Showing posts with label Kings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kings. Show all posts

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Traitor's Arrow by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book Two)

 

Publication Date: 
April 25, 2022

Length:

222 pages

Summary:

I have always been interested in what really happened in the forest all those years ago when King William Rufus mysteriously died from an arrow wound. His brother Henry racing to Westminster to seize the royal treasury seemed like a cold hearted act to me. Field portrays this from a new perspective using some real historical people and facts and some fictional ones as well. While no one can ever be sure what really happened, Traitor's Arrow manages to give an entertaining story of the rise of Henry I due to the demise of his wicked brother, while also portraying him as a sympathetic character, only doing what he needed to save England and usher in a new era of stability.

Will Riveracre, or as he is now known in Book Two, Sir Wilfrid de Walsingham, having been knighted and land bestowed to him, is content to live out his days with his family. The current King William Rufus has other plans for him and needs constant support to field off his enemies in foreign and domestic entanglements. Wilfrid is unable to have a moments peace when William is king and longs for the day he can finally be left alone in his advancing years. Trying his best to walk a line between his family and his loyalty to the King, he eventually finds himself a prisoner for two years, scared and alone and far from home. When William Rufus meets his demise in the forest with the mysterious arrow and Wilfrid is brought before the new King Henry, he is amazed to discover he has been tasked with Henry's request of finding out what happened and clearing Henry of any wrong doing in the death of his brother.

As he sets out to unravel the truth, Wilfrid must contend with uncomfortable realizations that implicate important nobles of the day and what he believes are innocent others caught in the scandal. 

Intertwined throughout the story is the day to day life of Joan, Wilfrid's wife who is frustrated, feeling forgotten by her absent husband as she struggles to raise their children and his grown son Thomas, on crusade with Stephen of Blois. Will Wilfrid be able to give Henry the answers he is looking for? Will he be reunited with his family, Thomas safe, and Joan still trusting him? And until he can satisfy King Henry, will he be safe or thrown into captivity again?

My Thoughts:

Field has once again taken a true story and added his historical fiction touch to create a great tale that teaches as well. I enjoyed his theory as to what really happened on that fateful day in the forest and he added information he researched that I'd not heard before. His desriptions of William Rufus and his decadent court were scandalously portrayed. By the time he dies, you are thankful. Field is clearly sympathetic to King Henry and believes he is innocent in the death of Wiliam, although not sorry he is gone. 

I have grown fond of Wilfrid and his family and back story. He is portrayed as a man with great character who stumbles but adds enough color to the book as to not make it boring. I didn't care much for his wife, Joan. She often comes across as a bit nagging and weak but Wilfrid loves her despite that. Their family and the nuns they live with are an interesting side note to the battles and court intrigue. 

I will be reading all of Field's books if I can fit them in the next couple of years. I contacted him through Facebook to tell him how much I am learning and enjoying reading them. He was gracious and replied which was really nice. While I am probably finished with this particular series for now (the middle books on the Anarchy, Henry II and Richard I are topics I don't need more study of right now), his new mystery series, Australian sagas, New World Nautical sagas, and Tudor dynasty series are sure to be excellent. He also has two Victorian era mystery series he published before his historical fiction books. Quite a library to choose from!

Monday, May 20, 2024

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman (The Plantagenets Book One)

 

Publication Date:

February 6, 1996

Length:
750 pages


This is my second read for this wonderful book. I felt like the first time I read it so quickly and was much less informed about the period so when I recently finished the fourth book in the series, Lionheart, about Richard I, I decided to go back and read this one again. I hadn't reviewed it either and wanted to do that before tackling the last book, A King's Ransom. I'm so glad I did because it really helped me solidify the timeline of the Anarchy period in my mind. Also, these books are so dense you can't possibly remember everything so it always feels new.

Summary:
The story begins with the sinking of the White Ship and culminates in the ascension of King Henry II of England. Covering a span of roughly thirty years of turmoil and chaos Penman manages to make it look easy to get all the important facts in along with the emotions and feelings of the time. When Henry I loses his only son and heir in the shipwreck he is distraught and calls daughter Matilda home from the only home she has really known, Germany, as the former wife of the Holy Roman Emperor, who has died. Although Henry hopes that Matilda will take his place someday, the barons are not convinced and many side with Stephen of Blois, Matilda's cousin and the only other in line that can take on the role of King.

As far as the history is concerned, the book follows a solid timeline: Stephen becomes king, Matilda fights to regain her stolen crown, towns caught in the middle are destroyed, lives uprooted, and anarchy reigns. All the major battles, Lincoln, the Rout of Winchester, Oxford Castle, culminating in the Siege and Treaty of Wallingford solidifying Henry's triumph are amazingly told.  While Penman is exceptionally detailed and skillful in recounting all of this, it isn't the heart of the novel. I will leave the summary with this: the Anarchy was a time of horrible unrest where innocent lives were sacrificed again and again as two heirs are caught in their struggle to prove they are the rightful heirs to the throne. 

My Thoughts:

When historical fiction is done well you finish the book feeling as if you have lived through the time. You feel as if you know the characters inside and out as real people. This is how I always feel reading Penman's books. Having read others set in this time period I say there is no contest as to which author gets it right. Matilda's personality has suffered throughout history as being one of stubborn, haughty, and arrogant, only thinking of the title denied her. In this book she is still those things but with a much more human air. Her relationship with her brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester shows how much she relied on him and his judgement, both as a battlefield commander and as a trusted advisor. Her loyalty to her fellow nobleman, Brien fitz Count is touchingly portrayed and although a romantic involvement is hinted at, Penman never fully accepts the premise that it went any further than deep conversations and intense trust. 

One of my favorite parts of the novel is Matilda's escape from Oxford Castle in winter. I could feel the cold, the exhaustion, and desperation of the group as they attempt to evade Stephen's men who are completely unaware that such a feat is even in the realm of possibility. Penman recounts the harrowing night minute by minute and you feel as if you are with them.

Stephen is portrayed as the man caught between being too nice and too harsh. His inconsistency is shown throughout the story in a way that made me feel sorry for him while also being incredibly exasperated too. His interaction with his wife, also Matilda, and their son Eustace is realistic and heartbreaking as they come to the realization that Eustace is not the man they hoped he'd be. He is cruel and narcissistic and disappoints them. While Henry, Matilda's son is the perfect choice to succeed Stephen, this puts Stephen in yet another dilemma from which he is hard pressed to make difficult choices. Time and again his weakness for pleasing others comes to the surface but then he overreacts when he senses people are doubting him. I found myself identifying with this very human side in a way I didn't in other books about the period. It gave me great insight into how hard it must have been to rule effectively in a time when weakness is not tolerated and Kings must stay true to their threats or risk being undermined at every turn. 

Penman included a few fictional characters who show up in subsequent books. Ranulf, his wife Rhiannon and her family are distant relatives in Wales and Ranulf is Matilda's brother, one of Henry I's many illegitimate sons. While I enjoyed their story as a way to learn more about the Welsh, they were not a huge excitement factor for me. Ranulf's story seemed to serve as the romantic part that I guess she felt needed addding. He appears in many of the following books though so his storyline is not one to skip. 

I am currently finishing the last book in the Plantagenet story written by Penman. These are books that are sure to be classics. I do not doubt that I will read them again one day. If you start with this one you will not want to wait to buy the next in the series. I found myself peeking back into book two, Time and Chance, and having to force myself not to go down that rabbit hole! You will be hooked and find you are spoiled for her writing as you tackle other stories. 







Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Passionate Tudor: A Novel of Queen Mary I by Alison Weir

 


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Passionate Tudor by Alison Weir. It is her latest fictional take on another famous queen. She always has wonderful research and excellent narrative for these historical fiction books so this one is sure to be good. I know so much about Queen Mary I already so it's not on the top of my TBR pile yet. But I wanted to share it because others might be interested. 

Hope you have found something you can't wait for this week!


May 28, 2024

Historical Fiction


Description courtesy of Amazon

The New York Times bestselling author of the Six Tudor Queens series explores the dramatic and poignant life of King Henry VIII’s daughter—infamously known as Bloody Mary—who ruled England for five violent years.

Born from young King Henry’s first marriage, his elder daughter, Princess Mary, is raised to be queen once it becomes clear that her mother, Katherine of Aragon, will bear no more children. However, Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn has a devastating influence on the young princess’s future when, determined to sire a male heir, he marries Anne, has his marriage to Katherine declared unlawful, brands Mary illegitimate, and banishes them both from the royal court. But when Anne too fails to produce a son, she is beheaded and Mary is allowed to return to court as the default heir. At age twenty, she waits in vain for her own marriage and children, but who will marry her, bastard that she is?

Yet Mary eventually triumphs and becomes queen, after first deposing a seventeen-year-old usurper, Lady Jane Grey, and ordering her beheading. Any hopes that Mary, as the first female queen regent of England, will show religious toleration are dashed when she embarks on a ruthless campaign to force Catholicism on the English by burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake. But while her brutality will forever earn her the name Bloody Mary, at heart she is an insecure and vulnerable woman, her character forged by the unhappiness of her early years.

In Alison Weir’s masterful novel, the drama of Mary I’s life and five-year reign—from her abusive childhood,marriage,andmysterious pregnancies to the cruelty that marks her legacy—comes to vivid life.










Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Conquest by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book One)

 

Publication Date: 
March 4, 2022

Length:
288 pages

Summary:
The first book in a great series, Conquest sat in my Kindle awhile as I read books six and seven first. This one just didn't interest me as much but now that I have finally finished it I'm so glad I did. I really had no working knowledge of the Norman Conquest before the date 1066 and how it was the beginning of the England we know today. But William the Conqueror and his defeat of the Saxon way of life wasn't something I cared much about. With his usual, practical yet entertaining way, Field has managed to make me not only care but now want to seek out more about this turbulent time period.

Will Riveracre, son of the local miller in the village of Sandlake, wants only to marry a nice girl and live his life quietly and peacefully. Although his family is not the most well off in the area, they are content with their lot in life, beholden to the local nobility, or Thegn, who rely on the villagers to supply their way of life at the local Manor.  Accustomed to years of tradition and societal hierarchy, everyone generally accepts their place and with little working knowledge of political machinations outside of their immediate surroundings, cannot imagine things any other way.

Unaware of the brewing threats around them to the North, South, and across the English Channel, the Riveracres and the other villagers are naively of the opinion that as long as they have their men on the ready to defend the current Saxon King Harold Godwineson against any overt threat that could materialize, life will go on as it always has. Suddenly overnight though it seems that they are under attack from Viking Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy, both who claim to have a right to rule England themselves. Will and Selwyn Astenmede, the Thegn's son, are eventually embroiled in the fighting, both unsure of who to back as the outcome of which warrior will come out on top is so uncertain. Choosing the wrong side will have deadly consequences for the defeated. 

Throughout the next year the young men will manage to carve out personal lives with wives and children, while fighting for their way of life. As the battles tear apart the villages and towns caught in the middle, Will and Selwyn try to defend their families, maintain loyalty to their people, but also placate the wrath of William the Conqueror as he tears through the land, showing no mercy to anyone who doesn't bow to his authority. It will be up to Will to eventually convince the people that they must accept their conquest or die fighting it. This doesn't make him popular, but keeps him alive at great cost to himself and his old way of life. 


My Thoughts: 

Normally I prefer not to have fictional characters in these types of stories but Will and Selwyn were interesting and colorful enough that they fit in seamlessly into the storyline. It made me much more sympathetic to the local, terrorized people and how jarring it must have been when all the fighting and plundering of their way of life began. I had no idea how ruthless William of Normandy was either. I grew to really dislike him a lot and although he probably was doing what many other warriors have done who came before him, I found Field's portrayal of him to be one of a fearsome fighter alternating with an almost petulant, child like man who pouts when he doesn't get the immediate respect he feels he deserves. He is completely unforgiving to the Saxon people who don't want him there and scorns anything to do with their way of life.

Field is good at giving battle descriptions without veering off too much into super detailed facts which moves the story along. These books are great at giving one a snapshot of the facts, timeline, and personalities involved but leave enough so that you can pick and choose which subject or person you want to know more about and then go get more on that one area from another source. He also includes such interesting side stories I'd never heard about. There is a mysterious priest, hiding a great secret, a mistress, Edith Swan Neck, who was a real person with a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, and people at court with William who factor into the fictional cast of characters. Another great read and I'm looking forward to the next book, Traitor's Arrow, which will tell the story of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror and his own rise the the throne.


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Abandoned Queen by Austin Hernon (Berengaria of Navarre Medieval Trilogy Book Two)

 


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Abandoned Queen by Austin Hernon. I purchased book one and intend to read it this year. Books two and three are out in 2024 and this is the second in the trilogy. At first I saw it as a romance type book but then I read the sample of book one and it was actually a pretty good start as a historical fiction book. The author is an older gentleman who has written another series about William the Conqueror's son, Richard. 

I hope you have found something you can't wait for on this Wednesday!


February 2, 2024

Historical Fiction


Description courtesy of Amazon books

Berengaria follows her king into the deadly heart of the Crusade

1191

Having married 
Richard the LionheartBerengaria of Navarre is now preparing herself for the turbulent life of a queen.

Though he has not yet secured an heir, Richard is determined not to settle down until he has recaptured Jerusalem from the Saracen forces. Vowing to stay by his side for as long as possible, Berengaria accompanies him on the perilous voyage to the Holy Land.

Caught up in battle plans, Richard has barely a moment to spare for his new bride. And after witnessing a sea battle and a deadly siege in Akko, Berengaria is left disturbed by the king’s ruthlessness.

Surrounded by misery and bloodshed, the young queen begins to understand the true cost of war. And as Richard becomes ever more consumed by his ambitions, she starts to wonder whether their marriage will ever have a chance to flourish…

Will Richard survive his brutal Crusade? Will he and Berengaria return to England in triumph?

Or will the horrors of war tear their marriage apart?

The Abandoned Queen is the second historical novel in The Berengaria of Navarre Medieval Trilogy: Early Plantagenet novels set during the Third Crusade and the reign of Richard the Lionheart.



Saturday, January 20, 2024

The King's Commoner: The rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey by David Field (The Tudor Saga Series Book Two)

 

Publication Date: 
July 24, 2019

Length:
271 pages

This is the second book in Field's Tudor series and although I have purchased the first one about Henry VII, I wanted to read this one first because I didn't know a lot about the story of Thomas Wolsey. 

Summary:
The story begins when Thomas is very young and becoming painfully aware of his place in society. Born in 1473, he is the son of a common butcher of modest means, ridiculed by the upper classes who attend mass with him and are jealous of his cleverness and academic wit. This becomes more apparent as Wolsey grows into manhood, completing his degree in divinity at the young age of fifteen and uses his skills and connections to work his way to becoming chaplain for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He soon finds himself in the service of King Henry VII who appoints him royal chaplain. When his son, Henry VIII becomes king, Wolsey is firmly entrenched as a valuable asset to the Tudor ruler and uses it to his great advantage, steering events in his favor while maintaining the needed reverence due to the King. 

Because Henry VIII is still young and impressionable, he finds himself relying heavily on Wolsey's guidance and affirmation. In the beginning, Thomas is able to amass great wealth and power by making himself invaluable to the King. As time passes though, he finds Henry is growing into his own as a man and ruler and it starts to become more difficult to manipulate things in his direction. Henry grows increasingly more set in his ways and through a series of events with France and Spain, he and Wolsey begin to have conflicts that bleed into their previously trusting relationship. When the King decides to rid himself of Queen Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn, Thomas is expected to deliver the annulment necessary to make this happen. He cannot. And he finds himself in real danger from Henry's wrath. 

My Thoughts: 

I love that Field's books include real people presented in an authentic way so that I feel like I'm getting to know them and their thoughts, not just reading historical events. In this book though it caused me to be conflicted about the main focus because halfway through I really started to dislike Wolsey both as a man and as a religious figure. This is probably exactly what was intended and shows Field's capability as a writer. Unlike Simon de Montfort in The Conscience of a King, Wolsey does not come off as a sympathetic figure at all. We see him begin with promise, incredibly smart, talented, and impressive at a young age.  As he grows more entrenched in royal favor and wealth he comes across as scheming and cynical. It makes it hard to feel badly for him when Henry turns on him.

I can't recommend these books enough if you need a good, solid, chronological timeline of English history. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Field's books as I'm really hoping for a series of books that take place surrounding events from de Montfort through the Tudor years. The three Edwards and Bolingbroke would be wonderful as they seem to be under represented in the historical fiction world. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Justice For the Cardinal, all about Thomas Cromwell and his devotion to Wolsey, his mentor, and the events after this book and Wolsey's downfall.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: Wolves of Winter by Dan Jones (Book Two Essex Dogs Trilogy)

 



For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Wolves of Winter by Dan Jones. This is book two in his Essex Dogs Trilogy. I am looking for good historical fiction about the Hundred Years War between England and France and finding it difficult to come across. I am not a huge fan of books that are based solely on the battles of a certain time period but with this subject that is to be expected. Dan Jones is the author of many great books and his research is always solid and reliable. This might be one to try. I hope you have found a book you can't wait to read this week!

January 30, 2024

Medieval Historical Fiction/War Fiction




Description courtesy of Amazon books

The epic sequel to Essex Dogs, continuing the New York Times bestselling historian's trilogy of novels following the fortunes of ten ordinary soldiers during the Hundred Years' War.

1347. Bruised and bloodied by an epic battle at Crécy, six soldiers known as the Essex Dogs pick through the wreckage of the fighting—and their own lives.
 
Now a new siege is beginning, and the Dogs are sent to attack the soaring walls of Calais. King Edward has vowed no Englishman will leave France ‘til this city falls. To get home, they must survive a merciless winter in a lawless camp deadlier than any battlefield.
 
Obsessed with tracking down the vanished Captain, Loveday struggles to control his own men. Romford is haunted by the reappearance of a horrific figure from his past. And Scotsman is spiraling into a pit of drink, violence, and self-pity.
 
The Dogs are being torn apart—but this war is far from over. It won't be long before they lose more of their own.
 
From a vast siege camp built outside Calais' walls, to the pirate ships patrolling the harbor, and into the dark corners of oligarchs' houses, where the deals that shape—and end—lives are made, this captivating and darkly comic story brings the fourteenth century vividly to life.




Friday, December 29, 2023

The Road To Runnymede by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book 6)

 

Publication Date: 
January 16, 2023

Length: 

215 pages

This is the second David Field book I've read this year and he is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. His books have that perfect balance I love between straight, dry history facts and overly romantic fiction in too many modern historical fiction books today. And while I am happy his books are so inexpensive to buy and free to read with Kindle Unlimited, I'm starting to think he is selling himself short and needs to charge more! 

Summary:

This is the sixth book in his seven part series about the Norman conquest through the reign of Henry III and his son Prince Edward, who eventually becomes Edward I. I reviewed book seven last month, The Conscience of a King, which was about Simon de Montfort. I decided to back up and read about King John, who I honestly know little about, having run across very few historical fiction books devoted to just him and his reign. The book incorporates a fictional character, Hugh, Earl of Flint, to guide the narrative and shows his service to John along with the real person of Ranulf, Earl of Chester. The two cousins endure many hardships and abuse as they try to carry out King John's demands and also care for their much neglected families, who suffer loneliness and worry for their men who are usually far away from home and involved in the next brutal battle. 

When the story begins, Richard the Lionheart is still alive and ruling as well as taking advice from his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine and it seems as if there is no reason to believe this world of strong leadership will not go on for some time. Hugh, having been on crusade with Richard, is happy and content serving his King who he respects deeply and holds in much esteem. When Richard dies young and unexpectedly, Hugh's world drastically changes with the ascension of his younger brother John to the throne of England. 

John and Richard are as different as is possible and Hugh learns quickly that taking advice and self-restraint are not qualities the new leader possesses. Seeing everyone as a possible threat, John seems to work overtime to alienate even his most loyal supporters of which Hugh and Ranulf try to be. As the barons of the day are overtaxed, over committed to endless wars across the channel in France, and treated with disdain at every turn, things become perilous for Hugh as he tries to support John, while seeing the writing on the wall of a coming showdown between the King and his subjects. 

My Thoughts:

Throughout the story of the facts of John's reign, the attempts to restore his lands in France, and his interaction with the Welsh and Scots, is the side story of Hugh and his wife Edwina and their children. Geoffrey, Hugh's son, who will also factor in the next book, is anxious to prove himself and learn the art of being a squire, then a knight in the King's service. He is sent at the age of fifteen to train on the Earl of Chester's estate and bears witness to the brutality of the day in situations beyond his control. The personal stories of Hugh's family members serve to keep the story from becoming too dry and give the reader someone to root for. 

As I read this book I realized that it is a great place to start if you have very little knowledge of the time period. But it is also a great recap of events that are easily forgotten. I found myself wishing I'd read it before tackling some of Sharon Kay Penman's work because Field's books are much shorter and to the point, at only 250-300 pages each. You will not get the detailed, intricate backgrounds of each character or the exhaustive research in Penman's novels, but you will definitely come away with sound information and understand the why, who, and what behind the chosen subject. 

Field has done his homework and he even adds some things I hadn't read about before. His description of the storm which led to the loss of the crown jewels at the end of story was superb and he explains things so effortlessly that even the Great Charter (Magna Carta) was made interesting, something I'd always been a bit bored by. He did a wonderful job of making me understand how John went from being totally in control to being forced to agree, albeit with his fingers crossed, to demands from barons who dared to defy him. 

I love that Field didn't start writing and publishing until he retired from his work as a lawyer. I think to become an author in your 70's is amazing! I am pretty sure I read he'd written a lot before then but hadn't published his work until later. He is doing a great service by giving us these books about English and Australian history, written in an entertaining, readable style for all. I will definitely be reading more. I'd like to start the new year with his book about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, The King's Commoner, because I don't know much about that story. 





Friday, December 8, 2023

The Stolen Crown by Carol McGrath

 

Publication Date: May 18, 2023

Length: 434 pages

As someone who came late to the game in studying the period of The Anarchy between Stephen and Matilda, I am always excited to get my hands on any books set during that time. It is fascinating and exciting and a great backdrop for historical fiction. This author seems to be very popular right now and the gorgeous covers of her books really catch the eye and make you want to try them.

The story begins in 1127 at Windsor Castle. Matilda, or Maud, as she is called, former Empress of Germany, has been called home to England by her father, the current King Henry I, to take up her rightful place as heir to the throne. Having been widowed in Germany and no longer wife of the Emperor there, being female she is at the mercy of her father who insists on making her the one to inherit the crown upon his death. The barons and clergy are not thrilled, but with Maud's brother William, the only legitimate male heir having drowned years before, Maud is all that is left. They swear allegiance to her in front of Henry but this is short lived upon his death. 

Maud is also painfully betrothed to the immature Geoffrey of Anjou and the two are like oil and water. Geoffrey is several years her junior and Maud is used to the adulation and honor due an Empress from her years spent in Germany, while Geoffrey is completely uninterested in both his older wife and in taking up duties in England. He is much more wedded to France, specifically his home territory and in acquiring Normandy and its surrounding lands. 

The basic story of the Anarchy period is related chronologically from the years of Henry's death to the crowning of his grandson, Henry II. We witness the chaos of Maud's fight to regain her title and crown from her cousin Stephen, who has the support and backing of much of the nobility who see a male ruler as the only real solution. All the major players are here: Maud's confidante and trustworthy brother, Robert of Gloucester, sheriff Miles of Gloucester, and Brian Fitz Count, one of the nobility and supporter of Maud. The major battles and skirmishes, Lincoln, Oxford are recounted, as well as Maud's escape into the wintry night to Wallingford. 

We are also introduced to fictional character, the loyal Alice, and her knight love interest, Sir Jacques, who serve as the way McGrath inserts the goings on of the more common folk and their attachment to the nobles and royals in the time period. Alice and her family are entertainers, puppeteers who are loyal to Maud and her side of the fight for the crown.

I started out really enjoying this book. And then about halfway through I started to lose interest. I pushed through to the end but found myself trying to figure out why I wasn't as excited to read it as it unfolded. After reading some reviews by others on Goodreads I finally realized the answer. There just wasn't the character development I wanted and one reviewer described the writing as "wooden." Sometimes it vacillated between sounding like a history book recalling facts and details, and then would try to switch to a more romantic style. It just didn't work for me. I will not say it is not worth reading but I didn't come away learning a lot of new information about the period and I also didn't really care about any of the characters involved, fictional or real. All the information was there but it just didn't flow or have that personal touch the way good historical fiction should.

Will I read another book by this author? Yes, I would like to try one of the books in her Rose trilogy. I am wondering if I read about a subject I don't know a lot about I might enjoy it better. Possibly because I've read so much on the Anarchy period in much greater detail, this book just recapped things I already knew and I skimmed through it for that reason. I rarely shut out an author after one book as I like to see if another works better. This book is a great fit for someone who is just learning about this subject and needs the background information told in an entertaining style. McGrath clearly has that knowledge and her research is solid.  It is good to know what you do learn from it is based on proven, historical facts. That is my number one reason for reading and loving historical fiction.



Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Conscience of a King by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book 6)

 

Publication Date: March 31, 2023

Length: 276 pages

I have purchased books one, six, and seven in this series as they have gone on sale. They sat in my Kindle for awhile and I decided to read the last book in the series first. This was because it is about Simon de Montfort and there are so few historical fiction books about him. 

Simon de Montfort begins his young life watching his parents' quest to conquer the religious Cathars in the Albigensian Crusades in southern France. His father is killed in 1218 while fighting and Simon and his brother Amaury are left as heirs to a family title that must be fought for after it is stolen and given to a distant cousin by a vengeful King John. Amaury agrees to relinquish all rights to the earldom, being the older brother and first in line to inherit any lands, if Simon gives up all rights to the family lands in France. When Simon travels to England to regain his title, Earl of Leicester, he becomes a close ally for a time of King Henry III. He spends countless time and energy proving himself as a military leader and strategist, convincing Henry of his loyalty and rightful place as part of the English nobility.

As a frequent member of the court, Simon witnesses Henry's ability to be swayed by whomever is in his current circle. Henry's wife, Eleanor of Provence and her foreign relatives, often influence him in negative ways, wanting lands, money and titles of their own. Henry's mother, Isabella, who has married into another influential family, the de Lusignans of France, also vie for special privileges and the result is a bitter revolt of the barons and native English nobility who see their rightful inheritances being squandered by those without the authority to do so. 

When Simon marries and begins a family with Henry's sister Eleanor, the stakes increase and the couple work to navigate the tricky political world they are thrust into. When the King and Simon have a serious disagreement and falling out over money owed, the de Montforts flee to France, living as exiles. As things become more tense in England between the barons and Henry, Simon is eventually to return, fighting against Henry and his son Edward, with a showdown of epic proportions.  

This book stuck to the facts of Simon's life as a history book would, only adding a few fictional characters. It is not a long book but packs a lot into the pages. We witness Simon growing both physically and emotionally as well as spiritually and as he moves from young, idealistic boy to military leader, husband, and father, he gains respect from those around him and devotion from those he has saved from a life of poverty and misery. 

Field does a great job of simplifying what is a complicated period, with the Barons' Wars, the foreign influences at court, and the reasons behind the discontent in the nations of England and France. Using a fictional girl, Merle, who is given to Simon as a concubine, whom he never treats as one, the author allows us to glimpse the compassionate part of de Montfort, when he treats her well and cares for her when he doesn't have to.

I have always found this period and subject to be a bit on the dry side, as it is hard to keep up with the political machinations going on but I understood things so much better after reading this book. The significance of de Montfort's attempts at reforms with the provisions of Oxford is not easy for the casual reader and I wish I'd read this one first before Falls the Shadow, by Sharon Penman because I think I might have kept things straight a bit more in her much longer, involved novel. 

I intend to read the other books in this series as well as his Tudor and Maritime ones focusing on Sir Francis Drake. If you are looking to better understand the period of the Norman Conquest through the reign of Henry III, I highly recommend these books in the Medieval Saga Series. 




Friday, November 17, 2023

Noteworthy News #1: The Missing Princes Project

 

I have been wanting a place to post things I've come across that might not fall into the book review or book accumulation category. This might be an author I heard on a podcast, a book advertised online that is already out but I haven't read yet, or just an article that covers a topic related to history or books that looked interesting. So this is my first blog entry titled, "Noteworthy News." If I hear or read something noteworthy that I want to share I'll do it here. Likely it will involve history or mysteries as that is what I love the most!

I have been listening to the podcast Gone Medieval with various guests that centers around, of course, all things Medieval. Yesterday's episode was titled, "Princes in the Tower: New Evidence Revealed" and Philippa Langley was interviewed about her years of research and subsequent book on the subject. I was fascinated to learn that she was the driving force behind the search and eventual discovery of Richard III's body and that this set off a desire for her to prove whether or not he was involved in the death of his nephews. Many people think Richard was unfairly targeted by men of his time and by Shakespeare and made into the villain in this story without the goods to back it up. The Tudor version of him as the evil Uncle has stayed with him for centuries. 



In her interview for the podcast she explains how she spent four years just putting together a timeline of events and trying to determine if there was any reason to believe the princes had died in Richard's care. She talked about the enormous amount of research she compiled and how overwhelming it all was to keep track of. Her book, published just today, November 17th, details the hunt for the truth. It is called The Princes in the Tower: Solving History's Greatest Cold CaseShe worked with police to find out how they conduct cold case investigations, and spent hours reading archival material related to the story. It was called, "The Missing Princes Project" and is the first attempt to use forensic science to really dig into the facts. 

I found all of this so interesting and informative and while I may not get a chance soon to add this to my TBR pile, the podcast interview summed it up enough to give me an idea of the contents of the book. It is obviously a well researched new theory behind a very old unsolved mystery. There were some unique documents uncovered that I won't give away here but either go listen to the podcast episode or read the book and you will be surprised at what was uncovered. 














 






Friday, November 10, 2023

Kings and Queens of Britain: Every Question Answered by David Soud

 

Publication Date: September 1, 2014

Length: 1190 pages

I am still making my way through this wonderful book. But as crazy as my week has been I decided since I haven't finished another complete book, I wanted to review this one anyway as it is one you can read a little at a time, skip around in, treat it more as a "coffee table" type of book. That, and I absolutely love it. It is the kind of history book I will come back to again and again. The colorful pictures and sidebars alone are worth the price and even though I bought it on Kindle I am thinking of ordering the hardcover copy just to have the glossy pictures at my fingertips. 

This book is organized into short chapters on every British monarch, beginning with the Kings of Wessex and starting with a brief history of Roman Britannia. It covers all the important dates and events in the lives of the rulers and the common people, while skipping too many details that would confuse and bore readers who might not have all the background knowledge to follow along easily. Although I consider myself to be better educated in this area than say the average American friend I know, there are many monarchs I know very little about and so giving a general overview of each King and Queen and the milestone historic events in their lives, allows me to see if I am interested in learning more about that person or time in history. 

The sections included are: The House of Wessex, The Norman Kings, The House of Plantagenet, The Houses of Lancaster and York, The House of Tudor, The House of Stuart, The House of Hanover, The House of Windsor, and Royal Edicts. Beautiful pictures of landmark buildings, people, castles, and original documents are included and I spent a lot of time looking at those before I even started reading anything. 

Another plus with this book is that it is not filled with dry and dull facts. The author states that he wanted it to be a "pageant of personalities" rather than a straight history book and he does a great job of focusing on the personal stories while also adding the necessary background of the time period to complement the subjects' life events. 

The last section on Royal Edicts is a wonderful addition. It begins with the Laws of William the Conqueror and runs all the way to Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Speech. As someone who is a bit lazy about reading authentic, primary sources when researching an event in history it was really great to have the major ones complied together and ready to read. There were some like The Assize of Clarendon or The Magna Carta that I know a bit about from reading historical fiction but had never bothered to look at outside of the novel I was reading. It just made this book that much more thorough of a source to pick up when I need to see a chronological timeline of rulers and resources. 

If you are someone interested in the entire chronological timeline of British rulers while not wanting a gigantic, super detailed, time consuming tome this is the book for you. I have found other ones that focus on just Kings or just Queens or maybe a certain era, but this is the best one I've run across that fits in all the rulers with colorful, engaging stories and fascinating supplemental material. It's a perfect gift for the true Anglophile in your life!