On the whole, I found The Waste Land to be a very enjoyable read. Acland presents himself as being well-versed in the era during which the novel is set. It’s not my own period of historical expertise, but his universe felt authentic and meshed with my knowledge of earlier and later times. A bibliography is always a wonderful thing to see at the end of an historical novel, both because it provides a jumping-off point for further reading and because it suggests that a good level of research went into ensuring a good level of historical accuracy.
That said, one doesn’t need to be a history buff to appreciate this book. Acland’s writing style is quite formal throughout the novel, but accessible nonetheless, and the setting of the first crusade is one that lends itself to sword-wielding adventure. His protagonist is both sympathetic and likeable, and Acland surrounds him with a cast of well-drawn characters. The villains are suitably villainous and the heroes are pleasantly fallible.
The plot was not what I first expected it to be, but at no point did I find myself bored with the story and the ending left me mulling over the books entirety for quite some time.
My key difficulty with The Waste Land was the stylistic choice to place a story within a story. The segments set in the modern era are witty caricatures of types anyone with a knowledge of academia will recognise but, to me, they came to feel like unwelcome intrusions upon the story that I actually cared about. I understand that this format is what sets the novel aside from other historical works, but feel that the main story holds its own without the need to jolt the reader out of the action at the end of every chapter.
Despite this, however, I think that the book is a very good addition to the historical genre and would be most interested to see where Hugh de Verdon ends up in the sequel.
(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.)