Friday, May 30, 2008

Cover Story: April Lady by Georgette Heyer

Being a regency romance April Lady has had the privilege of more revealing covers, often depicting couples seemingly in love. It's also the one we found more covers of apparently confirming the popularity of Heyer's romance novels.

Do you know of any other April Lady covers? The last cover shown is of the Arrow Edition we are giving away. Don't forget to leave a comment to be in the draw!

You can get the full details of the two different types of give aways that we are having here

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

April Lady by Georgette Heyer

When Lord Cardross marries the young Lady Helen he also finds himself coping with her father's financial disasters and the pressing gambling debts of her scapegrace brother. Many escapades must be resolved before the much-tried Earl can smooth the course of true love in his own marriage.

April Lady is, like several Heyer novels, a comedy of errors.

Lady Cardross, recently married, is very much in love with her husband but tries to hide as her mother told her on the eve of the wedding that she was merely a convenience to Cardross and his sister mentioned to her he had a mistress thus making her even more sure of his lack of love for her. Lord Cardross is madly in love with his wife but fears she only married him because he is very rich and her family of gamesters was very much in need of funds.

When the story starts Helen (Nell) has incurred in a great deal of debt not only to help her brother but also with the dress makers. Seeing her worried Cardross tells her he will pay all the debts but she forgets to give him one and after promising him she will take better care of her purchases she doesn't have the courage to ask him to pay one more. She tries to find a way to have the money needed asking for her brother's help but she finds herself unable to look her husband in the eye for fear he will discover the debt. At the same time, finding her behaviour odd Cardross starts to believe she just married him so she can pay the family's debts and feels nothing for him.

Heyer always writes fun lines and vivid characters but although I enjoyed the book I think Nell needed to sparkle a bit more, say like Leonie in These Old Shades or Horatia in The Convenient Marriage. Two books where we have a younger heroine paired up with an older man but in which they steal the scenes they appear in. Cardross also seems to lack the condescending and sometimes sarcastic and self deprecating humour those heroes had.

There are quite a few adventures involving Cardross's sister and her beloved that lead to an even bigger misunderstanding between Lord and Lady Cardross but everything gets solved in the end and I almost laughed out loud with the set down Dysart gives Cardross about him not taking care of his wife. Dysart is after all a carefree rogue always involved in new adventures and without a feather to fly with so hardly the type to be giving lectures but in this case Cardross has to accept it with grace.

Recommended for true fans of the author but if you're trying her for the first time look for Arabella or The Grand Sophy.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Guest Post by Chris - Two Heyer reviews

We are very pleased to bring you another guest post, this time by Chris from Book-A-Rama. Thanks Chris!

Last year I discovered Georgette Heyer. I don't know how I managed to miss reading her novels. There are so many and they are a style I enjoy. I was given 2 of her books to review and she quickly became a favorite of mine. One good thing about discovering an author late is that there is the whole body of work to look forward to reading. Here are the reviews as I originally posted them on my blog, book-a-rama.

An Infamous Army

An Infamous Army is the first book I've read from Georgette Heyer, the historical novelist. First published in 1937, Heyer's novels are now being released by Sourcebooks.

The Infamous Army of the title is led by the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo. Much of the novel revolves around Lady Barbara Childe (Bab to her friends). She can best be described as the Paris Hilton of her day. Everything she does is scandalous, but she does it with such style that the other ladies are envious of her boldness. She flirts her way through the young officers stationed in Brussels awaiting war with Napoleon. She breaks hearts until she meets Colonel Charles Audley and finds she's met her match but of course things don't go as planned.

A complete 180 from the romance and glitz of the balls is the gore and carnage of the war. On June 15, 1815 right in the middle of a party, war is declared and the ladies are left wondering if their sweethearts, sons and brothers will come back to them alive. I've read both War & Peace and Vanity Fair but neither described the battles with as much bloody realism as Heyer does. Sometimes, for my own taste, Heyer went into the description of the battle too much. I couldn't follow who was where and what manoeuvres were done when. I'm not big on war stories. But the sights and the sounds of the battlefield brought me there with Wellington and his men.

The research for this novel must have been phenomenal: the clothes, the manners, the battle, very vividly written. I had trouble with all the Lord So-and-so's and Lady Who-what's-its but figured them out eventually. Plus, all the Brits were so heroic, I had a moment of irritation with them all. But I suppose the novel is a product of it's time.

This was a big book at 485 pages but all in all I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of her novels.


After reading An Infamous Army, I couldn't wait to give Georgette Heyer more of my time. Cotillion is quite a different novel than An Infamous Army. Kitty Charing, the ward of a cantankerous miser, must marry one of the old man's great-nephews or be left penniless upon his death. Kitty's choices are: the stogy Hugh, the simple minded Dolph, the dandified Freddy or the rakish Jack. Kitty can only image marrying Jack whom she's adored since childhood. Jack refuses to be pushed into marriage; it's too much fun being a sought after bachelor in London.

Kitty, desperate to get to London and out from under the thumb of 'Uncle Matthew', devises a scheme. She convinces Freddy to pose as her fiance to make Jack jealous. Sure of her plan, she drags Freddy all over London stumbling into misadventures only Jack, Chrissy and Janet could appreciate. Kitty involves herself in unlikely couples' romances and neglects her own. To know how it all turns out for Kitty, you just have to read it. I don't want to give too much away.

Cotillion is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Kitty is adorable and warm hearted, but she never thinks through her plans. Freddy somehow manages to pull her out of her messes with a calm practicality that surprises everyone. At times, it reads like a Regency version of "Dumb and Dumber" (without the gross). Their trip to the museums was quite funny. Here is Freddy's reaction to 'treasures of ancient Greece':

"...he was called upon to admire the Three Fates, from the eastern pediment. 'Dash it, they've got no heads!' he protested.
'No but you see, Freddy, they are so very old! They have been damaged' explained Miss Charing.
'Damaged! I should rather think so! They haven't got any arms either!..."

While reading An Infamous Army, I was often overwhelmed by the painstaking detail of the battle of Waterloo. The only battles here were ones fought by ambitious Mamas but I was frustrated with Freddy's vernacular. First, he has an aversion to pronouns and also uses a tremendous amount of slang. It took me awhile to get used to it. A glossary might be helpful. Now I see that it was a device used by Heyer to convince the reader that Freddy isn't very bright.

Although it's comic, it also has a lot of heart. I really loved each of the characters. The book also emphasizes how little control a woman of that time had over her own destiny.

I definitely recommend Cotillion if you are in the mood for something light and fun as well as well written.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is better known for her regency novels. However she did write some medievals including this biography of William, The Conqueror.

Base-born son of Richard, Duke of Normandy, William the Bastard had to fight for his crumbling heritage, then to subjugate in battle his feudal lord, the King of France.

Spurned in love he horse-whipped the lovely Princess Matilda, then made her his bride.

Thwarted by the Saxon Earl Harold of a solemn promise of the throne of England, he sailed with his armies to a moment of destiny at Hastings.

A complex character, William had to fight for his life and his rights from early on. Born the bastard son of the Duke of Normandy it was by pure strength of will that he became one of the most powerful and respected men of his time.

The book is very detailed and follows William's life pretty closely, from battle to battle till he reaches the English crown thus giving us a rich and complex view of the day's politics and interests. To better show her views Heyer uses the character of Raoul, one of William's knights, who is fiercely loyal to him and is even entrusted with negotiating William's wedding to Matilda of Flanders (after a pretty unusual courtship).

William succeeded to his father very early in life. The Duke Robert had made his men swear his son would be his heir before going on pilgrimage and when news of his death arrived William was 8. Not willing to stand by their oath the Barons started fighting amongst themselves and tried to use the child as a pawn for their interests. Many of his guardians and presumably friends were killed trying to protect him.

At fifteen he was knighted and he was ready and determined to fight for his inheritance. Known as William the bastard he became ruthless in his pursuit of what he believed was rightfully his, first the Duchy of Normandy and then the kingdom of England.

We never get the feeling that we do know William very well, he always seems a bit cold emotionally, but she is great at describing the battle scenes and showing the charisma that made him a leader of men.

It doesn't really seem fair to compare this book to Heyer's other works as it's very different in tone and in subject matter. There's very little romance in this story unlike her other books. Although William and Matilda seem to have been happy in their marriage the books doesn't focus much on their relationship. I really enjoyed this story and I must confess that it made me want to go and look for her other medievals.

Grade: B

Friday, May 23, 2008

Georgette Heyer Sightings

Whilst we here have been indulging in Georgette Heyer season, there have also been couple of other interesting posts I have come across about Heyer that I thought I would share.
The first was over at Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover, where Elaine talks about two of the new batch of releases from Sourcebooks, Black Sheep and Lady of Quality.

As an aside, I also feel compelled to mention that there is also a giveaway at that blog of Sarah Bower's new book which is being released in the UK next month called The Book of Love. Having really enjoyed The Needle in the Blood, I am definitely looking forward to reading this book!

The second sighting was at The Good, The Bad and The Unread where author Lynne Connolly has written a post telling why she is crazy about Georgette Heyer and where she talks about Heyer's "unique and special voice" and looks at Heyer's role in creating the Regency romance subgenre.

Another aside....we reviewed one of Lynne Connolly's books, Yorkshire, and there is another review post waiting in draft for when we either have a quiet moment during the Season, or for when the Season is over and we all need to have a little rest!

Enough asides.....we hope you are enjoying Georgette Heyer Season so far, and don't forget that if you leave a comment on any of the Georgette Heyer Season posts, or blog about the Season you will be in the draw to win one of three books. Alternatively, if you are inspired to want to do a guest post for us you will go into the draw to win the Heyer book of your choice! Full details of the giveaways are here.

Cover Story: The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer

We thought it might be a fun idea to do some Cover Story posts on the books that we are giving away. Here's the first of them.

Heyer's books have been given several different covers, some of them look a bit old and dated but the more recent reprints have beautiful covers.

The Spanish Bride tells the story of Sir Harry Smith and his wife Juana, who he met during the war in the Peninsula and married when she was just 14. Heyer found information on this interesting couple when she was researching for An Infamous Army and couldn't resist telling their story.

Which one is your favourite? Does your book have a different cover? The last cover is the book we are giving away...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guest Post by Aarti - A Self Confessed Heyer Addict!

We are very pleased to have our first guest post from Aarti who blogs at BookLust. Don't forget if you would like to do a guest post for Heyer Season just let us know, and you will go into the draw to win the Heyer book of your choice!

First of all- thank you to Historical Tapestry for inviting me to be a guest blogger! What an honor. And to blog about my favorite author? Even better! I am thrilled with the opportunity. Georgette Heyer has been such a huge presence in my historical fiction reading life since I first started reading her that I can't really determine whether I like Heyer because I have always enjoyed historical fiction, or whether I like historical fiction because I was introduced to it by Georgette Heyer. Either way- I'm glad it's all worked out the way it has.

My first Georgette Heyer book was The Nonesuch. I was probably about seventeen when I read it. I loved Sir Waldo and his sense of humor and his charitable works. I thought Ancilla was the perfect match for him. I thought the secondary characters, all village busybodies who gossiped about anyone around them, were so fleshed out that I could imagine exactly what a conversation involving two of them would be. I loved the setting, and the descriptions of the clothing and the carriages and the horses. But, I admit... mostly, I loved Sir Waldo.

From then, I was hooked. I went to the library and got a few more Heyers. Then a few more- luckily, the local library was well-stocked. I went through a dozen, from These Old Shades to The Reluctant Widow, from The Talisman Ring to Black Sheep. I started purchasing them soon after. It is Georgette Heyer, even more than Jane Austen, that got me on my unending obsession with Georgian and Regency era England- I now purchase pretty much every non-fiction book relating to that era I come across. I went to my semester abroad in London armed with a list of sights to see, from Brighton Pavillion to Rotten Row, Bond Street, Hatchard's book store, Grosvenor Square- everywhere. I visited any sight remotely connected to the Regency era. Georgette Heyer has an entire shelf (and a little bit more) of prime space on my bookshelf devoted solely to her novels. She is one of the few authors whose books I will read and re-read, over and over. If I see one of her books at a used bookstore, I buy it, even if I already own it. I often think that, had I just lived two hundred years earlier, in an aristocratic London populated by her characters, I would never be bored.

I'm pretty much a Heyer addict, to put it mildly.

Georgette Heyer has obvious appeal for teenage readers- her books (I am focusing on the Regencies, since I have not read many of her mysteries or her novels set in non-Regency eras) are full of dashing heroes, adventure, marriageable ladies and, of course, true, pure love. But she has much to offer readers as they grow older as well. Her heroes are dashing, yes- but they often have flaws (usually excessive pride and arrogance). Her ladies are marriageable, but they are refreshingly not always beautiful or helpless- they are often witty and self-reliant and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. And the dialogue- Heyer makes me laugh out loud. She is simply a pleasure to read. Some of her characters have so much chemistry that they literally sizzle. Charles and Sophy in The Grand Sophy are an example of this. Dominic and Mary in Devil's Cub. Some of the matchings are more mature, and based on real friendship and comfort in each other- Tristram and Sarah in The Talisman Ring, or Miles and Abby in Black Sheep. Some of the pairings help each character grow into a better person, such as happens in Sylvester, Cotillion and Friday's Child.

I would try to name a favorite, but I don't think I really can. I love all the ones for which I have name-dropped throughout my post above. I am sure I'm also forgetting some of my favorites. If you are new to Heyer- welcome. I envy anyone their first reading of The Unknown Ajax (there's another name I'm dropping!). If you have read Heyer before, I hope Historical Tapestry's focus on her novels will move you to re-read her books. I know it is doing so for me. The only trouble now is to choose which one...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heyer Books Giveaway

As announced during our Georgette Heyer Season introductory post we will have 2 book giveaways, one for everyone who leaves a comment in one of the posts or reviews that are Heyer related and another for the guest bloggers who want to write reviews of Heyer's books to be posted here at Historical Tapestry.


We have 3 books to offer to everyone who leaves a comment in one of the "Georgette Heyer Season" posts between May 17th and June 10th. The winners names will be announced on June 11th.

The books are:

April Lady
The Spanish Bride
Royal Escape

April Lady is an Arrow Books edition and the other two books are part of the rerelease of books from the good people at Sourcebooks.

Blog about Georgette Heyer Season and you will receive a second entry into the contest. Just leave us with a comment with a link.


Write a post for us about Heyer (it could be a review of your favourite Heyer book(s), or a post about why you love to read Heyer) and we will post it here. You will be automatically entered in a contest to win a Heyer book of your choice. We have 3 more books to offer for this contest. Names will be drawn from a hat on June 14th and announced here on June 15th. The only limitation is that the book that you choose must be available from either Amazon US or The Book Depository - other than that you can choose whatever Heyer book you like!

Good luck!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spotlight On: Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer (1902 - 1974) was a very British writer who became famous for writing novels set in the Regency period. Although she also wrote historical fiction set in different periods and quite a few mysteries she is better known for her long list of regencies. They are romance novels full of witty dialogue, some a comedy of errors, all set in the high society that gathered at Almack's or White's and whose main pursuits seemed to be attending balls, go to the theatre and generally patenting an appropriate behaviour according to the period and the Almack's patronesses. Like in Jane Austen novels her heroines are hoping to find love and also to marry well (meaning rich men).

Heyer was always very detailed and tried to be as accurate as possible. It is well known that she had many reference books and indeed her novels are an example of historical accuracy. Nowadays there are many historical romances and many regency romances being published every year, not everyone knows that Heyer is considered the creator of the regency romance genre.


Historical fiction

The Great Roxhythe (1923)
Simon the Coldheart (1925)
Beauvallet (1929)
The Conqueror (1931)
Royal Escape (1938)
My Lord John (1975)

Romance novels
The Black Moth (1921)
Instead of the Thorn (1923)
The Transformatrion of Philip Jettan (later republished as Powder and Patch)
Helen (1928)
Pastel (1929)
Barren Corn (1930)
These Old Shades (1926)
The Masqueraders (1928)
Devil's Cub (1932)
The Convenient Marriage (1934)
Regency Buck (1935)
The Talisman Ring (1936)
An Infamous Army (1937)
The Spanish Bride (1940)
The Corinthian (1940)
Faro's Daughter (1941)
Friday's Child (1944)
The Reluctant Widow (1946)
The Foundling (1948)
Arabella (1949)
The Grand Sophy (1950)
The Quiet Gentleman (1951)
Cotillion (1953)
The Toll-Gate (1954)
Bath Tangle (1955)
Sprig Muslin (1956)
April Lady (1957)
Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (1957)
Venetia (1958)
The Unknown Ajax (1959)
A Civil Contract (1961)
The Nonesuch (1962)
False Colours (1963)
Frederica (1965)
Black Sheep (1966)
Cousin Kate (1968)
Charity Girl (1970)
Lady of Quality (1972)

Footsteps in the Dark (1932)
Why Shoot a Butler? (1933)
The Unfinished Clue (1934)
Death in the Stocks (1935)
Behold, Here's Poison (1936)
They Found Him Dead (1937)
A Blunt Instrument (1938)
No Wind of Blame (1939)
Envious Casca (1941)
Penhallow (1942)
Duplicate Death (1951)
Detection Unlimited (1953)

To know more about her:
Heyer Listserv
A Book For All Reasons

Sunday, May 18, 2008

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Under the reign of Louis XV, corruption and intrigue have been allowed to blossom in France, and Justin Alastair, the notorious Duke of Avon and proud of his soubriquet ‘Satanas’, flourishes as well. Then, from a dark Parisian back alley, he plucks Leon, a red-headed urchin with strangely familiar looks, just in time for his long over-due schemes of revenge on the Comte de St. Vire. Among the splendours of Versailles and the dignified mansions of England, Justin begins to unfold his sinister plans - until, that is, Leon becomes the ravishing beauty Leonie...

It's a compliment to Georgette Heyer that she can write a story with one of my personal pet peeves and make it work - this is a girl in pants story.

The story has a mystery, romance, friendship, a villain or two and a case of stolen identity.

The Duke of Avon is an arrogant, cynical and jaded man. He constantly refers to himself has the devil thus showing how fond he is of his bad reputation. One day while strolling on the streets of Paris he finds a young "boy" running away from a beating and decides to protect him. "He" becomes Avon's page and totally devoted to his saviour who "he" believes to be a noble and good man no matter what Avon, and everyone else, says to deny it. It is soon apparent that there is a motive for Avon's actions other than the kindness of his heart. Leon, or Leonie, will be his instrument of revenge towards an old enemy.

I love how Heyer shows the relationship between the older, jaded aristocrat and the young naive girl. He is always in control of his actions and emotions, she is very impulsive and emotional. She is always very honest, sometimes too honest in her remarks and about her situation but Heyer makes it work wonderfully. Unlike other stories with girls disguised as boys Avon immediately sees that Leonie is a girl and let's her continue the ruse to keep appearances and till he can discover more about her. Once he does he puts her in his sisters care what Leonie sees as a loss of his favour. It's clear from early on that Leonie loves Avon and that he fights what he feels for her because he feels he is too old and unworthy.

Without giving much away of the plot Leonie will be put in danger by Avon's old enemy, The Comte de Saint Vire, and it will take several adventures to rescue her and uncover the truth of Leonie's past. In the mean time we get to know a few more members of Avon's family and have some insight on his past. I liked that it had action, witty and funny dialogue, a good plot and believable characters. Heyer does a good job with portraying the Georgian atmosphere and mannerisms (the book is set circa 1756) making it a very good read.

Grade: A

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Yorkshire by Lynne Connolly

Rose Golightly accompanies her family on a visit to their cousins in Yorkshire, she finds a run down house, not the society gathering she and her sister are hoping for. Lord Hareton has deliberately run down the once great Hareton Abbey until it’s a near ruin. The only other guests at Hareton are the twin Kerre brothers, intimidating and haughty leaders of society, together with the fiancĂ©e of the older brother.

When the Earl of Southwood’s son and heir, Richard, Lord Strang is badly injured in the same accident that kills her cousins, Rose is forced into the position of nurse--and detective. The attraction between Richard and Rose is instant and undeniable, but Richard is to marry the frigid Julia Cartwright in a few weeks, and has deliberately closed his heart to love. In order to offer Rose his heart he must extricate himself from an engagement he has long come to regret.

When they discover that what at first appeared accidental was in fact a deliberate act of sabotage Richard and Rose set out to solve the mystery. Can Rose trust her instincts, ignoring Richard's reputation as a seducer and give him everything she has to offer? Can they clear Rose's family name by discovering her cousins’ murderer?

The book is written in the first person from Rose's point of view. it doesn't work with every story but in the right one it can be just the thing and I quite liked it. Rose Golightly and Richard Kerre meet in unusual circumstances. While she is already on the shelf and a country girl he is used to go about seducing married ladies in society and is presently contracted to marry another young lady. We get to know Rose's thoughts and her surprise at Richard's feelings towards her and how she deals with it. Especially how difficult it is for her to believe he loves her and how could there be a happy ending when he is supposed to marry someone else. One thing about Richard is that he is determined to win Rose and marry her no matter what. I liked that! Another thing I liked in the book is the atmosphere, manners, behaviours and conversations nothing is out of place. Rose is a very sensible girl, she analises her feelings and proceeds accordingly.

The book is also centered around the mystery of who provoked the accident that killed the Earl of Hareton, his heir and injured Richard. I found the mystery was very interesting and added something to the story without overwhelming the romance. All in all a very solid story with interesting characters and I'm hoping the other books in the series will be released soon.

Grade: B+

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

Originally posted on my blog June 2007.
Following early beginnings as a knight in the English royal household and a champion of the tourneys, William Marshal's prowess and loyalty have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare, heiress to great estates in England, Normandy and Ireland. Now a powerful magnate, William has weathered the difficult years of King Richard's absence on crusade and is currently serving him on campaign in Normandy while Isabelle governs their estates.

All the stability William and Isabelle have enjoyed with their young and growing family comes crashing down as Richard dies and his brother John becomes King. Rebellion is stirring throughout the Angevin domains and although John has created William Earl of Pembroke, the friction between the two men leads William and Isabelle to distance themselves in Ireland. The situation escalates, with John holding their sons as hostages and seizing their English lands. The conflict between remaining loyal and rebelling over injustices committed, threatens to tear William and Isabelle's marriage and their family apart. As the dramatic events unfold, William has to steer an increasingly precarious path that will lead him eventually to the rule of a country in desperate straits, and Isabelle walks with him every step of the way, fiercely intelligent, courageous - fearing for the man who is the light of her life.

The Scarlet Lion is a captivating historical novel, based on the true story of one of England's greatest leaders. Elizabeth Chadwick skillfully illuminates the complex lives of William Marshal, his wife Isabelle and the turbulent era of the early thirteenth century with all the texture, colour and dramatic detail of the richest stained-glass window.

Again this is a book that I finished a while ago, and having got around to reviewing yet!

The Greatest Knight was the first book that I read by Elizabeth Chadwick, and I really, really enjoyed it, so when this book came out, I had it on my request list as soon as it was added to the library catalogue! And I wasn't disappointed!

The Scarlet Lion basically picked up where The Greatest Knight left off. William and Isabel were married and enjoying life together. William was still serving the all powerful Angevin kings and queens of England, with Isabelle regularly giving birth to an ever growing number of children. Things are, however, destined to become a little less stable with the news that King Richard (known as The Lionheart) has died, and that he has supposedly named his duplicitous younger brother John as his successor.

What follows is episode after episode of betrayal, double crossing, promises and lies as John and William constantly clash, to the point where many of their lands are taken away, only to be returned at later times. John is a very tricky man. He often doesn't want William at court, and yet he will play games with his approval for William and family to return to their Irish lands. Even there, John's hand can be seen muddying the waters.

Isabelle was an amazing woman in her own right. It was through her family connections that William was entitled to rule many of their Irish lands. Not only did she give birth to many children, when she decides to remain in Ireland and William returns to court, Isabelle has to face their Irish enemies, defeat them and to pass judgement when 9 months pregnant.

She is also terribly torn, as John orders that two of her son's are bought to the court to learn to be squires and knights, much to the distress of William and Isabelle, who distrust John intensely. Whilst William continues to walk the fine line between obeying and defying John, their son's lives are literally in John's hands, and it is a dilemma that begins to form a breech in the formerly strong relationship between them. The breech grows larger, as John and his cohorts begin to influence the eldest son and heir, there is yet more dissension, this time between father and son, and in the end, there is a potentially a stand off looming between father and son.

Yet for all the political maneuvering, William manages to keep a couple of major assets - his honour and the respect of his peers, even those who don't always agree with him - and when John dies, it is William who is asked to lead the country, acting as regent to the young king, Henry III.

Chadwick has once again delivered a fantastic story, filled with the colorful characters of time past - real people with different problems than ours, but yet still with other recognisable problems that we can identify with - the pains of letting go of children, of family disharmony, of growing older.

The story of William Marshal's life, begun in The Greatest Knight, and continued in this book, is a very interesting and exciting one, and both books are well worth reading. I really do intend to read some of Chadwick's earlier works and work my way through her backlist!

Rating 4.5/5

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Originally posted on my blog in April 2006:

I have never read any Elizabeth Chadwick novels before even though I have had her on my TBR list for quite some time. When I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf at the library I thought here is my opportunity! So it then moved to my shelf for the best part of a two and a half months until suddenly I realised that I was not going to be able to extend any further, so I was going to have to either take it back or just get on with it and read it. I chose the latter, and to be honest I am wondering why on earth I didn't read it when I first got it because it was a very enjoyable read!

The book follows William Marshal from the time he is 5 years old through to around 48 years of age (there will be another book to cover from then until his death that the author is currently working on). This is a fictionalised version of his life, taking the events that we do know from history, and then weaving and fleshing out the story into very readable, very enjoyable look at life in the times of the Plantagenet period of English history.

William was the fourth born son of John Marshal (Marshal to King Stephen), and nephew to the Earl of Salisbury. When he was approximately 5 years old William was handed off as to King Stephen as a hostage against his father's promise (not an uncommon event at that time). When William's father did not keep his word, King Stephen had every right to hang William, but he did not. What King Stephen did do was give William what would appear to be his life mantra - A King Values Loyalty.

When he was around 20 years of age William was knighted and began to participate in the tourneys that were part of the life in Northern France. After suffering a setback in his first major tourney, William quickly learns how to fight and win, and build his store of wealth. The author has done a great job at portraying the colour, and the pageant associated with the tourneys, but it was not an easy life, especially for a young man who was born with such limited prospects, and who is living in his uncle's house by his good grace alone. As his success continues and reputation grows, William becomes probably the most successful knight on the tourney circuit. In the epilogue, Chadwick compares the adulation that William Marshal would have received due to his success at the tourneys to that accorded to modern footballers now:

Rather like the sporting heroes of today, the great tourney champions were much in demand and sponsors would pay vast sums of money to have them on their 'team'. The world of high earnings, transfer fees, hero worship and celebrity that, for example, we associate with modern-day football was a concept already embraced by the followers of the tourney circuit in the late twelfth-and early thirteenth century Europe. William Marshal was the David Beckham of his day!

Whilst out riding with the Queen one day, William saves her life when they are attacked by a group of rebels. He is taken captive and is not released until someone pays the price of his release. Once he is released, William is appointed as tutor to the sons of Queen Eleanor, thus beginning a life long service to the Plantagenet family.

His service was to Prince Henry, who was eventually crowned the Young King concurrently with his father King Henry II. This was one of several things that I learnt whilst reading this book. I had no idea that it was the French tradition to crown the heir to the throne, whilst the current King was still alive. Another thing I learned was that tourneys were not at that time held in England because King Henry didn't like them.

If you know anything about the Plantagenet family, you will know that they were practicallly the model of the ultimate dysfunctional family (throughout the events of this book Queen Eleanor is being held as her husbands captive!) and it is not long before Prince Henry was fighting his father, and eventually openly rebelling against him, making alliances with his father's enemies. Whilst William did his best to contain his charge without upsetting him too much, William's enemies saw ideal opportunities to undermine his position and his authority. For with success in the Royal courts comes ambitious jealousy and dangerous gossip to which William falls prey when he is accused of having an affair with the Young Queen Marguerite, Henry's bride and sister of the French king. William is banished from court and begins a period of wandering, mainly making pilgrimages to atone for the sins of the desecration of a chapel that occurred under the order of Henry earlier.

Eventually recalled to court, William once again acts as right hand man to the Young King, knowing that it could well count against him with the King because of the open rebellion between the two Kings, but then the young king Henry is taken ill and dies. William takes time out and journeys to Jerusalem to fulfill the dying wish of his master. There is little known of this time in his life, and this is one area in which Chadwick chooses not to elaborate, keeping this mystery for us as we read through her book. When William returns to court, Henry recognises the loyalty that William displayed to his son and appoints him to his court, again rising to a position of authority and influence. And then it seemed that the cycle began again, this time with the rebellion between King Henry and his now heir Richard (known to us these days as Richard the Lionheart), and then between King Richard and his brother Prince John who is attempting to undermind Richard through underhanded scheming and dealing as Richard is held hostage in Austria and Prince John attempts to gain the throne any way he could.

Rewarded with various lands and gifts, one of the greatest gifts that William was given was the marriage to Isabel de Clare, bringing both what certainly appeared to be a happy marriage, but also children, lands, and wealth. In order to win this great prize though, William had still had to figure out whether to accept what he was given (for he was originally given another young ward with a view to marriage) or asking for more! He was ably assisted in this regard by Queen Eleanor who was a great champion for his cause.

Not only did William have to tread carefully as he made his way through the Plantagenet court, he also had to deal with his own family, finding himself more often than not on the opposite side of a quarrel to his own brother, and trying to ensure that his family was advanced as much as possible.

There is a great deal to cover to give animation to the facts that are known of the life of this man, and so the author moves through from event to event. There are times when the time difference between two chapters can be several years. Whilst at times I found these jumps a bit distracting and had to go back and check the dates so that I had it straight in my mind, this is probably the only criticism I would give. The William Marshal we meet is highly successful despite the attempts of his enemies to cause his downfall - a man with a very strong sense of integrity, honour and loyalty, who often has to contemplate whether these values will be enough to help in to survive in the very fickle world of court affairs.

Overall this was a very enjoyable read, spending time in the courts of Plantagenet England, one of my favourite eras in English history. I look forward to the second book to be released and will read it as soon as I get hold of it this time, and will be reading more from her!

Rating 4/5

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Novice's Tale by Margaret Frazer


It is the year of Our Lord's grace 1431, and the nuns of England's St. Frideswide sweetly chant their Paternosters behind gracious, trellised walls. But their quiet lives are shattered by the unwelcome visit of the hard-drinking, blaspheming dowager Lady Ermentrude, with her retinue of lusty maids and men, baying hounds, and even a pet monkey in tow. The lady demands wine, a feast, and a her niece, the frail and saintly novice Thomasine.

What she gets is her own strange and sudden death.

Sister Frevisse, hosteler of the priory and amateur sleuth, fears murder. The most likely suspect is a pious Thomasine... but Frevisse alone detects a clever web spun to entangle an innocent nun in the most unholy of passions - and the deadliest of deeds.

I've heard so much about this series that I couldn't resist reading this one when it arrived. I really like medieval stories and it's been a while since I read a medieval mystery. This one is part of the Sister Frevisse series. Sister Frevisse is a sleuthing nun from St. Frideswide convent.

As the story begins they receive the visit of Lady Ermentrude, a demanding woman who likes to feast and drink and whose great niece Thomasine is preparing to take her vows. Soon after arriving Lady Ermentrude leaves on a visit to Thomasine's sister Isobel and her husband and returns the next day wanting to get Thomasine out of the priory. She presents a very loud and erratic behaviour seemingly at first that she is drunk but soon it becomes apparent that she is terribly sick and she soon dies.

Almost immediately the word is out that poison was what really killed her and it seems Thomasine is the one with the biggest motive as she didn't want to leave the priory. Unwilling to believe Thomasine is guilty Sister Frevisse has to think fast before Lady Ermentrude's son manages to take the novice to be tried.

I particularly liked how the plot was written. There are several clues along the way and I suspected who the killer might be in the second half of the story but the why eluded me till the end. Although the story is entirely set in the priory the day's political events are mentioned as Frevisse receives the visit of her uncle Thomas Chaucer (Geoffrey Chaucer's son) who is a very well connected character. I also enjoyed Frevisse's vision of the world, a bit more worldly then some of her sister's and what we are usually used to and Domina Edith, the prioress and Dame Claire who takes care of the medical part.

A nice and cosy story without loose ends and with the detective explaining everything in the end (in a way it reminded me of Agatha Christie's Poirot).

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

The 1130s mark the twilight years of the long, peaceful reign of King Henry, son of William of Normandy. Yet it seems his legacy will not uphold that peace. For who will succeed him? His daughter Matilda, ex-Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, his nephew Stephen, or even his infant grandson Henry? It's an uneasy time for those vying for position at court. An unease that turns into fear when Henry dies without naming his heir.

For John FitzGilbert, the king's Marshal, the normal jostling for position and favour takes on a new urgency. Along with many other nobles, he swears allegiance to Stephen but he has enemies at court and soon his position becomes untenable and he must either join the Empress Matilda's faction or lose all. He cannot even take succour from his marriage. His wife, the pliant, pious Aline, is no match for a man renowned for his looks, energy and fearlessness and she struggles to cope in the storms unleashed upon them by civil war, especially when John is badly wounded in a fight with opposing forces.

John recovers and realises that to protect his lands and his heirs, his only option is to divorce Aline and take a new wife - Sybilla, sister of his enemy, Patrick of Salisbury. It's a strategic move, but is swiftly becomes something more, for Sybilla is quick, intelligent and possesses all the joy and vibrancy lacking in his first wife.

However, both Sybilla and John are about to be tested to the limit. As the fight for England's crown continues, John's castle at Newbury becomes pivotal, and in order to buy the time that is needed he is forced to make a terrible sacrifice...

Before I read this book, I knew three things about John Marshal. The first was that he was father of William Marshal, a man I had read about, and swooned over, in two earlier Elizabeth Chadwick novels (The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion - reviews to be posted here shortly). The second was that he suffered a terrible injury at Cherwell when he was caught in a burning abbey, and a piece of lead melted onto his face causing permanent disfigurement and the loss of sight in his left eye. The third thing that I knew was that when William was four years, John was forced to give him to King Stephen as a hostage, and John famously said to Stephen that he didn't care if he killed William as he had the anvils and hammer to create more children (roughly paraphrasing of course).

To be honest, because of the third of those things listed above, I was a little surprised to hear that Elizabeth Chadwick had written a book where the main character was John Marshal, because I couldn't really imagine how she would go about making John easy to relate to, when it appeared as though he was quite unfeeling and callous as a man. I am very pleased to say that she succeeded!

This book is predominately set during the very troubled times in the mid 1100s when the war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda caused great upheaval and destruction across England. When Matilda's father, King Henry, died without naming an heir, there were many lords who bridled at the thought of being ruled over by a woman and therefore sided with the dead King's nephew, Stephen. Still others believed that it was King Henry's wish for his daughter to follow in his footsteps, and thus began a twenty year period of war when the countryside was ravaged.

This same period is covered extensively in Sharon Kay Penman's book, When Christ and His Saints Slept, and having that background certainly aided in my enjoyment of this book. Where Penman's focused heavily on what was happening personally with Stephen and Matilda, many of those same events are on the peripherals of the narrative of this book, except where the events directly touched on John Marshal's life.

John was the loyal Marshal of King Henry - the man responsible for making sure that there was order in court, for the procurement of supplies, horses, etc amongst other things - a man with his finger on the pulse of court life. When Henry died, he also filled that role for Stephen as well. However, there were many at court who were not overly fond of John, and his neighbours were also coveting his lands and were determined to take them, whatever the cost.

In order to preserve his life, and his possessions, John has to take the extraordinary step of swapping sides, and becomes part of Matilda's retinue. What follows are a series of skirmishes, battles and sieges, culminating with the siege at Newbury where John so famously denied his feelings for his son.

Lest you think that this is a book just of battles, Chadwick also gives us glimpses into John's two marriages. The first is to Aline, a somewhat timid and pious woman, who wants nothing more than to have John by her side, and to do her duty. She is a woman who is very obviously not up to the job of being wife to the Royal Marshal, with all the entertaining, and responsibilities that go along with that post. I did feel for Aline as she struggled within her marriage and home, but also for John as he realises that this marriage is one that cannot continue for both of their sakes.

Then, we see his marriage to Sybilla, a partnership that started out as a way to stop an escalating enmity with her brother, Patrick of Salisbury, one of John's neighbours. Where Aline was timid, Sybilla is bold and intelligent, with an ability to charm the people around her from the dairy maids, to those from the highest stations in the land.

Chadwick's portrayal of John Marshal is by no means of a saint who has been portrayed unfairly through the ages. There is no doubting his courage, his competence in his role, let alone his ambition and determination. He is a totally three dimensional character - warts and all.

Similarly, the authors skill in conveying the details of life and times of the twelfth century, from the dresses, food, smells and tastes is exceptional.

One thing to be aware of is that the author has to cram twenty years worth of events into just over 500 pages, so it is crucial to keep an eye on the dates at the beginning of each chapter to keep some kind of perspective in terms of time elapsed.

This is the third Elizabeth Chadwick book that I have read and really enjoyed. Now I just need to start working my way through the rest of her back list!

It is a great shame that this author's books are so difficult to get hold of in the US. It is well worth going to the effort of locating them. I highly recommend Book Depository. It is a UK based online bookstore but as you get free postage to many countries around the world it is a very economical way to buy books!

Monday, May 5, 2008

And Only To Deceive - Tasha Alexander

Marg originally reviewed this book back in March, (review here) but now Ana has also read the book, so we have added our thoughts together!

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.

Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favourite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artefacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated

Ana says:

When I read the back cover of this book I was immediately interested. There's something very appealing and romantic about getting to know someone by his letters and personal papers. Unfortunately for Lady Ashton her husband is already dead when she starts to get to know him that way.

I found this one a very enjoyable story. I liked to know how Emily starts to admire her husband and is curious enough about his personal hobbies to start making inquiries, read the Iliad and studying ancient Greek. I particularly enjoyed the part about the British Museum and the gentlemen interest with classic sculpture that seemed to lead to multiple copies of the objects in exhibition. One strong point was how Alexander starts all chapters with an entry of Phillip's diary. It made it all the more poignant.

However this interest and the fact that she finds many original pieces in her country house lead her to believe Phillip may have been involved in illegal activities of exchanging the original pieces in the museum for copies. She decides to investigate further and develops a personal interest in the art.

At the same time Emily, a young and now very rich widow, learns to enjoy the freedom she now has and her behaviour sometimes shocks her mother whose biggest ambition seems to be for her daughter to get married again. Emily has one suitor almost from the beginning - Andrew Palmer - and also develops a friendship with the man who was her husband's best friend - Colin Hargreaves. They will both influence her in different ways. She also has strong female friendships with whom she will attempt some rebellious gestures, like drinking port with gentleman after dinner.

I liked the Victorian world portrayed here and the mix between mystery, historical fiction and romance.

Grade: B

Marg Says:

In my review of Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn, I mentioned that just lately it has seemed as though I have been reading a lot of mysteries that seem to have similar settings and characters (i.e young women who become amateur sleuths (two of whom are recent widows) and all set in Victorian times). This was actually the first of those mysteries that I read, and yet strangely enough is the last review written. How odd!

Lady Emily Ashton had the misfortune to be married and then widowed very shortly thereafter. Her husband, Sir Philip appeared to have not formed any great emotional bond with his wife, and to be fair, the feeling was pretty much mutual as far as Lady Ashton was concerned. She barely knew her husband, other than the fact that he loved to go hunting in Africa, which is where he died. For her part, marriage meant a chance to escape from an overbearing society mother and having done her familial duty. As the daughter of an Earl, it was her responsibility to attract a suitably titled husband.

With her husband dead, Emily has been forced to basically withdraw from society whilst she undertakes her period of mourning. Inspired by the discovery of some journals belonging to her husband, instead of feeling constrained by her period of mourning, it is a period of freedom for her as she begins to learn some Greek, to know more about her dead husband and his interests, and as she begins to wonder if perhaps he had lived there would have been a chance to actually learn to love her husband.

It is this romantic hopelessness that causes Emily to become more interested in many of the beautiful antique objects that her husband surrounded himself with and for her to become a regular visitor to the British Museum. She stumbles onto a forgery plot, and soon finds herself with more excitement than she knows what to do with. As her period of mourning comes to an end and she prepares to reenter society as a widow of beauty and financial independence, Emily finds herself with not one but two admirers, both of whom were connected with her husband. It is however difficult to deal with suitors when one seems to be falling in love with your own dead husband.

This novel is a charming read about a woman who is trying to once more find her sense of self in the world of her time - a time when the social restrictions for a young woman were very strict - whilst also having to reevaluate the things that she knows about her own history. It was interesting to take a side trip or two to France where the rules were not quite so extreme.

It was also interesting to get a comparison to Emily's life by looking at the lives of her friends Ivy and Margaret, and to a lesser extent her French friend Cecile. Ivy is a newly married young woman, subject to the restrictions placed on her by her somewhat conservative husband (his shock at discovering his young wife had a taste for Emily's port collection was very amusing). Margaret is an American heiress, something of a blue stocking who doesn't really want to be part of society and therefore seen as eccentric, and then the freedom allowed to Cecile within French society.

The historical details about the life and times of a young Victorian, from customs to fashion to language were beautifully integrated into the storyline and yet Alexander still managed to provide us with a very intriguing mystery about a compelling female amateur sleuth.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age, where she encounters a freedom unknown to virtuous young women. But a dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, to become the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and to live the ordinary life of an ordinary girl. Although Mary becomes a close confidante of Mrs. Jones, her desire for a better life leads her back to prostitution. She remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets of London: Never give up your liberty; Clothes make the woman; Clothes are the greatest lie ever told. In the end, it is clothes, their splendor and their deception, that lead Mary to disaster.

Ana says:

I was first attracted to this book by the blurb I read at Amazon and the fact that it was based on real events.

Now after I finished it I can see that little is known about the real Mary Saunders and that Donoghue created a powerful story from the barest of facts. She has a knack for describing London at it's worst and I even found the first half of the book difficult to read as Mary does not have an easy time of it. Mostly ignored by her mother after her father died and she remarried Mary goes to school and yearns for a better life. That wish will make her admire the well dressed whore she sees on her way to school and makes her want to have a beautiful red ribbon. After a fight with her mother she goes out, upset, to by the ribbon and finds herself raped by the ribbon seller. Unable to tell her mother she tries to hide and forget her misery till an anonymous letter announces her pregnancy and she is thrown out by her mother.

Without a place to go she is abused by soldiers and finally saved by the whore she admired and led to a life of prostitution. Seemingly unconscious of the price she is paying and of how her actions may affect her future life Mary finds she can earn easy money and finally aspire to a better life. She learns But life on the streets of London is not easy and she decides to reform. After some time at a charity hospital she feels imprisoned and decides to go back to the village where her parents came from. There she finds a life with some normalcy as she becomes the servant of the Jones family and after a while even finds her true vocation as a seamstress. She plans to save money and better herself when a conversation with her master shows her that a servant will always be a servant, her love story with a boy also employed in the same home also makes her realise that she can never lead the normal life of having children and creating a family. Desperate to have some money and return to London Mary once again becomes a prostitute while still living and working for the Jones. Her desperation grows and when Mrs Jones takes a drastic action a tragedy occurs.

I must say that I really liked Mary, she was not always polite or nice but she was honest about what she wanted and about how to get it. She could have stolen the money or things to sell but instead she worked the only way she knew to make a quick profit, being a whore. The better things she aspired to were represented by the clothes she carried with her, because clothes make the woman.

In the end I was left feeling life had been rather unfair for poor Mary. She never had much and in the end even what little she had was taken from her. I was left wondering if in that period of so many society rules and with a strong system of classes if one could possible raise from what they were born into and find a better place. It was a fascinating read albeit not an easy one. Donoghue takes us to the dark side of society and there's no happy ending in sight. A compelling story!

Grade: B

Marg says:

This book was inspired by an actual murder in the Welsh border regions in 1763. In surviving newspaper articles from the time it is suggested that the young girl who committed the murder did so because she was obsessed with clothes. This is the basis that Emma Donoghue chooses to follow.

When we first meet Mary Donoghue she is 14 years old, and a schoolgirl living in London, at an age where most other working class girls have been sent out to work. Mary hasn't been sent out to work yet because her mother promised her father before he was executed for his part in a rebellion that she would ensure that Mary was educated. Mary's mother has remarried to a man that Mary can't stand, and who resents the fact that he is supporting a girl who is old enough to find work and assist more in the household. The problem is that Mary feels that she is too good to go into service, too good to become a seamstress, yet she wants all the fine things in life.

Early in the book Mary has an encounter with a peddler where she gives away her virtue for the price of a red ribbon. Left pregnant by the encounter she is eventually kicked out of home when her condition is discovered. She shortly finds herself in one of the roughest areas of London, and it isn't too big a leap for her before she finds herself servicing the cullies and making some money for herself. Her one friend is a fellow prostitute named Doll, who teaches Mary the tricks of the trade and how to get by, as well as warning her who to stay away from.

In the midst of a terribly cold winter, Doll convinces Mary that needs to sign up to go into a home for reformed prostitutes, if only so that she has warmth and food for the rest of the winter. When she finally rebels against the strict rules and religious environment of the home she comes back to find her only friend gone, well, dead...and then on the wrong side of one of the most dangerous pimps in London.

Mary flees to her mother's home town of Monmouth, hoping to find a new life for herself, to match with the new history she has made of her life. She is taken in as a maid for her mother's former best friend, Mrs Jones, who rapidly befriends Mary, not only employing her but also making her her confidant in her struggle to give her husband a son.

Also living in her home are the slave Abi, originally from Africa, via the Caribbean, who works for no wages. There is also Mrs Ash who was originally employed as a wet nurse but has been living with the family for many years, now in the guise of a governess for the one surviving daughter. Finally there is Daffy, and intense but likeable young man who is trying to make a life for himself away from his hypocritical, cleric father, who also runs one of the village pubs.

Once Mary is living with the Jones, this story becomes several things - firstly a study of extended family as defined at the time to include servants and slaves, secondly, a story of empowerment as Mary encourages Abi to try and get some wages for her toil. Finally, this is a story about whether Mary can take the chance that she has given to live a life away from the prostitution that she has previously undertaken. At one point it appears that Daffy and Mary may marry, but that is shortlived as Mary realises that if she does marry Daffy she will be stuck in a little town in the Welsh Marches for the rest of her life.

As Mary goes through life, pretty much destroying the peace of mind of the people around her, the author gives us a character who is almost totally unlikeable. What makes her so greedy, so convinced of her elevated worth in her own mind, and yet so able to rationalise that choosing a life of prostitution is okay for her. Mary in effect lives hard and fast and dies early without ever seemingly being happy, or at the very least unable to realise when she has a good thing going - a precautionary tale if nothing else.

Whilst Mary, and many of the other characters are unlikeable, and this is in many ways a story without much hope, it is nonetheless well written and compelling. I have had it on my TBR list for ages, so I am glad to have finally read it! Even where there are glimpses of hope, for example, for Abi, to me the suggestion for the future was not really one of happiness.

Within that though, there are glimpses of humour, such as when the ultra religious and judgmental Mrs Ash gets her comeuppance, but those moments are few and far between.

When rating this book, I hovered between 3.5 and 4, mainly because the characters are pretty much unlikeable, but the writing was compelling, and I was completely drawn into the story on more than one occasion.

**Originally posted on my blog - March 2006**

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

Britain, 1854: the Crimean War captures the imagination of young men eager to do battle with the new enemy, Russia, but as winter closes in, the military hospitals fill with the sick and wounded. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr - young, headstrong and beautiful - travels to the battlefields, determined to be useful. Her cousin, Mariella Lingwood, remains at home with the sewing and writes letters to her fiance, Henry, a doctor working within the shadow of the guns. But when Henry falls ill and Rosa's communications cease, Mariella finds herself drawn inexorably across the Black Sea, towards the war. Following the trail of the elusive and captivating Rosa, Mariella's journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea, and prompts a reckless affair with a cavalry officer whose complex past is bound up with her ordered world, but reveals a well of unexpected strength and passion that may help her to survive against the desolation of war.

Last year I read The Alchemist's Daughter by this author and quite liked it, so when I saw that she had a new book coming out I was pleased. What made me more pleased was that the novel was set in a period which I hadn't really read much about about (The Crimean War) and seemed, from the blurb at least, to feature one of the more iconic female historical figures (Florence Nightingale). I say seemed to because in actuality, Florence Nightingale was a shadowy figure very much on the edges of the storyline.

What the book was actually about was two young women, Mariella Lingwood and Rosa Barr. There are two separate threads of storyline within the novel. One focuses on the relationship between the cousins from their initial meeting, to a summer vacation that goes terribly wrong, and how it is that Rosa came to be living with Mariella and her family. In some ways, some of this background seemed a little superfluous, although I guess that it was supposed to show us that Rosa had always been rebellious and headstrong.

The other thread of the storyline is initially a trip for Mariella to locate and care for her fiance, Henry Thewell, who is a doctor serving in the Crimea. He has however been invalided back to Italy, and Mariella and her companion are shocked to find him in a terrible condition. It transpires that he has crossed paths with Rosa whilst in the Crimea because she has gone off to become a nurse. After Mariella somewhat shockingly comes to realise that Henry is not exactly the man that she thought he was, she makes her way to the Crimea to try and search for Rosa because there has been no correspondence from her from some time. Rosa has left her supervised post, and appears to have made her own way to work more closely with the injured soldiers and it seems as though something very terrible may have happened to her.

The girls (or I should say young ladies) seem to have a somewhat obsessive preoccupation with each other. They are very different creatures, and yet love each other deeply - the main word that I could come up with to describe their relationship was besotted. Mariella is a the very model of a middle-class young lady. Her time is taken up with family, sewing and charitable causes, whereas Rosa is brash and impulsive, involved with people and causes that are not acceptable in polite society. Even Rosa's decision to go off and nurse is not quite above board. She initially was rejected by Miss Nightingale as a nurse, and so filled with determination that she would go, even if it is on her own, she has to find another way to get taken to the Crimea.

Where this novel is good is in the descriptions of the siege conditions and battles. The author does not sugar coat the horrors that accompanied warfare in the 1850s, let alone sanitise the suffering that was caused by cholera and Crimean fever that was rampant amongst the nurses and troops who had the misfortune to be posted to the siege at Sebastopol. She also did a great job at describing the indignation of the British people when they learnt that their young man were being sent to a place where there wasn't enough medical equipment to cover the most basic of war injuries, despite the promises made otherwise before the conflict began.

What didn't work so well for me was the never ending search for Rosa to try and determine what exactly happened for her. It seemed as though that part of the novel just dragged and dragged. Could she be here, maybe she's there. In the end, it was resolved but not until the last couple of pages of the novel.

Along the way, Mariella, who really is the main protagonist, learns a lot about herself, under going a physical and emotional journey that will leave her changed for the rest of her life.

This was a somewhat uneven attempt to portray a time that is not really all that commonly covered in historical fiction and yet is quite a fascinating time. This is one occasion where the two different time frames being told alternately within the narrative really didn't work all that well.

It is something of a surprise to me that such a romanticised figure like Florence Nightingale hasn't been given the HF treatment that I know of, or at least not all that recently.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cover Story: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran recently posted over at about the development process that went into creating the cover for her next book, The Heretic Queen, which is due to be released this coming September. I found the post really interesting, so I asked Michelle for permission to repost it here on Historical Tapestry. I hope you all find it interesting as well!

Also, please note the link to the contest page at Michelle's website where you can win a book, some chocolates and some jewellery. Am I the only who who burst into 'these are a few of my favourite things' when you see that combination?

Thanks for allowing us to repost Michelle!


As some of you know, my first novel debuted in July 2007 with a beautiful cover painted by the artist Doug Fryer. I was so enamored with this cover that I contacted the artist and purchased the original painting as a memento of my debut.

However, Doug retired from making book covers, so for my second book, The Heretic Queen, my editor decided to use an image from my protagonist's tomb. The protagonist of my novel is Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti, as is often the case in my publishing house -- sorry, I didn't choose the name, she was born with it!). Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of the Queens is one of the most spectacular ever found, and my editor decided on the image of a wing for the front cover.

You would think a wing would be a simple image to procure. After all, how possessive can someone be over the rights to something that was painted (and not even particularly well) over three thousand years ago? But it turns out that the Getty, which owns the photo, wasn't parting with their wing, and so Crown had to hire an artist to recreate it.

The resulting image is, if not breathtaking, certainly unique. Two colorful stripes were added to the top and bottom of the cover to give the book a more ancient feel, but I argued that it looked more Native American than Egyptian, and thus began a long debate. My editor, who I adored and loved, had left Crown to move to CA, and thankfully, my new editor agreed with me. So what was the catch? The galleys were already going to production, and no one wanted the job of approaching the art department and asking - no, begging - to change the cover.

I suggested replacing the colorful stripes with something more "Egyptiany" that would let readers know what the book was about without having to turn over the cover. Hieroglyphics were a possibility, and so were lotus blossoms, but there needed to be a good reason for the art department to go back and change it (not just that the author and editor don't like it -- yes, those are not good enough reasons!). So I had an epiphany inspired by a comment my editor made when she said that if we used hieroglyphics, we had to make sure they didn't translate into something terrible, like "I enjoy sunbathing naked" or "the pharaoh has a big arse."

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are both logographic and alphabetic. But some clever font-makers produced a purely phonetic hieroglyphic alphabet based on real hieroglyphics. I wondered if we might be able to use that font to create a meaningful phrase somewhere on the book, then hold a contest for readers who wished to translate that phrase. Now, my editor had the reason she needed to approach the art department, and after telling the wonderful Jennifer O'Connor about my idea (who also worked on the cover for Nefertiti), the change was made and this strip was added to the bottom in place of the colorful strips of 20th century African cloth.
The cover that was the result of that change is below (notice the hieroglyphics on the bottom, which are much bigger in real life). And now, this is one of the contests being held to promote it.

The actual cover will be darker, and the wingtips, title and hieroglyphics will be in gold foil (an expensive addition that publishers like to use sparingly). It's been a long journey for a single cover, and it took a great many people to make it happen. Just goes to show how much unseen work goes into every detail of a book before it even hits the shelves!