Medieval Themes.

Reviewed by M. J. Logue

The third book in a series I have come to love as much as the author's other series.... 

It is still a wonder and a joy to me how the author has managed to create two totally different and totally plausible worlds. I know it's not the done thing to compare two different series-es, but it's so easy for a writer to simply transplant a set of successful characters into another period, appropriately renamed. And Ms Belfrage doesn't - Adam and Kit are fully-rounded (and in Kit's case, almost perpetually fully rounded: might I suggest that Adam ties a knot in it, for the next instalment?) carefully-crafted creatures of the medieval period. 

Yes, there is action and intrigue a-plenty, and adventure to stir the blood. But although they're well done and deftly handled, my favourite parts of this novel are the little domestic touches where the author's research makes for an intimate, tender portrayal of medieval family life. The omniscient Mabel, for instance, I love. (I am also intrigued by Adam's brother William, who may be a man of the cloth but who, I think, has something of a most un-canonical tenderness for Kit. I wonder what will come of it...because I am pretty sure Adam won't like it if he finds out. And I cannot help but wonder if William is quite what he seems to be, or whether a very de Guirande ambition is hidden behind that virtuous exterior...) 

Without giving too much away, I am DELIGHTED to see that my doubts regarding Tom in the first book, were shared by Kit in this one. And that William's handling of that situation is what makes me wonder if he's all he seems to be. 

I love the way themes are developing in this series: the themes of family ties, dysfunctional and otherwise: of deceptions both kindly and unkindly meant; of the contrast between theI "right" and the "wrong" love. Ms Belfrage creates a wonderfully shaded world in which the right choices are not always the defensible choices. There are times when I don't like Adam very much: he doesn't always put his family first, although he always puts his family's future first. (As I said. A very de Guirande ambition.) He can be arrogant, quick-tempered, high-handed. He's also an entirely typical medieval male, and much though I might want him to put Kit's needs to the fore at times, it would be anachronistic for him to do so. 

So book four soon, please - I'm watching that William.... 

Reviewed by Francine:

At a time when Edward the Confessor was King of England, much of the power lay within the hands of three Earls: Leofric of Mercia, Siward of Northumbria, and Godwin(e) of Wessex, the latter's daughter thus wife to Edward - thereby Godwin's sons are Edward's brother-in-laws. Although all these important persons of their day indeed feature on the political map, and within specific scenarios of Ms Lofting's novel, instead of following in the footsteps of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the era, as have other authors writing about this period, Ms Lofting has taken a lesser known figure, Wulfhere. Albeit a man of this time, this author has woven a tapestry depicting Wulfhere's life to the very best of her ability, given little is known of his private affairs. The reader is presented with a wide picture of his family and all those affected by brokered marriages, plus political intrigues and personal ambitions. Is it any wonder Hell, Fire, and Brimstone collide and erupt within the pages of this book, thus the sights, sounds, odours, and snipits of humour impress upon the reader the primitive nature of warriors amidst sense of intellect and scholarly beliefs. Whilst codes of conduct and chivalry do exist, their are those, including Wulfhere, who fail to abide to the C and Cs with enthusiasm, thereby elicit love and wishful thinking is oft the bane of a man's existence as is glory of conquest in bed, and on the battlefield. All in all, a well-researched novel, and enjoyable read!


Reviewed by Francine:

Set within the reign of Edward II and following the tradition of a “romance novel” the author presents the reader with a forced marriage on both counts, thus the hero, and the heroine are at odds from day one, but nothing is quite as it seems on the bridal side. Taking the mediaeval period into consideration, arranged marriages were commonplace so this scenario is more than apt for fiction novels set in the past and the not so distant past. That said, this novel isn’t entirely about fictional characters, for real-time figures of their day hold court within their own domains, and despite pledged fealty to King Edward II, royal politics, betrayal and counter betrayals takes hold and ultimately lead to rebellion against the crown. In the meanwhile Kit (heroine) who’s a feisty young woman learns that her marriage to a young noble (Adam) has added benefits to his benefactor, and no matter whether love blossoms between husband and wife, to refuse to lay down with a Marcher lord (Roger Mortimer) is to risk her husband’s position within the rank and file of Mortimer’s knightly entourage. But of course, Kit is far from a meek-minded wifely individual, and perchance Mortimer would do well to don a steel cod-piece just in case, as should an assailant of mean intent later on.

Aside from erotic episodes which abound alongside love and romance, the more gruesome aspects of war and imprisonment are part and parcel of novels set against the backdrop of feudal knights and kings. But I will say this; the torture scenes were so realistically depicted I felt the victim’s agonised pain, sensed his overt fear of a slow orchestrated death, and the stench of bodily fluids within a rat-infested dungeon seemed to permeate from the pages, and rats must have been there, thus I found Adam’s agony never left me. And no matter what came after I simply could not erase that dungeon cell from my mind. Ms Belfrage has excelled with impact upon this reader, and I dare say others were heartily drawn toward Adam’s plight. The very fact he survives is nothing short of miracle, and given I believe some herbs do have healing properties I had to sweep scepticism aside in favour of fiction. As for more books, there are sad times ahead for the Lord of the Marches and Queen Isabella. That much I do know and suspect Adam will face the awful truth that a greater price must be paid in fealty to a king’s son - the eventual loss of a dearly beloved, a tragedy in itself.

Gisborne (Book of Pawns) by Prue Batten.
Book 1

Review by Francine Howarth.

With sensual prose Ms Batten sets precedence for a traditional mediaeval style romance based on a legend and the romantic chivalry of knights, and has penned this lovely novel in first-person narrative.

Lady Ysabel Moncrieff reveals the tragic circumstances of a missive, which inevitably leads to a long homeward journey from Aquetaine to Moncrieff. A headstrong and wilful young noblewoman, Ysabel is forced to learn life’s hard lessons en route, for her escort Gisborne incites hatred and admiration in double measures thus making his task all the more extreme in keeping her safe and alive. Nonetheless a violent encounter with vagabonds, heart in mouth and fearing the worst Ysabel rallies to action in defence of others and, Gisborne. Mutual respect thereafter abounds betwixt the pair, and one moment of bliss between Gisborne and Ysabel tilts the axis of her inner world: that is until dawn breaks and a known enemy is close at hand.

With home shores reached Ysabel faces a terrible truth, and sure she has trusted her heart to a traitor she’s forced to endure the humiliation of marriage against her will and to the enemy. All the while a secret she dare not reveal endangers her life further and she cannot bear to remain a chattel to a brute of a husband whom she would rather kill than submit to ever again. She takes flight in disguise, but encounters Gisborne along the way. He’s no fool and when she takes flight for a second time, she has a guardian knight at her back. Fate, though, can play cruel tricks and none more so than within this beautifully crafted novel of love and intrigue.

As an aside, the name Moncrieff alone brought to mind the wonderful book of “Romance & Legend of Chivalry” as penned by A. R. Hope Moncrieff.

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Gisborne (Book of Knights) by Prue Batten.
Albeit this book is the second in the “Gisborne Series” the author has followed true to form, and once again Ysabel Moncrieff sets the scenes and reveals aspects of a longing for the father of her child, a longing that knows no bounds. Again, in first-person narrative, Ysabel tells of hardship and loneliness in the wake of the denouement (book 1) which left her bereft not knowing the fate of her beloved Gisborne. Her days in Aquetaine seem endless until the day comes when news of Gisborne’s whereabouts are revealed. Albeit warned against taking rash measures in pursuit of her dreams Ysabel listens to her heart and sets out on a quest to unravel truths from lies.
As brave as any Knight Templar, Ysabel risks travel across the waters to one of the strongholds of the Knights of St John. Nonetheless danger lurks in Cyprus and nothing is quite as it seems, for court intrigue has followed Richard the Lionheart from home shores. Ysabel discovers her beloved is a man of shady existence, and that her presence alone may undermine his role as a 13th century spy. For although he has indeed gained respect in quarters of likeminded souls, there are still enemies within the king’s camp who remain hell-bent on his demise. Rash as ever, Ysabel’s love for Gisborne leads to one foolhardy act, which in turn affords the advantage to his enemy and all looks set to bring him to his knees in utter defeat. But Gisborne is what he is, brave, devious and if only Ysabel can see him for who he really is life could be so much easier. Gisborne book 2 is yet another lovely romantic rendition of misread trust, love and Ysabel learning to read the heart of the man she loves.


Lady Gwendolyn by Magnolia Belle

Review by Francine Howarth.

Vivid imagery with words set the scene and pace for this mediaeval portrayal of abduction, extreme gallantry of knights, and the sheer bravery of one woman who masquerades as the titled Lady Gwendolyn. For when the titled lady's caravan comes under merciless attack en route betwixt England and Scotland, she makes good on her chance at escape. Nonetheless, faced with unknown perils and uncertainty of reaching a safe haven she battles onward ever fearful the enemy are close at hand. Whilst men at arms rally in the hunt to find the Lady Gwendolyn, flirtatious encounters in the past and attractions along the way tell the story of hearts lost and regained. And even a captive wench is not entirely immune to her captor's attentions.

This is not so much a tale of right and wrong and that of black and white situations as might be expected of a Knightly Campaign, for Ms Belle explores the dilemmas of trust, loyalty and romance and ventures to grey areas in the giving of a heart in unexpected circumstance. Meanwhile, the other expected HEAs indeed run true to legends of romance and chivalry, which renders Lady Gwendolyn as a thoroughly delightful read. If you're unfamiliar with mediaeval jargon the footnotes provided will enlighten.