Book Review: Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca

Title: Olive the Lionheart

Author: Brad Ricca

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: Aug. 11 2020

Genres: Adventure, Non-fiction

Shelves: Female-fronted

A fantastic adventure with an exceptional protagonist, Olive the Lionheart was a good read, but the narrative style Brad Ricca chose kept it from being a great read.

The best way I can think of to describe this is tentative, as if Ricca chose to write Olive’s story as a novel, but never fully committed to that style, instead feeling compelled to maintain the emotional distance of her journals. The whole thing reads very flat, without the tension or drama that clearly marked so much of her journey. The few attempts to wring some tension out of the story feel forced, as if he put them in just because readers would expect them, not because they fit with the story he was telling. It didn’t help that the story jump backward and forward in time, mixing journal entries, letters, and narrative chapters where the dates sometimes didn’t correlate. It may be an issue with the ARC, and not a reflection of the finished book, but I got confused several times on when things happened.

Stylistic complaints aside, I found Olive to be a fantastic heroine, truly a woman ahead of her time. Her passion, dedication, and courage almost feel anachronistic for the time, especially given her station, but I loved that she never explains or apologizes for it. She is the driving force behind many of the adventures, a leader even in some cases (the search for the waterfalls comes to mind), and while her curiosity gets her into trouble more than once (the narrow escape from the women being kidnapped sticks with me), I loved that fearlessness. She (and her companions) are a product of their time, of course, which leads to some uncomfortable moments of racism, but to gloss over them or eliminate them from the story would be an unfair revision of history.

The journey itself is spectacular, a true travelogue of an Africa of a different age. The landscape, the animals, the civilizations, the people, it’s all fascinating, and the novelty of Olive seeing so much of it for the first time adds to the sense of exploration. While there’s a frustrating distance to the narrative that makes it hard to really appreciate the journey, there are moments of splendor where you can just imagine being there.

In the end, I’m glad I had the chance to meet Olive, and I certainly don’t begrudge the read, I just wish Ricca had been bolder in his narrative choices. Olive the Lionheart wasn’t the thrilling adventure I wanted, but it was still a fascinating read.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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