Thomas B(ertram) Costain Charles Lee - Essay

Charles Lee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thomas Costain has won a large and admiring public with novels of historical romance, most of which are set in the Middle Ages. In his new novel ["Son of a Hundred Kings"] he brings his readers back to more recent times—Canada in the Nineties—without disturbing the splashy colors which dominate his canvas. Substituting a vivid memory for the customary research—Mr. Costain grew up in Canada during the years he writes about—he tells the story of 6-year-old Ludar Prentice, who was shipped from England to his father in Canada, and enters upon various adventures, chiefly Victorian.

A spree of old-fashioned yarning, it is richly sub-plotted in the Dickensian manner with structural gingerbread and replete with disenchanting editorial intrusions by the author. Its three "books" are packed with curlicues of contrivance….

Ludar grows up with William Christian, a benign and dreamy inventor, and his nagging wife, Tilly. He meets the feuding members, young and old, of the Craven clan, chooses sides, goes to school, falls in love with the daughter of the local newspaper publisher, and works his way through hard times and the terrible teens.

Then, at the very moment when he feels he may win milady's hand from his rival (a Craven enemy, of course), he becomes involved in a murder.

This is only the central matter in an exceedingly busy story. Yet it is not revealing anything to add that in the end the wicked get punished, the fallen reform, and the virtuous live happily ever after. The usual Costain period touch is manifested by frequent references to such paraphernalia as brass-toed shoes, Psyche knots, Crokinole boards, Fauntleroy suits, gaslight, Morris chairs, and horseless carriages. Much of the dialogue is unlifelike, the characterization superficial, and the narrative wooden. However, "Son of a Hundred Kings" … will doubtless appeal to the large audience searching only for what the author calls "Story—with a capital letter."

Charles Lee, "Victorian Adventures," in The New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1950, p. 4.