One woman forced to make a heartbreaking sacrifice...With so many new books coming out all the time, there are lots of authors that I am pleased to hear have new releases coming up, and then there are the authors that I am genuinely excited about new books from. Among the latter category is British author Elizabeth Chadwick. A quick look through my archives at any of the reviews for her books will confirm just how much I really enjoy them. Luckily for me, she once again has not let her readers down with this excellent novel about the life of a medieval couple trying to walk the narrow path between serving those troublesome Plantagenets and their own happiness.
When Roger Bigod, heir to the powerful earldom of Norfolk, arrives at court in 1177 to settle a bitter inheritance dispute with his half-brothers, he encounters Ida de Tosney, young mistress to King Henry II. A victim of Henry's seduction and the mother of his son, Ida is attracted to Roger and sees in him a chance of lasting security beyond the fickle dazzle of her current life; but in deciding to marry Roger, she is forced to make a choice.
As Roger's importance as a mainstay of the Angevin government grows, it puts an increasing strain on his marriage. Ida is deeply unhappy with the life she has to live in his absence and grieving for her losses. Against a volatile political background the gulf between them threatens to widen beyond crossing, especially when so many bridges have already been burned.
Our main characters are Ida de Rosnay and Roger Bigod. Whilst still a very young woman, Ida makes her debut at court as one of King Henry II's wards, and very quickly catches his eye for much more earthly reasons. Whilst Ida is aware that it is a great honour to be the King's mistress, she is also aware that she is now damaged goods in terms of the marriage market, even though Henry has promised to look after her, especially once she gives birth to his son.
Enter Roger Bigod, a man who is in the middle of a fight for his inheritance and therefore has to do everything that he can to stay on the good side of Henry, so feeling an attraction to the king's mistress is probably not a great place to be! Like so many of Elizabeth Chadwick's other leading men, Roger is a man of honour, determined to do what is right. In fact, one of those other leading men, William Marshal, is one of Roger's friends and allies. It was interesting to see some of the events that were covered in William's books from an outside point of view. Anyway, back to Roger. What makes him unusual compared to so many of his contemporaries is his treatment of women. There are no dalliances with the court ladies, noble or otherwise, and he never loses sight of what his goals are. He has a determination that comes from knowing what it is that he wants, and doing everything he can to get it.
For Roger and Ida the chance to be together is a chance at happiness despite the odds, but it comes at a terrible price - one that continues to be paid by Ida year upon year. As Roger is called to perform task after task for the Plantagenet kings, always hoping that this time will be enough to have his full inheritance restored to him. There is always a chance, however, that spending all his time and energy in the fight for his entitlements that Roger may well lose something far more important to him.
What this author is really good at is balance. Whilst her books are definitely historical fiction of the highest order, there is an underlying romance as well. There is some sex in her books, but she knows how much detail to give and how much to leave up to the reader's imagination!
With lots of detail and colour, Chadwick knows how to bring the past to life vividly, but doesn't let the detail get in the way of a really good story. She also manages to include something new to me in all of her books! In this case, it was about jousting in the middle of the River Thames. If I was younger and fitter, a man (oh and alive in the 1100s), then river jousting sounds like a lot of fun!
If you haven't yet, read Chadwick, add her to your TBR list. Her books may be difficult to track down in the US, it is well worth the effort of getting them from either Amazon Canada or The Book Depository.
So, the only question left to ask really is when is the next book out?
Also posted at Historical Tapestry. By the way, Elizabeth Chadwick recently guest posted there about why she loves writing medieval fiction. The post was really very interesting, and you can check it out here
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