Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Publication Date: 19th Sept 2015
A copy of The Weight of Chains by Lesley Conner was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the publishers, Sinister Grin Press, in exchange for an honest review. This is said review.
I do enjoy getting ARCS from Sinister Grin Press. You never know quite what you are going to get because they do produce a very wide range of stuff. This one was no exception. This is the first I have read by Lesley Conner. In fact this is her debut novel. Knew nothing about it before reading it then discovered it was about a rather nasty little man from a long time ago in history.
The year is 1436. The place is Machecoul, France. Gilles de Rais is the Lord of Machecoul. He mainly stays in his castle. A dark and foreboding place. There are many rumours as to what goes on there and what he is actually like. Some say he is the greatest master in all of France. Some say he is a monster.
He tries to do his best by his people. He takes young boys from the town and sends them to Paris to be trained as pages, and to give them a better life. Some say the boys never leave the castle. He is, however broke and needs a way to get some money together to pay off debts and keep his lavish lifestyle.
Jeanetta, her brothers Jacques and Raul, along with her parents have recently moved there. She has no idea why and their life is much tougher in Machecoul. They have no money and no food and work is tough in those times for an eleven year old girl.
Bridgette and Celia are new friends who try to warn them about the master and what goes on in his castle. They should have paid attention.
Now if you know your history, or at least your history of evil men, then you may know something about Gilles de Rais. I’m not going to tell you here because that would basically ruin the story for you but if you have heard of him then you probably know where this story is going.
I had a couple of problems with this book. In general, to me, it read more like a historical fiction book than a horror. The subject matter will not be to everyone’s taste. Gilles de Rais was one of the most evil men in history, murdering possibly hundreds of people. No one knows for sure. It is horrific but I found it more, well, horrific, than horrifying. That disappointed me a bit. Another thing that disappointed me a bit was that it dragged a little bit. I think this would have been more suited as a novella length story. It felt as if it was padded out a lot to get the page numbers up.
Having said that, I really really liked the writing in it.
The characters in this book are great. Lesley Conner has a knack of making you feel as if you have known them all their lives instead of just being introduced to them in the book. Jeanetta is the main character. She is typical of a girl her age in those times. Hard working for the family, modest and polite and very aware of her place in the family and society. Gilles de Rais is as evil in this book as I have ever read about him in history books. It was quite strange reading about someone I have read about before in a story rather than factual books.
Jeanetta’s family are again all typical of the times. They are quite a close knit family and all gel together very well as written. Others to watch out for are the guard of the castle Poitou and the wizard Prelati. Again very well written in the story and you will end up hating these two as well even though Prelati is a victim of circumstance more than anything.
In terms of the plot? Well if you know your history then you will know what it’s about. This is where I didn’t envy Ms Conner one little bit. How do you write a fictional book about a prominent character from history without people jumping on the old “it didn’t happen like that” bandwagon? Well, she does it. She has made a very effective story out of the life of one of the most horrific men ever to have lived. Obviously a couple of things may be different to what the history books said but hey, this is fiction so who really cares?
The one thing I will tell you is Gilles de Rais dabbled in the occult. He was a mass murderer. Lesley Conner has based her story around this.
It could have been shorter. That is a personal thing. Don’t get me wrong, Lesley Conner can write. She paints a wonderful picture of the local and what life was really like for the people of that time. You do really feel as if you are wandering the streets with the characters and you do get a true experience of just how hard life was. You do feel quite sorry for the characters at times. I just wanted more “beef” in it. I wanted more horror. I wanted more hide behind the cushions moments.
To be fair, giving the subject matter, I can imagine it is a very hard subject to write about. There is plenty of blood and gore but the scenes I was dreading reading are not done in an over the top way. If that had been the way then I think I would have closed the book and given up. Gratuitous descriptions of exactly what is going on is not needed in a story like this and applause to Ms Conner for pulling that bit off. I just wanted more scares, more tension, more build up to big happenings, at times it was just too slow for me.
Again, having said that Lesley Conner can write. For that reason alone my score on this one is pretty high for general rating but not so for the horror rating.
For a debut novel I say Bravo! For a debut horror novel I say it needs more scares, more reading with one eye closed. I think it had so much more potential than it showed.
To summarise: an historical horror story using real characters from the past. Very atmospheric giving a real feeling of the times and the hardships people had to endure. Just needed to be either a bit shorter or beefed up a bit more. Definitely needed more horror. I will read more of Ms Conner though.
★★★.5 loved the writing style but needed more for me.
★★ horrific in ways but not really scary for me.
If you would like to help support Confessions of a Reviewer then please consider using the links below to buy The Weight of Chains or any other books from Lesley or indeed anything at all from Amazon. This not only supports me but also lets me know how many people actually like to buy books after reading my reviews.
Gilles de Rais has control over every aspect of his life: the servants he employs, the village he lords over, the carefully crafted visage he shows to the world. He dictates where his subjects live, what they eat, if they live or die. He has ultimate power and wields it with a flourish to conceal the dark desires that lurk behind his smile and the despair within his castle in Machecoul.
When a wizard tasked with raising a demon loses control of the beast, Gilles's tight grasp on his world begins to slip. His cook plans to flee, taking her son away from the dangers of the castle. His guard wants to claim Gilles’s lifestyle as his own. His wizard frantically searches for a way to survive both his lord and the demon he has called into the world. And the villagers – like Jeanetta and her family –move through life in Machecoul too consumed with the task of surviving day to day, and oblivious to the turmoil building within the castle that is threatening to break out and consume them all.
Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two dauhters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
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