Showcases Crockett’s skills as a writer…
“The Red Axe”, a less than well-known romance by an undeservedly less than well-known novelist, showcases Crockett’s skills as a writer.
Typically of Crockett he creates totally believable imaginary worlds. The novel’s opening sets the scene brilliantly. For the first time in his young life, the ten year-old Hugo Gottfried, the novel’s first person narrator – sitting high in the Red Tower of Thorn (“the chief place of arms, and high capital city of all the Wolfmark”) – sees the home-coming of the “famous foraging” Duke Casimir.
The puzzles multiply. Why is city “rebellious”? What is the “fearsome food” for which the bloodhounds “raven” in the courtyard below? Why is Hugo so alone “just because” he has crimson patches sewn on his shirt, winter wristlets and on both his stockings? And what might his father do in the Hall of Judgement or “in the deepest parts of the castle where the walls are eighteen feet thick”? It is impossible not to read on.
Crockett’s characters are strongly delineated. The adolescent Hugo is the archetypical love-sick loon who rejects the notion of following his father’s profession and leaves home to find himself entangled with a naïf and a married woman. The novel contains one of Crockett’s nastiest villains. Despite his frightening “Black Riders”, Duke Otho is “crowned” but not quite in the way he anticipates! As far as “strong” Crockett women go, Ysoldinda is a corker. Arms round Hugo’s neck, her emerald eyes looking directly up in into his, Ysoldinde is liberated from all convention and has much to offer:
“Love me – Hugo – love me even a little. Put me nor away. I will be so true, so willing. I will run your errands, wait upon you, stand behind you in battle, in council lead you to fame and fortune…And this maid, so cold and icy, so full of good works and the abounding fame of saintliness…She shall be abbess of our greatest convent…Only do you, Hugo Gottfried, give me your love , your life, yourself”.
Crockett comments that Ysolinde “might have tempted even Saint Anthony to sin”; but she has a point about Helene. Crockett presents the latter too blandly to provide the dramatic contrast the novel requires. To the reader Helene is forever “the little playmate”, the sobriquet that Hugo gives her from the start and uses almost throughout; she isn’t a maturely drawn character.
The plot is fast-paced, for the most part, with wonderful set-pieces. These include an ingress of mounted “cavaliers of death” into an impromptu on-going monastery mass that screens the fugitives for whom they seek; a rigged trial; and (best of all) one of those un-clichéd last-minute and unlooked for reprieves of an innocent heroine (before the hero cuts off her head with his red axe). There are unexpected twists and turns throughout, not least involving two characters (the incomparable Boris and Jorian) who appear to have slipped in from Crockett’s “Joan of the Sword Hand”. The suspension of our disbelief may be stretched to its limit at some points but very willingly so. The ending and the dénouement may be corny; they are also wholly satisfying.
Review by Stewart Robertson
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