by E.A. Haltom
4.5 star, actually.
4.5 stars, actually.
Wow. This was a terrrific historical fiction novel set in the Prince John/Richard the Lionheart/Eleanor of Aquitane era. A small time Baron (gone on crusade) leaves his young wife in charge of his estate. She not only keeps it going, she also learns how to fight under the tutelage of her main servant, William.
But Gwendolyn’s father, a Welsh prisoner of war, has lineage hearkening back to King Arthur, and William has visions featuring Gwen with a certain important sword. When Gwendolyn & William capture some traitorous men trying to join Prince John’s forces at a nearby castle, they become embroiled in Eleanor of Aquitane’s precarious dance of keeping the peace between her youngest son and his elder, imprisoned King.
There is TONS of research in this. Sometimes the author waxes long and lecturey about the shape of castle portcullis or the kinds of smells in town, etc, that show she really knew her stuff. But those bits don’t detract from the powerful relationship she’s set up between Gwendolyn and William, or the other men that Gwendolyn collects as she moves about the country due to her caring nature.
If you like a touch of Arthurian mystery, British history, or just want to learn about castle moats and narrow windows for arrows, etc, this is the story for you. I love how it places the women of the time front and center (Gwendolyn herself, Eleanor, and another minor wife of an earl Mathilda) showing the power they wielded as mothers and caretakers.
The book ends with one mystery resolved, but definitely feeling slightly cliffhangery in terms of Gwendolyn’s fate. Wish there was another one for me to read!