Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blog Tour Review: The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry

From the Back Cover:

London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne - and she with him - until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history.

My Thoughts:

Tower of London, 1876. The artist Amos Roselli has been hired to sketch the recently discovered remains of the notorious Anne Boleyn, after hours and with nothing but a lantern to keep him company. This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story: dark, spooky, intriguing, and mysterious. Afterwards, as Amos begins to rekindle his relationship with his former muse and best friend Daphne, beneath the watchful eyes of Victorian society, shades of Anne Boleyn begin to haunt him, and Daphne's life begins to display eerie parallels to Anne's.

Things only get stranger when Daphne's paranoid, jealous husband commissions Amos to paint her portrait, and they all settle in for the summer tucked amidst the windswept cliffs of the Isle of Wight. After a series of bizarre incidents, including seances and threatening encounters with Daphne's husband, Amos comes to rely more and more on the gentle advice of his housekeeper, Beth, to maintain some order and sense in his life. Meanwhile Daphne's mental health deteriorates as her marriage falls apart and she is plagued with premonitions of her own demise. It soon becomes apparent that she has reason to fear as she and Amos are swept along in a plot of her husband's making toward a startling conclusion.

I enjoyed The Arrow Chest, although this was a slower read for me, in part because I felt like I had to pay attention to every word to make sure I grasped its importance. I was struck by the poetic, descriptive quality of the author's narrative, which felt a bit heavy to me at times, but actually helped to reinforce the gothic atmosphere, along with some really fantastic, evocative imagery. Parry really brings the Victorian era to life, weaving together the eccentric, artistic community on the Isle of Wight with the strictures and social mores of elite society, and touches of fashion, architecture, spiritualism, and industrialism.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

Upon finishing The Arrow Chest, my first thought was that this is the kind of book that's open to interpretation. What at first seems like a simple tale actually has a lot going on, with several layers to the story, symbolic shadows and artistic references. I think every reader will come away with a slightly different take on the story, and with questions that would make for a great book club discussion. That being said, I was fortunate enough to be able to go straight to the author with my own burning questions!

My Q&A with author Robert Parry:

I want to thank you, Robert, for taking the time to answer a few of my questions today, and since I know you're hard at work, I'll go right ahead and get started!

Where most people would have written a straight gothic tale, you added another layer of historical depth and dimension by intertwining Amos' and Daphne's story with that of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. What gave you the inspiration to do this?

I have always wanted to write about Anne Boleyn and the Tudor court, but it is a period so well covered now by historians and novelists alike that I decided to try something different and to transfer the whole story and all the characters and their relationships forward to another period – somewhere where their actions and thoughts would become a little more accessible and also somewhere that would allow them (and me) a little more freedom. Victorian England has many similarities to Tudor times that makes it a good fit for the story. For example, there were plenty of strong and powerful men (kings in their own right). There were beautiful and elegant women – and there were all the wonderful and exciting painters of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, as well. Going a little deeper, if you think about it, the Victorians also experienced a crisis in faith similar to the Tudors – with Darwin and his evolutionary theories that seemed to threaten the established Church in the 19th century, just as the Reformation threatened the established Church during the 16th century. People were unsure of their footing, facing a future that seemed in many ways exciting but also rather frightening and disconcerting, as well.

Is Amos a representation of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the life Anne/Daphne might have had if she had not reached above her station?

Amos represents a compilation of several of the men in Anne’s life – those she perhaps genuinely loved. Tom Wyatt was certainly one of the most significant in this respect – or at least Henry thought so. Wyatt was a brilliant poet, and Amos in the story is a brilliant painter. So the parallel is close. For her, Amos represents the love she never realised because she became married to a bully and a tyrant. Sometimes we realise too late what we really need in life – and these are often the most simple of things. In other words, we should always be careful what we wish for.

How does Beth's character fit into the allegory?

Beth is in keeping with many strong and supportive characters (there is a long and enduring tradition of these in literature) that are really more important than the main players in the story realise at the time. She is the one who ‘leads’ through service and through humility. How she fits into the allegory – well, that’s something for the reader to decide. It remains an open question.

The arrow chest appears literally in the beginning and towards the end of the story. What does the arrow chest represent symbolically, and why did you choose to make it the title of the book?

The arrow chest refers to the object in which the body (and head) of Anne Boleyn was placed after her execution in 1536. It was made of elm wood and would have been used for bow staves as well as arrows – so of sufficient size to serve as a coffin. It was a dreadful conclusion to a glittering life, and remains one of the unsolved puzzles of Tudor history. That a king of England could treat the woman he once loved and such an important individual with such disrespect and indifference! Historians consider this to have been a simple accident of history – or if not an accident than perhaps a rather petulant act of unkindness on Henry’s part – but I think there might have been a little more to it than that. The symbolism of arrows and of hunting to represent courtship and sexual desire was widespread in Medieval and Tudor England. Henry in one of his love letters to Anne refers to himself being ‘stricken with the dart of love.’ And the poetry of Tom Wyatt makes numerous allusions to Cupid, to the arrows of desire and of hunting in this wider, metaphorical sense. At the time of Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533 the artist Hans Holbein produced a tableau in which Henry was represented as the archer-God Apollo. The bow and its arrows were not just weapons of war, in other words. They were symbolic of love and desire at all levels. Approaching the story from this angle, the title of THE ARROW CHEST really chose itself at a very early stage.

How would you describe your writing style? And are you influenced by any particular authors?

I think I would make a terrible mess of things if I tried to answer this at any length. I hope my stories have a certain mystery and that my characters always aspire to something better in their lives – and with a certain theatrical extravagance, perhaps, in the way they go about it. But really, I think that becoming too self-conscious about style is counterproductive in the end. Naturally, every author is influenced by others – it’s an inevitable process. But, again, the moment an author becomes too self-conscious of influences, any originality that does exist is probably already beginning to crumble.

What do you like to read for fun?

I enjoy learning about things when I read – so science, medicine, the lives of artists and composers - anything like that. That might not sound like an inordinate amount of fun, I suppose, but I like it.

What are you working on next?

Thank you for asking. More historical fiction for sure, and perhaps 18th Century this time. It was such an very interesting period – the age of Enlightenment and all that. The origin of our modern mind-set comes from those times – with a struggle between faith and science which is really fascinating. And lots of colourful, bawdy characters at large at the same time, of course, to spice up the story.

The Arrow ChestThank you, Robert!
And now for the Giveaway!

Robert has generously offered to send a copy to one lucky reader! To enter, leave a comment with your email address. (: Followers double their chances to win :) Winner selected at random. The giveaway is open to residents of the US & Canada, AND residents of the UK & Europe! Enter by 11:59 p.m., Sat., March 5.

Click here to view my Teaser Tuesday post featuring passages from The Arrow Chest and a video trailer.

The Arrow Chest blog tour continues through March 2--click here for the complete schedule and more giveaway opportunities.

Thank you to Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for inviting me to participate!

This giveaway has ended and the winner has been selected:
Congratulations Charlie!


  1. I've been reading several blogs recently about this book. It sounds fascinating, and I love the cover, and the idea behind the plot.

    I follow through Google Reader, so please double my entry. and thanks for the giveaway.


  2. I really like the parallel aspect to the tales, particularly not knowing the fate of Daphne, and being all too familiar with the fate of Anne.


  3. Hello, thanks for this give away opportunity. I love historical fiction, Victorian literature - I would love to read this book for The Victorian Literature Challenge, and I'm an artist [rocksbyemmanuelle dot com]. It seems there are some themes similar to the Swan Thieves, by E. Kostova, which I just loved. So I would love to read this one.
    Emma @ Words And Peace
    Email: ehc16e at yahoo dot com

  4. I'm a follower- thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Please count me in the draw.

  6. This book sounds fascinating - every time I go to the Tower of London, I hope to see a spirit or two. Please enter me. I am a follower.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  7. Thanks for posting the giveaway over at Historical Tour de Genre at Goodreads! I hopped over from there. :) Oh, and I'm now following. Love you site!

    bitsyblingbooks (at) gmail (dot) com

  8. totally interested. thanks for a chance! :)

  9. Thank you Jenny for your review, and thank you also to those who left comments. Good luck with the draw tomorrow!

  10. I would love to read this book! Please enter me in the giveaway.

    I follow via GFC.

    bookloversarah at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

  11. I have been wanting to read this book since I first came across it on a blog! It looks so great...and even if I don't eventually win it, I'm definitely going to have to buy it!!

    I'm a follower via GFC.


  12. Congratulations Charlie. Your copy of 'The Arrow Chest' is on its way.


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