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Testament by Alis Hawkins

Testament (2008)

by Alis Hawkins

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  johnrid11 | Feb 14, 2016 |
Ah, the “time slip” novel. A bit of history for education, a bit of the modern-day for relatability, and a bit of mystery to keep you going. I can see why these novels are popular. It’s a perfect formula, and I find the concept nearly irresistible. But, alas, only Possession by A.S. Byatt has managed to fully satisfy me. Until now.

The modern-day storyline in Testament is set on the fictional campus of Kineton and Dacre College. A small fire in one of the campus’s oldest buildings has revealed a mural hidden behind the wood panelling. Damia Miller, the college’s marketing manager, realizes that this discovery is the just the thing the college needs to garner alumni and community interest. Through blog posts and e-mail blasts, she galvanizes friends of the college to assist in uncovering the mystery of the painting and in supporting the college for the future.

The historical storyline is set in the late 14th century, when master mason Simon of Kineton is beginning work on the college. His wife Gwyneth, a master carpenter in her own right, has just given birth to their first son, and the family is hoping for a bright future. But it’s an unstable time, and their loyalties to each other, to their son, and to God are tested. In the background are controversies about fair treatment of workers and the progressive new ideas of the Lollards, an anti-clerical movement that pushed for church reform and the translation of the Bible into English.

Most time-slip novels that I’ve read don’t quite work for me. They often do a nice job with either the past or the present, but not both; or they have two reasonably effective stories that don’t come together. Hawkins, however, handles both storylines beautifully, and she crafted a single coherent storyline out of the two threads.

The modern-day storyline offers a strong central character who is intelligent and three-dimensional. By making Damia a marketing manager rather than an art history researcher, Hawkins gives her a stake in the proceedings but doesn’t give her so much knowledge about the 14th-century that she’ll be too far ahead of the typical reader.

I also liked the historical characters. There are a few points in the history that don’t feel quite authentic. The fact that Gwyneth is a master carpenter isn’t exactly believable, and there are also some quibbles I would make about the Lollard theology of the characters. That said, I was impressed with Hawkins’s characterization of 14th-century people. They may not be authentic to the 14th century, but they certainly don’t feel like people of our time. She allows some of them to express views that would be terribly offensive today, but she doesn’t turn them into villains for it. I was delighted to spend time with them.

And the pacing is excellent. Hawkins dribbles out tantalizing bits of information about the past that allow readers to reinterpret the art discoveries as they go. Sometimes the readers pull ahead of the modern-day characters. Sometimes we stand alongside them and make discoveries with them. It’s obviously plotted with care. I enjoyed it thoroughly and hope more readers find it. It’s what I want and hardly ever find when I reach for this kind of book.

See my complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
1 vote teresakayep | Jan 20, 2010 |
This is a stunning debut novel, rich in imagery, language and ideas. Hawkins deftly manages two complementary storylines, separated by 600 years of history, and does it so well that each time the focus of the novel switches you wish to keep reading more about the time you have just been shown. There are some weaknesses: occasionally you are told more than you are shown, some characters' motivations are opaque or unconvincing, and sometimes the richness of the writing style is a bit like reading a novel by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Even so, this is a worthwhile investment of the reader's time and imagination. I haven't read a fictional place that has been so completely realised since Peake's "Gormenghast" ( )
  JustinLA | Jan 21, 2008 |
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For Edwina, Sam and Rob--who fill my life with love and laughter
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It was a small, almost insignificant fire, the smouldering consequence of wiring overdue for replacement a decade earlier; an irritating addition to the maintenance team's job-list rather than a major item of college news.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 023070638X, Paperback)

It is 1385 and master mason Simon of Kineton is building his magnum opus—a great college to rival any in England. But the Bishop of Salter, hostile to free education, is determined to sabotage Simon's project. When rumors spread that the mason's son is cursed, the bishop sees an opportunity to undermine both Simon and the college. 600 years later, in the same city, Damia Miller has been employed to promote penniless Kineton and Dacre college. She soon realizes that a grotesque wall painting uncovered during renovations may hold the key to the ancient college's survival. A startling feat of imaginative skill, this debut novel is a heartbreaking reminder of what it is that makes us human—no matter what era we are born into.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:51 -0400)

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'Testament' is a searing novel about love, sacrifice and the things that make us human, no matter what era we are born into - or what body. The book will appeal to all fans of Kate Mosse, Joanne Harris and Ken Follett's 'The Pillars of the Earth'.

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