I’ve been a fan of Tim Clare’s poetry for a while now. In fact, it was one of his poems (‘Noah’s Ark and Grill’) that converted me into a fan of performance poetry. But that said, there really isn’t much of a connection between ‘Tim Clare the poet’ and ‘Tim Clare the novelist’. The Honours feels completely seperate from his poetry; if I didn’t know it was the same person, I never would have made the connection. The Honours is a pretty serious fantasy novel – though there are flickers of humour here and there – and demonstrates that Clare is skilled in more than one area of writing.
The story focuses on thirteen year-old Delphine, who’s just been expelled from boarding school. Her family accept an invitation to stay at the large and remote Alderberen Hall in an effort to improve the health of her father, Gideon. But soon after arriving, Delphine discovers there is a secret plot unfolding. Out of the Hall’s many residents, she finds an ally in Mr Garforth, the estate’s gamekeeper. In order to protect her family, as well as England, she must uncover the truth about the Hall and those that reside in it…
Delphine has a bit of an obsession with war stories, guns and ‘Bolsheviks’ – though most of her knowledge seems to come from books like The Boy’s Bumper Treasury of War. Her view of war is very romanticised – until she actually has to start fighting herself. She’s a really strong protagonist, and seems to subvert the norm for ‘war’ stories that take place around the 1930s: it’s really nice to have a female lead. Delphine is a perfect concoction of arrogance and likeability. She’s incredibly relatable in the way she often thinks herself to be invincible, just like many of us did at hr age.
The rest of the characters are strong as well. Clare does a good job of making pretty much all of them ‘morally grey’, rather than simply having a good side and a bad side. Most of the novel seems to function as a ‘whodunnit’ – in the sense that we’re trying to work out who Delphine can safely trust. Characters that stood out include Mr. Garforth – the shotgun wielding, gnarled old man who acts as a great contrast to Delphine. I also really liked Miss DeGroot, and think Clare captures that ‘cool adult’ vibe with her really well.
Though I haven’t really noted it yet, this is a fantasy novel… It just takes a while to really get to the fantasy elements. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, and in many ways it reminded me of China Miéville’s novels: the first half being a slow build and the second wall-to-wall craziness. (Good crazy.) Though The Honours takes a while to reach its pay-off, it’s incredibly rewarding when it gets there. I won’t talk about the fantasy elements of the novel – just because they appear late enough to feel like spoilers – but Clare handles them really well.
I would also like to mention what a good job the author does with regards to juggling plots. God, there are a lot of plots here, but the book never feels over-stuffed. The only possible downside of this is if there isn’t a sequel. Clare leaves a large amount up in the air by the novel’s close, with some plotlines getting forgotten a bit. I would be very surprised if The Honours wasn’t the first of a trilogy, simply because of how well a sequel is set up. (Clare has since confirmed a sequel, so no worries here after all.)
A solid first novel overall. I’ll definitely be reading anything else Tim Clare comes out with.