Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Diana Vieira - The Heir of Monsaraz

Comment: I borrowed this book recently, for the person who lent it to me sometimes thinks about books I might like to try and I will confess that some make me curious and others not so much, but I feel guilty if I say no without a valid reason (like having read it already). Anyway, I had never heard of this author and I decided to not investigate so that my opinion would not be influenced. The title can be literally translated to "the heir of Monsaraz". Nowadays, Monsaraz is both a region and a city in the southeast area of Portugal.

In this historical story, set in the 14th century in Portugal, we follow a small group of friends as they deal with challenges and difficulties in their lives, while trying to help one another. The main character, Duarte, is the oldest son of an influential man in the region of Monsaraz, but he dies and his children all all minors, which means a tutor needs to be chosen. Suddenly, when Duarte thought his future and of his siblings will be helped by a close family friend, a will comes out nowhere, naming a man as tutor whom Duarte knows is not a good person and he even suspects him of having devised his father's death. Since he has no proof the decision is made, but Duarte and his friends know it will only be a matter of time until this man takes control of his family's legacy...

This is a long book, more than 600 pages and while reading there were two things that kept circling in my head: first, the realistic choice of having the main characters so young (between 11 and 15) and already mature enough for the life they lead (despite contemporary times making them seem too young for specific content), kept jarring me into appreciating, or not, certain things they went through, and second, the author certainly used a lot of the research information in the novel, sometimes even more than necessary...

I say these things because reading this novel wasn't too hard, despite the page count, but the 14th century isn't my favorite setting for historicals and several situations described got on my nerves, which made the elements I've mentioned even more glaring to me. It is true that maturity and knowledge don't depend on age alone, and that in medieval times society and norms were different, but certain things were just too difficult to imagine, even recognizing the likely realism of them. It also meant that when they go through negative and unfair situations as we would see them now, reading about it is even weirder.

In regards to historical content, the author certainly picked up a lot of facts about this time and how documents registered life in the country, she also includes many real historical figures such as the king at the time and his even more famous son, but it felt as if there were parts of the story which suited only to show case that research. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, if the fictional part were to match, but this is also the author's first book, and while I can see the competence in it, even if it was edited, I still think the balance wasn't achieved completely, there were many repetitive parts, many unnecessary scenes and situations, and not enough character depth.

In fact, each main character (the focus is on Duarte, but there are another four or five characters we follow more attentively) has a path to travel, let's say, even though most times they are in contact with one another or even share scenes/life experiences. I liked them all for who they were and what life stories they had, some sadder, some more ingenious, but I also think that with so many pages and enemies coming and going and stuff to deal with, we still could not know them for their personalities that easily, they all blend somehow with the idea of how "good" people should be and what kind of adventures/challenges they would face in those situations.

A lot of the plot is centered on Duarte dealing with happened to his family, going on about his life, and his friends dealing with political decisions, social conventions and the cleverness of anticipating certain decisions or how to deal with them. It's true the action is non stop and that made reading easier, but to be honest, the plot isn't developed that much. The real life changing events could be summarized into half the page count... this said, I liked the experience of reading the book, but it wasn't... spectacular.

I was told the next book (of an intended trilogy) is coming out at the end of the year, it will probably feature the effects of the black plague - which is mentioned in this book and starts being noticeable when the story is ending - and in whatever happens with the main characters. If this friend lets me borrow the book, as she told me she would, I'll likely read it.
Grade: 6/10


  1. I feel that this is more a sage in the vein of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth than the historical fiction I prefer to read, by which I mean, there's a lot of the more terrible bits of history, and large political events are shown to affect ordinary people in ways that, perhaps, aren't quite true to history, but allow the author to show their command of the period.

    Even the repetition feels quite similar, as I one of my more vivid memories of reading the Follett book is the repetition, especially of the worst parts of life in the period (my review is here

    1. Actually, I thought the same thing while reading, that this one tries to emulate books like Ken Follett's (I've read your review, and I have read Pillars of the Earth, and like you I liked it in general).
      I would not say the competence is equal, though lol and not only because there's quite a gap in experienced writing between the two authors.