I read this book because I’d been told that it was about time travel. This is a lie. As it turns out, it’s about a guy who lived in the Middle Ages and then got reincarnated into modern day (“modern day” means 1957, when the book was published). At least, I think that was how it worked. It didn’t make a lot of sense, honestly.
Anyway, the main character is John Foraday, who tags along with a guy named Richard O’Rawn to his ancestral castle in Ireland. Not bad so far, if a bit dull. But then the plot switches completely and what could be a whole new book starts up.
We are now in the year 1175. Life sucks for pretty much everyone. The new story follows Richard (the same Richard who’s going to be reincarnated in the 21st century) and his loyal servant Tostig around medieval England. They embark on a series of Manly Adventures that include winning tournaments, getting involved in politics that are probably very interesting but are rendered confusing and boring by Costain’s dry prose, and pining after various women (all of whom are very beautiful and very boring). Once the Manly Exploits plotline has been exhausted, we return to modern day and the story is quickly wrapped up in what amounts to one of the worst endings I’ve ever read. What do these two stories have to do with each other? If you guessed “fuck all,” you are correct.
Costain makes a very obvious effort to drill into his readers’ heads that the Middle Ages was not the glorified period of knights and chivalry and hot princesses that we think it is (although Costain’s book is overflowing with that stuff), and the modern world we live in is pretty awesome. A good example of this is the following quote, spoken after the signing of the Magna Carta (or Magna Charta, as Costain calls it for reasons beyond my comprehension): “My son, I am sure of this: that the right to vote will someday be given to every man and woman in this world, and that the voices of majorities will decide who are to be the rulers and by what laws and practices they are to rule. I may be the only man today on the green footstool of the Everlasting God who believes this. In this conference, with no appreciation of the meaning of what we do, we have taken the first firm and resolute step in that direction.”
I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, COSTAIN.
Verdict: one out of five stars