Publication Date: April 18, 2023
Length: 512 pages
This is the first Chadwick novel I've read and reviewed. I have skimmed the beginning of a couple of her William Marshal books but never got around to reading them. I know they are very popular and come highly recommended by my fellow blogger friends. Nesta of Wales is definitely what I'd call an obscure topic so I wanted to try this book. Also, it is Chadwick's latest so I knew it would be one others might not have gotten around to reading yet.
The story begins in Wales in the year 1093. Young Nesta, a Princess of the territory of Deheubarth, daughter of King Rhys ap Tewdwr, is in the stables seeing to the new colt recently birthed. Her father is off on a mission to see the hated Normans, encroaching into Welsh territory and expected home any day now. When he arrives, carried on his horse, killed in battle, Nesta's world changes forever. She and her mother, along with her brother, who is now the four year old heir to the kingdom are forced to run for the coast and only her brother Gruffyed makes it to a waiting ship to be taken off to safety in Ireland. Nesta and her mother are kidnapped by the Norman warriors, separated, and taken into the custody of foreign strangers in a foreign land, their world turned upside down.
When Nesta begins her captivity she is treated well by the ladies of the house who encourage her to accept her fate and to try to learn the language and culture of her surroundings. Eventually, she catches the eye of Henry, brother to the King, who takes her as his latest conquest. Although he is not abusive, he is harsh and demanding and Nesta grows to hate him as she realizes she is a pawn in the game of the powerful. When William Rufus dies and Henry becomes King, her world improves when she gives birth to his illegitimate son and Henry at least provides for them in a decent manner. Throughout the years of uncertainty and separation from her family, Nesta learns to rely on herself and the circle of women she is forced to live with, also concubines of Henry who bear him many children.
Just when she is ready to give up on another life, Nesta receives news that she is to be married off to a man who will care for her and her child and hopefully take her back to Wales, where she will be among her people.
Alongside Nesta's story is Gerald's. He is a Norman, fighting with Henry and his men but with an affinity for the Welsh people, as he has been installed there as Castellan of Pembroke Castle, in Deheubarth. He is both loyal to his King while also feeling tied to the land he is overseeing. As he ponders his future, Gerald finds a way to have all he wishes for when he makes a bold move to approach King Henry and ask him to fulfill his wish for a family and security.
The subject matter in this book was fascinating and I found myself researching the back stories of the main characters. Although Chadwick clearly did a lot of research for this one, she admits some of the story had to be filled in with fiction because there is just not enough on Nesta and Gerald in the record to know everything. I thought she did a great job of sticking to the facts while adding her own personal touches. I learned a lot about the time period and Wales too which I really enjoyed.
The downside of the book for me was that it started to feel more like a romance novel about halfway through. I also started to grow tired of Nesta and her complaining, even after she is given a new start. To be clear, she is traumatized and assaulted by Henry at a very young age and no doubt this influences her dark outlook on things, but some of the choices she makes are hard to reconcile with the life she is presented with. I preferred the history and adventure at the beginning and wish Chadwick had stuck to more of that than letting the story devolve into too much emotion and drama between the main characters. It just became tedious after awhile.
I still enjoyed the book and recommend it but it didn't have the feel of a Penman or Weir historical novel. I guess I need to try one of her Marshal books as I hear such great things about them.