Saturday 16 March 2019

Book Review — Jacob the Trumpeter, by Robert Barclay #CoffeePotBookClub #HistoricalFiction

Jacob the Trumpeter
By Robert Barclay

My name is Jacob Hintze. I may be an innkeeper now, but I will always be a trumpeter. That was my profession for a good portion of my fifty-two years. Fifty-two isn't a bad age to get to when you think of the total shit storm of the Thirty Years' War, especially if you were right in the middle of it as I was, watching your comrades being blown to pieces around you. But sounding signals on the battlefield isn't the half of what I was called to do. You see, you don't see a duke giving a lowly cavalry trumpeter like me the living of an inn on the post road unless he's done something special to earn it. And earn it I did; musician, courier, emissary, spy, those are the things I did for my duke, and more besides. And now it's time to write it all down. When you're under a sentence of death, as I now am, it makes you want to tell your story and I just hope I can get it done before it's too late.

“Legend, painting and song tell one story, but here is mine…”

Death comes to us all. Jacob Hintze never thought he would live to be an old man. He had lived through deprivation, wars and plagues. And he had crossed the sea and visited countries he had never thought to visit. During his lifetime, he had witnessed many changes. Some good, some not so good. Jacob believed that God watched out for him, and he still maintained that outlook. How else could it be explained that despite it all, he was still breathing at the age of 52? However, Jacob’s body was beginning to fail him, just like it had done for his father and his grandfather. It was only a matter of time before his heart stopped beating, which was why he thought seriously about what his eldest son, Michael, had suggested. Perhaps he should write down his memoirs — he certainly had a story to tell. So, Jacob picked up his quill and allowed the memories to come…

Jacob could still remember the first time he fell deeply in love. He had been ten when he heard the majestic metallic sound of a trumpet, and he knew that his life would never be the same again. Alas, there were laws regarding who could play and who could not play the trumpet. Jacob fell into the latter. He was no Duke, Prince or King. His father owned their farm, and although his father had some influence in their little corner of Mecklenburg, it was not enough for his son to play the instrument of his choice. And yet, the trumpet still called to young Jacob. So, under the watchful eye of Stadtpfifer, Jacob dared to learn to play the instrument. From that moment on, Jacob knew that playing the trumpet was his destiny. No matter what anyone said to the contrary.

But his skills with the trumpet did not go unnoticed, and his life was to change fundamentally because he could not resist the pull of the music.

Jacob the Trumpeter, by Robert Barclay is the unforgettable story of a little boy from a farm who against all the odds, became a staff trumpeter for Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

There are some books which pull you in and mesmerise you from the opening sentence to the very last word. Jacob the Trumpeter is such a book. Barclay’s compelling narrative set against not only the backdrop of The 30 Year War but also the English Civil War, made this story not only an epic adventure, but also a monumental work of scholarship. Barclay’s historical understanding of this era shined through the pages of this book. His dedication to bringing about an authentic setting for his characters has undoubtedly paid off.

I adored the interpretation of Jacob Hintze. Jacob is a historical character that I have never heard of, and yet, his story was begging to be told. Barclay has chosen to tell Jacob's story in the form of a memoir which worked incredibly well. We are introduced to a very young Jacob who has heard the sound of a trumpet for the first time. This prelude is the start of a love affair with the trumpet which will last the whole of Jacob's life. As Jacob grows and learns how to be a soldier, his enthusiasm for the instrument does not waver. However, this story is so much more than Jacob’s passion for the trumpet. It is a story of war, intrigue, torture, friends, enemies and one true love. There is something for anyone who loves historical fiction between the pages of this remarkable book. 

The story is written with a great deal of energy — there is not one slow moment in this book. Barclay has done an incredible job at keeping the pace engaging, and he has taken great pains to stick to the historical facts of the time, and although there are times when Barclay has used fiction to fill in the gaps, there is an integrity in the writing. As for the historical characters that we come across in this story, Barclay has breathed life back into them, and he seems to have a visceral understanding of human nature. All men, even our heroic Jacob, are flawed, and I think that gives the reader a keen sense of realism.

The book is set in the time of war, and there are some despicable characters that Jacob comes across. But none are quite like Joachim Wadegahte. Wadegahte is a historical character, but as Barclay tells us in his historical notes at the end of the novel, he is very elusive. Although, in the background for much of the story, Wadegahte is a shadowy, looming threat to our intrepid hero. Barclay portrayed a very unlikeable character in Wadegahte. Wadegahte blames the way his life has turned out on Jacob, rather than facing the consequences of his own shortcomings. Jacob’s relationship with Wadegahte is summed up very early on in the novel when Jacob says “…I did not make an enemy of him; it was he who made an enemy of me…”

There is no doubt that Jacob the Trumpeter is an enthralling epic. It is a wonderful story that is very elegantly told.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
 Jacob the Trumpeter

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx