was able to place this novel’s setting in a time just after the First Crusade. In regards to this the novel was very light with the history and very heavy with the fiction. Indeed not one of the characters, castles, towns or monasteries were based on real historical events. This was not what I was expecting from such a novel and thought it would have been more interesting and entertaining if it had included more historical content and less fiction.
After performing a little background research of Hewlett I found he stated “The truth is, I write everything and approach everything as a poet—history, psychology, romance, novels, everything” (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33849). After reading this it became more apparent why this novel was so light on the history, for the descriptions of the people, forest and of nature in the novel were rather poetic, as Hewlett had clearly intended.
Overall, despite not being what I had initially expected, this novel was quite enjoyable. It was easy to read and entertaining in certain parts. For me it bore more resemblance to a fairytale than an historical novel due its stock characters of a knight in shining armor, damsel in distress, evil knight in pursuit of the good knight and the almost ‘happily ever after’ ending when Prosper acknowledges his marriage of Desirous and they live in West March together. The plot flows along nicely with Prosper going from one adventure to another but at times seems to repeat as a number of adventures are very similar where Prosper fights a wild beast or saves an innocent person. It is a good read if one is looking for something easy to follow which can be picked up and continued when chosen but if one is looking for depth in character and a plot to keep you gripped until the end I wouldn’t recommend this novel.