The Black Rose sheds light on three cultures

In The Black Rose novelist Thomas B. Costain takes readers back into the Dark Ages with a romantic tale that sweeps from England to China.

The bastard son of a Crusader, Walter of Gurnie hopes to make a fortune in the Far East so he can come back to England and be somebody.


The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain

Doubleday, Doran, 1945. 403 pages. 1945 bestseller #5, 1946 bestseller  #8. My grade: B-.


 

Walter  gets caught up in the common people’s fight for justice against the nobles.

Dust Jacket of The Black Rose
This novel was on my parents’ bookshelves.

When their role becomes known, Walter and his sidekick, Tristram, skeedaddle.

Walter and Tristram hook up with a caravan led by Mongolian General Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. The party includes 81 girls being sent as a present to Kubla Khan.

Walter and Tristram help Maryam, a girl sired by a Crusader, to escape. Walter marries her.

The trio make a fortune in China.

Then the men get separated from Maryam and return without her to England.

The Black Rose would be worth reading just for its comparison of the cultures of West, Middle-East, and Far East in later 13th century.

Neither the characters nor the plot is believable, but Costain moves things along quickly so readers don’t have much time to notice. The result is an entertaining novel with some educational value slipped in.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Tontine tests readers’ endurance

Always prolix, Thomas B. Costain outdoes himself in The Tontine.

It is a dreary novel on an epic scale.


The Tontine  by Thomas B. Costain

Doubleday ©1955.  2 v. Illus Herbert Ryman. 1955 bestseller #9. My grade: C-.


London businessman Samuel Carboy smells a scam in the 1815 Waterlook Tontine. He intervenes to save investors’ money—and milk the scheme in a more civilized manner. Dust jacket of The Tontine shows four characters in 19th century dress against backdrop of an hourglass.

Carboy, his partner, and Carboy’s carriage driver each buy shares in the tontine for their children.

The story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the three families as they mess about on every continent until the tontine survivors dwindle to three: Isabelle Carboy, Julian Grace, and Helen Groody.

Interest in the tontine reaches fever pitch.

So much money is bet on the outcome that the British government fears attempt on the lives of the remaining trio.

Costain has so many plots and sub-plots, he can’t remember them all.

Sam Carboy’s milking of the tontine disappears without a trace.

Carboy’s son conveniently dies in America.

His grandson bankrupts his company—” hard times” is the reason Costain gives—and goes off to Africa to be heard of no more.

Julian Grace’s son disappears, too.

Too bad more characters didn’t disappear before they appeared in print: The Tontine is an awful novel.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Forgotten History Kept Forgettable inHigh Towers

High Towers is a bodice-ripping historical novel about a lovely lass who becomes one of the early settlers of New Orleans.

Felicite’s father dies on the voyage to Montreal in 1697. Her mother returns to France, leaving the child to be brought up in the new world.

Felicite is adopted by Montreal’s leader, Charles le Moyne.  Le Moyne arranges a marriage for Felicite with a rich Frenchman and ships her to New Orleans to marry him.

Felicite is already in love with a poor carpenter who has preceded her to New Orleans, but she’s willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the French colonies. Her new husband turns out to be too much of a brute even for Felicite’s patriotism.

Thomas B. Costain takes his plot and characters straight from the shelf with nary a variation on the standard pot-boiler romance.

The only novelty here is the historical setting. The le Moynes were a real family of 10 French-Canadian brothers who played a major role in keeping America from falling under Spanish domination.

Costain tries to weave all 10 brothers into this novel. The result is a forgettable novel about an almost forgotten period in American history.

High Towers
By Thomas B. Costain
Doubleday, 1949
403 pages
1949 Bestseller #7
My Grade: C+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Moneyman Gives Good Value

The Moneyman, Thomas B. Costain’s novel of 15th century French intrigue and counter-intrigue. is a much better novel than the tales of the Christian era for which Costain is famous.

“The Moneyman” is Jacques Coeur, semi-official financier for Charles VII. For years, Coeur manipulated French policy through the king’s mistress, Agnes Sorel. When Agnes becomes ill, Coeur must find a replacement so the king won’t turn to other advisers after Agnes dies.

Coeur finds and trains Valerie, a poor girl who looks like Agnes. When Agnes dies shortly after Coeur and Valerie visit her, the pair is charged with her murder. Coeur’s worst enemies are to be the judges at the trial; Coeur is not allowed to examine witnesses or call witnesses.

Right to the end I couldn’t figure out how Coeur and Valerie were going to get out of their predicament—and it mattered to me that they did.

Oddly enough, neither the plot nor the characters of  The Moneyman are unusual. In The Moneyman, however, Costain has woven them so well into the historical account of battles to evict the English from France that the plot and characters seem alive.

Rediscover The Moneyman. It’s still a great read.

The Moneyman
By Thomas B. Costain
Doubleday, 1947
434 pages
#2 Bestseller for 1947
My Grade: B+
© 2006 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Too many stories in Below the Salt

Below the Salt is a story within a story within a story—which is two stories too many even for an accomplished historical yarn-spinner like Thomas B. Costain.

The outside story is about a would-be novelist, John Foraday. Senator Richard O’Rawn, a man who jilted John’s grandmother years before, takes John on a jaunt to Ireland and England. John falls for the last of the O’Rawn family, a descendant of the Plantagenet kings. John also ghostwrites the Senator’s tale about an earlier Richard O’Rawn who was involved in the events that resulted in King John signing the Magna Charta and limiting his own powers.

Within that story is another story about an earlier Charta signed an earlier king and hidden by the O’Rawns for safekeeping.

Below the Salt gives a fascinating glimpse of medieval history, but as a novel, it’s a dud. Except for the historical figures, none of the novel’s characters is plausible.

The Senator says he wants his story to be a warning to modern Americans, but it’s never clear what the warning is.

As for the idea that the Senator is the reincarnation of a 12th century squire, well, even the Senator gives up on that before the book ends.

Below the Salt
By Thomas B. Costain
Doubleday, 1957
480 pages
#9 bestseller of 1957
My grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni