In twelfth-century England, King Richard the Lionheart has just ascended the throne, and preparations are underway for the Third Crusade to wrest the Holy Land from Saladin’s clutches.
Young lovers Eleanor and Hugh are thwarted by their fathers. While Eleanor is married off to Baron Rolf, a man who simmers with menace and will stop at nothing in his bid for power, Hugh trains to become a knight and embarks on Crusade to escape an arranged marriage to a woman he despises.
From the stark walls of Dover Castle, to the sanctuary of an austere priory and across tempest-swept seas to Normandy and the prosperous city of Messina, Sicily, Eleanor and Hugh must each brave a lonely and perilous journey of love and loss, grief and endurance with only their own wits to rely on.
For the past twelve years I have worked as a librarian at Guildhall Library specialising in the history of London, where I present talks, run workshops, lead discussion groups and I have even organised four Regency Balls to engage people in history. An aficionado of historical fiction, in one of my recent talks From Historical Fiction to History I explored the relationship between historical fiction and history with a focus on some of my favourite novels. Before Guildhall Library, I worked for nine years as a librarian/researcher at the Guardian and Observer newspapers. website
My thoughts: lots of research has clearly gone into this book to bring the sense of the 12th Century vividly to life – especially the smells! Eleanor often comments on the stench in her chapters, possibly because of her sensitivity to them. Both she and Hugh find themselves in what seems like impossible situations.
Eleanor’s father marries her off to a horrible, cruel monster of a man – all for money. Hugh’s father tries to do the same. Terrible fathers both, not remotely thinking about their children at all. But both Hugh and Eleanor are strong and manage to rescue themselves from their misfortunes, Hugh goes off to fight in the Crusades with his uncle and cousin. Eleanor has to survive harsh trials too – alone and with only her wits, and her singing voice, to sustain her. No man comes to her aid so she saves herself and finds a different life.
I liked Eleanor – much like the Queen she was named for (Eleanor of Acquitaine, Queen of France, England and mother of among others, Richard the Lionheart and Bad King John) she is resilient, intelligent and proves much more capable than many women of her class would be expected to be. She doesn’t need a man to look after her, she can take care of herself.
Life in medieval England was pretty grim, especially for women, but this book shows a few surviving, and thriving, against a backdrop of war, poverty and misery. Eleanor is the hero of this book and deserves her happy ending.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.