A Flower for the Queen (Netgalley)

A Flower for the Queen was quite a disappointment. It’s described in its blurbs as an adventure story set in South Africa in the 1700’s, and just seemed like an overall fascinating story. I’ll never really know, I guess, because – as I seem to be saying a lot lately – the writing fought me, and – I don’t know, did I lose or did the book lose if I quit?

This is apparently a translation; if so, the author Caroline Vermalle was ill served. I trust things like “engaged the break of the coach” or “He always kept the small folding knife close to him, as a constant reminder than for its utilitarian value” will be fixed at some point (though this seems to have already been published), but phrasing is often awkward. “There was no escape from the sun as it bore down mercilessly on Ian Boulton and James Simmons.” Things like far too much confusion in where and why characters are described…”..The sullen quiet that had befallen the room”, when I can’t imagine the applicability of the word “sullen”… “Masson saw Forster steeped over in wretched humiliation”, which is odd in context and in general… This whole paragraph was confused:

“Whilst tall and of the same age, where Masson’s looks were unrefined and rough, Banks was remarkably handsome. Where Masson’s class and upbringing had taught him a reflex for deference, Banks deferred to no one, least of all Lord Sandwich, who stood opposite him. The corpulent First Lord of the Admiralty, who constantly dabbed at his forehead and upper lip with a silk handkerchief, was poured over the numerous technical drawings and plans that lay spread out on the desk between them.”

There is also a slightly bizarre disconnect in the way the story is told. It opens, italicized, with the book’s present day, which I did not make a note of: early 1800’s, and an old man (Francis Masson) nearly run over (or actually run over) (by the coach with the breaks), telling his life story to an aspiring journalist. Yet the life story is couched in such a way that this bookending makes no sense: the old man’s younger self is described thus: “His eyes were verdant sparkles, at odds with the serious and unsmiling face in which they were set. He was not younger than thirty years of age and was strongly built, but he pulled and fidgeted at his clothes.” There is a fair amount of detail of things that happen when Masson is not present. It doesn’t work. Why would all of Masson’s sparse possessions be “at least a full day’s journey away by stagecoach” from where he works?

And then there are the anachronisms. How is it that Masson and a young female friend call each other by their first names, when the girl’s mother calls him “Mr. Masson”, and how is it that they walk around holding hands? How is it that someone who can barely afford a change of clothes can manage to fill up a hemp sack with discarded drafts of letters? Paper was still pretty darn expensive in 1770.

Masson is drafted into a mission for the king and popped onto a ship, where “there were definitely those amongst his fellow diners who resented his presence and wondered why he wasn’t messing with the midshipmen or the marines.” He’s on a mission for the king. It seems a little odd he is so disrespected. It also seems odd that a small ship has a “chief scientist”; are there more, of whom he is the chief?

Disappointingly, this many problems were packed into just the small percentage I read. Then I decided that I had far too many other books waiting to spend any more time here.

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