In A MAN OF HONOR, or Horatio’s Confessions, Horatio makes a promise to the dying Hamlet to tell his story—to “dare to stand in the open and tell the truth” (2). It is this promise that that leads Horatio on an often dangerous pilgrimage to fulfill his vow and discover the reality of Hamlet’s life. On his journey, Horatio is joined by Lanier, a Frenchman, who often serves as Horatio’s teacher, as well as Margrete, and a love story emerges.
Told in first-person by Horatio, author J.A. Nelson’s novel follows in the tradition of historical fiction. Nelson creates a beautiful but terrifying sixteenth century where numerous factions struggle for power and influence. The main characters are loyal but fallible, and the reader identifies with their struggle to keep moving forward—to finish what they’ve started. Horatio is resilient, loyal, and moral in a world that is anything but these things.
Readers may be disoriented by the introduction, at the opening pages, of a crowd of characters which may make it necessary to review prior paragraphs and pages to verify who is who and what is what. This is further complicated by the opening scene of Hamlet’s death, which sometimes feels forced. In the scene, Hamlet is dying, but he’s nevertheless having a full conversation with Horatio before finally taking his last breath. Hamlet, for example “lurched and gripped” Horatio’s hand before speaking. Having pushed through the opening chapter and getting acclimated, however, the narrative takes off.
Nelson has developed a timeless story told through the voice of Horatio. He is resilient and tough yet struck by the endearing nature of Margrete, of whose care, Horatio says, “rendered me speechless. No one had ever sacrificed for me, had been my champion. For another to share my burden—that was a foreign and uncomfortable aspect” (232). A MAN OF HONOR may be set in a distant time and place, but Horatio’s search for the truth about his late friend, Hamlet, is an internal journey of discovery to which many readers will relate.
Like a train, A MAN OF HONOR, , or Horatio’s Confessions’ narrative builds speed and takes off into an often gripping adventure of love, war, and discovery.
~Geoff Watkinson for IndieReader