Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review of The Puppet Maker's Bones


An angel of Death in the City of Angels: A psychopath kills a young boy, a quiet teen, then an entire family before setting his murderous desires on Mr. Trusnik, an elderly shut-in from across the street. But Mr. Trusnik is not like other people. Although very old, he is far from helpless. He is an angel of Death...and he is waiting.

I enjoyed this psychological thriller/fantasy cross. After all it had so much that I love - puppets, a Czech setting, history and a large chunk of fantasy. The author Alisa Tangredi has really researched her puppet and Czech history backgrounds to create a totally authentic feel to her descriptions. The book is beautifully and intelligently written.

The book might disappoint those people who read it expecting violence and gore, but if you like intelligent books which do not conform to the expectations of genre then you will find much to enjoy. I really enjoyed the cross-genre nature of the book - the mix of historical fantasy and modern day thriller.


The only reason I would give this book four stars rather than five is that I have a problem with the role of the other main character the young psychopath Kevin (what is it about that name  in fiction?) and the set up of the final showdown. As can be seen from the book blurb above, we know that Kevin is not going to kill Pavel, that the showdown will be very one-sided. We have also seen enough to work out what might happen.

Kevin is also much less well-drawn than Pavel, who is wonderfully drawn - complex, flawed and hurt. In some ways this is a study of loneliness - not only has Pavel Trusnik been confined to his house for decades, but he has been denied the comfort of human touch for his entire life, something which drives him to the verge of madness and possibly over it. Alisa Tangredi is a very intelligent writer and I am sure could have done more to develop the parallels and contrasts between these two angels of death - one unwilling and one willing - and to create more suspense for the reader.  But regardless of this quibble The Puppet Maker's Bones is wonderful book and I recommend it to you.

It's available on Amazon as a paperback and as a kindle (click the image above to go to the site).

I was given this book as a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice


I have been asked to put together another tour by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society for May next year. This time I will be taking them to South Moravia, which is an area of spectacular archaeology. The most remarkable site is at Dolni Vestonice and the Palava Hills, where archaeologists discovered the camps of Paleolithic mammoth hunters protected by a layer of dust blown over the site by glacial winds.

As part of my research my husband and I visited the small museum in Dolni Vestonice. From the outside it seemed that there will be little to see, but the museum was like the tardis. This is no local museum, but one dedicated to one of the most important paleolithic sites in the world. Archeaologists have been excavating the sites around the town and neighbouring Pavlov since 1925 and thousands of objects have been discovered, including stone tools, animal bones and several burials.

Traditionally it was believed that "advanced" technologies - firing ceramics, polishing stones and weaving - didn't appear until 20,000 years later with the Neolithic revolution. That was until finds at Dolni Vestonice proved otherwise. Impressions of woven fabric on clay revealed that the mammoth hunters were already weaving (probably nettle fibres used by the Czechs for some traditional fabrics). 

Archaeologists discovered approximately 2,300 clay figurines which had been fired in the hunters' fire. The animals are recognizably lions, mammoths, bears, and wild horses. The most famous figurine is of a woman - the Dolni Vestonice Venus. Dated to 29,000 to 25,000 BC and discovered in 1925, the figure is the oldest ceramic representation of the human figure discovered. In 2004 a scan of the figure discovered a finger print of a child in the clay. Suddenly you are transported back to a hut made of mammoth bones, branches and hides where a child picks up a still damp figure that one of the adults has just sculpted. Perhaps the child is told off, the figure is probably an offering to the gods. Later as night falls the hunters gather around the hearth and place the venus into the fire and the fingerprint is preserved.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Kutna Hora - Silver Mine Museum


I recently had an email from someone who came on the May archaeology tour. She wrote: "The silver mine has to be one of my all-time holiday highlights". I’m not surprised – the tour of the medieval silver mines in Kutna Hora is utterly unique.

Kutna Hora was quite literally built on silver, the hill on which the old town stands is riddled with mine shafts and galleries, where men toiled to in the darkness to dig out by hand the precious silver ore. You can read about how hard their work was and think you understand, but it takes a visit to the mines to really bring it home to you. By the time you finish you will understand why their life expectancy was 35.

You are kitted out in a white coat (similar to those worn by the miners), lamp and protective helmet (which the miners did not have) and then you walk a few hundred metres uphill to where you enter the shaft. The first part of your visit consists of climbing down several flights of stairs to the first level of the mine. The miners would have had to climb or slide down thin ladders. It is a long way down to the first level, there are four more below you.

A medieval miner was a lot shorter than a modern man – only 1.5 metres high – and so you are warned to watch your head as you walk along. You soon are grateful for your helmet. You are also grateful for your lamp. At one point the guide asks you to switch off your lamps and you are plunged into darkness, s/he then lights a torch and placing her hand over the light tells you that that is the total amount of light available to our medieval forebears. For that reason touch and feel were used to identify the ore deposits. Once a vein was found it was followed into the rock, some of the tunnels being so low that even a medieval man would have to crawl.

Having hacked the silver from the rock it was then carried or dragged back to where it was raised to the surface (via the horse-powered winch you saw in the museum or by a man-powered one). Human beings had no such luxury, the only way back to the surface was a long climb in the dark. Fortunately for wimpy modern visitors the exit to the mine is via a door lower down the hillside.

This is not a tour for people with claustrophobia (the mine-shaft gets so narrow at points that I feared I would get wedged like Winnie The Pooh in Rabbit’s hole) nor is it for people with mobility, heart or breathing problems. But if you can, it is well worth doing - an extraordinary experience.

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