(3.5) Not quite Roselynde. Barbara is the “natural” daughter of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and the story is set during the latter years of Henry III’s reign during the conflict between Henry and his barons, most specifically Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Barbara’s father Roger sides with Leicester while his brother sides with the royalists. Leicester’s younger son Guy aims to make Barbara his mistress against her will and to avoid exacerbating the political situation she sails for France.
Married and widowed at a very young age (although the marriage was never consummated), Barbara has carried a torch for knight Alphonse d’Aix and still carries the silver mirror he won in a tourney and gave to a very young Barbara. When the two meet again, they are instantly attracted to each other and decide to wed — although neither are willing to admit their true feelings for each other. The rest of the story evolves around the growing conflict between Henry and his son Edward and Leicester and the rebellious barons as Barbara and Alphonse return to England and are constantly involved in the thick of all the intrigue and treachery as the two warring factions battle for supremacy, until that final and fateful battle at Evesham.
Gellis does a good job (as usual) setting up the back story and history of the period and although this is billed as a romance there’s quite a bit more to it than that – if you’re looking for a bodice ripper I suggest you look elsewhere – you’ll probably be bored to tears with all the history. Barbara and Alphonse were really rather adorable with their fears of revealing their true feelings to each other and the crossed purposes on the path to true love – Barbara always thinking Alphonse is off chasing other women while Alphonse discovers the silver mirror Barbara treasures above all else and thinks she is hiding a secret lover. Although a bit slow at times as the history of this period is a bit complex, I did enjoy it and found it just right for a snow bound winter’s afternoon. 3.5/5 stars.