Tag Archives: Tale of Two Cities

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

This isn’t really fantasy literature, but the setting is kind of what? late Medieval, Renaissance–I can never get my history straight.


Anyway, I stumbled across a couple of reviews for “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens that gave it a measly two stars out of five. I can only surmise that the reviewers were… shall we say… not very sophisticated readers. If you are looking for blood and gore—actually this book has it: it deals with the French Revolution—but it just doesn’t dwell on it in the same way that modern fiction does. The bloodletting is left in the background and not examined up close. I originally read this book when I was in high school. At the time I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. I didn’t quite get the foreshadowing techniques used (which may have been, actually, over-used) at the time, but I thought it was a good story. This time through, though, I really got a picture of the story as a cohesive whole. Everything in “A Tale of Two Cities” relates to everything else. It’s a great book. And a literary classic.


There are a number of crucial players in the story, including Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, and Lucie Manette. There are others, but I will limit my discussion to those three. Lucie Manette is the love interest in the tale. She is a beautiful young woman who marries Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who basically gave up his way of life because he was disgusted with the abuses of the aristocracy. Sydney Carton is a dissolute lawyer who is also in love with and devoted to Lucie Manette. What I liked about the book is its exploration of the concept of nobility. On the one hand, you have the aristocracy of wealth; those individuals who make their living on the backs of the common man. Then there is the concept of nobility as it should be; nobility as it is exemplified in Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Charles Darnay knows there is trouble in France, but he leaves the safety of England and goes back to help one of his family’s servants who ran into difficulties on account of his employ in the Evremonde (Charles Darnay’s real name) family. He braves the perils of a blood-thirsty country to help a former servant out of a sense of honor and duty. Then, there is Sydney Carton. He is a pitiable character throughout much of the book, but then he goes and meets one of the best deaths in literature. Again, exemplifying a nobility in character as opposed to mere wealth.


Anyway, the book was great. My only complaint is that I think it used a tad too much foreshadowing. But it definitely helped me in my own writing; it gave me a better sense of how everything in a novel is supposed to relate to everything else. A novel isn’t just supposed to tell a story. I’ll give “A Tale of Two Cities” four and a half stars out of five. I’ll definitely check out the rest of Charles Dickens’ work.

This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 2-27-12.

Book and Movie Reviews: Is a 5-star Rating Worthwhile?

Having recently completed and published a vampire fantasy book (Drasmyr), I am currently in the process of seeking out reviewers for it. Obviously, I want to get the highest score I can for my book; theoretically, a five out of five star review should attract reviewers. However, not to naysay the hard work of the reviewers, a five star review doesn’t quite mean what it used to, whether it is for a book, a movie or whatever.


The difference is the Internet; it has opened up the review process to anyone and everyone. I’ve seen some people review classics, like “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and give it a mere two stars out of five. At the same time, I’ve seen books of far more questionable quality get a score of five out of five stars. Obviously, the problem is that there is a lot of reviewing going on by people who don’t have the literary credentials to be doing so. But this is a free country, and freedom is one of the foundations of the Internet.


Anyway, does this mean that an Internet review is worthless to the consumer? No. It simply means that the consumer must approach the review with care. The consumer must sample the work of the reviewer; if she consistently disagrees with the reviewer’s assessment, then it would be for the best if she sought a different reviewer out; there certainly are plenty of them.


A review is a matter of personal opinion. It always has been, to a certain extent, but it is even more so now. Just because a book is a classic, doesn’t mean everyone will like it. I liked “A Tale of Two Cities,” but there were a few things about it I didn’t like. And just because it is a well-regarded classic, doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to dislike parts of it, or that somebody else can’t give it a mere two stars. In all probability, the two star rating was probably given by somebody who was very young who was looking for an action-packed, pulse-pounding novel, or something similar. There is action and blood (a great deal of blood) in the novel, but it is of an antiquated sort.


As a writer, reviews still concern me (and you, if you write). If I garner five-star reviews in abundance, my book will sell well. However, a single poor review, provided it is not the only review, will not sink my book. In the end, for those who need consolation after getting a poor review, I point to “A Tale of Two Cities” above. A single review, no matter the source, is not the final say.


Of course, knowing this intellectually is not the same as feeling it in your bones. That can be a difficult transition to make.


What do you think?