You can definitely have too much of a good thing, and it’s intended that this sentence refers to sex.
First Published: 1st June 2013
Date Reviewed: 27th June 2013
Alex and Matthew are back at Hillview but as the family grows and tries to enjoy life, soldiers keep visiting to investigate Matthew’s aiding of Presbyterian ministers. It’s true that Matthew is helping, but he cannot give up his faith and friends, no matter what Alex says. And with his son/nephew Ian spending much of his time at Hillview, issues with Luke might come to a head again.
The Prodigal Son is the third book in the Graham saga, but whereas Like Chaff In The Wind was rather good and suggested that this goodness would only get better, a backwards step has been taken. Whilst both the previous books (A Rip In The Veil was the first) suffered from editing errors, a lot of violence, and a bad use of language, unfortunately here these issues have doubled.
The most obvious of these is the writing. There are many editing errors, but more to the point the language Belfrage uses darts back and forth between an over-the-top Scottish dialect, historical language, some sort of nineteenth-century speech, and 21st century phrasing. Whilst the 21st century phrasing works, because Alex is from our present day – and the phrasing works for the children, too, as children emulate their parents – the rest makes the book disjointed. There is also a continual issue with people being relegated to things by the usage of the word ‘that’ when referring to them, in the particular way that absolutely needs to be ‘who’ in order for the sentence to work. Though the good thing is that there are very few questions ending in ‘no?’ this time around.
Undeniably, considering it forms the book’s basis, the best aspect of the previous books was the time travelling, the scene change between Stuart Scotland and 21st century Britain. There is no time travelling in this book and it is a shame because it was the most compelling aspect of the series. In relation to this there is but one short instance of Alex remembering her fatherless son, Issac, who decided to remain in the 21st century, and despite the fact that Alex doesn’t love Issac as much as she ‘should’, it is hard to accept that she wouldn’t be thinking of him, especially considering she often brings her father, Magnus, into conversations. There is a particular episode in this book that unfortunately underlines just how important to its success it is for Alex to remember Issac, as Alex becomes incredibly emotional towards another of her children. Alex may not have had the best ‘start’ with Issac, may even have resented his existence, but she would remember him from time to time.
The episode that causes intense emotion may divide readers. Just as it seems something very interesting is about to happen Belfrage makes a decision that can only be called convenient.
And it is convenient due to the next point that needs to be made. There is no true plot to this book. It is repetitious from start to finish – soldiers come to interrogate, Alex and Matthew have sex, Alex stops talking to Matthew, over and over again. The final resolution is minor. It’s nice that the story stays on the farm and that the family isn’t apart for any length of time, because the previous books already covered separation, but there is really not much going on apart from what has just been listed. If not for the repetition the state of the plot wouldn’t be so bad because of the character development (to be discussed shortly).
Sex scenes can be a wonderful addition to a book, they can contribute to character development and signify the love the couple shares, but here there are far too many of them. The scenes are all very similar, down to the phrasing. It’s wonderful to know that after nine years Alex and Matthew are still in love and lust but Belfrage infers that perfectly well in the dialogue, having the curtains open every night lessens the impact.
Again there is a lot of violence. In some ways just as extreme as before, in some ways less, but it’s the number of scenes that makes it difficult. Indeed it’s realistic, the law and justice were not at all like they are today, but when blended with the rest of the repetition it just becomes another filler element.
Thankfully the book has great characters, good enough to rise above the dialogue. Naturally, considering the amount of sex and the absence of contraception (and Belfrage does make the necessary point that the couple wants each other so much that timing sex would never happen) there are a lot of children in the book. Each child is very different and flourishes whenever the focus is upon them. And Belfrage continues to develop the historical characters in the manner you would expect considering their exposure to a time traveller. This is where the 21st century language comes into its own, where ‘okay’, Matthew’s understanding of the concept of reality TV, and children saying “so, too!” are brilliant additions. The family is a lot of fun and Ian’s story a fine idea.
Included in this time travelling influence is the strict level of hygiene Alex employs that works well except in times when people with or exposed to consumption are around and the woman doesn’t bat an eyelid. Baths are taken, vegetables are eaten, and people survive what are now easily fixable ailments thanks to her knowledge. And Alex’s education is in full swing here, the knowledge Belfrage referred to before is displayed in its glory.
And it must be said that Belfrage has made good use of the history. That she has researched her book is obvious, anyone familiar with the history will be delighted with the references, and those who aren’t familiar can rest assured that they can believe the information Belfrage gives them.
The Prodigal Son does not keep the promise made at the end of Like Chaff In The Wind, could do with another edit, and its filler-like feel is further cemented by the intriguing premise of the next book (suggested by the last pages). However the character development is good, the history fine, and it is hard not to like the set-up. If you have been enjoying the series you will likely want to read it, though it wouldn’t be too detrimental to skip it in favour of the fourth.
I received this book for review from the author for Historical Fiction Virtual Author Tours.
June 29, 2013, 12:03 pm
I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this instalment of the series as much. They’re is usually a weaker one in longer series’ so hopefully that’s this one. Here’s hoping the fourth instalment makes up for it.
June 30, 2013, 4:38 pm
Interesting. I’m not a “sex” book person, so sex scenes turn me off of a book unless there’s only like 1 or 2 involved. But if there are a ton (like 50 Shades) it’s a book I stay faaaaar away from.
-Rebecca @ Love at First Book