History tells us that upon the death of Richard I (The Lionheart) his younger brother John became King of England and Duke of Normandy, despite the fact that John’s older brother Geoffrey left behind a young son named Arthur, who some felt was the rightful king. John had a real knack for ticking off his barons (Magna Carta anyone?), let alone that he dumped wife #1 to steal Isabelle de Angoulême out from under her intended’s nose (one of those de Lusignans) and married her himself (a bit young at twelve, but oh well – needs must).  When his nephew Arthur rebels along with the de Lusignans, he and his sister Eleanor (The Pearl of Brittany) are captured by John. Arthur mysteriously vanishes from his prison (believed by many to have been murdered by John), but Eleanor is kept at the impenetrable Corfe Castle in England.

I think I got that right, if not please let me know.  Sooooo, now comes a new twist on this tale from first time author Hana Samek Norton, set in Normandy, early 13C. Despite living a more cloistered life at Fontevraud Abbey, an aging Aliénor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine still keeps her fingers in the political pies and to that end she plans to wed novice Juliana de Charnais, heiress to the strategically important Viscounty of Tillieres, to jaded mercenary Guérin de Lasalle – and trust me it is not love at first sight. Juliana fights off any attempts at consummating the marriage and it appears that Guérin would rather dump his new bride back off in a convent, annul the marriage and keep the viscounty and lands for himself. Or does he have a different agenda all together?

The story takes plentiful twists and turns and ups and downs as John battles his rebellious Norman barons and the revenge minded de Lusignans. How does Arthur fit into the de Lusignan’s plots? Or do their schemes involve his sister Eleanor? What do Juliana and Guérin have to do with it all?  Does Guérin care for Juliana or is he really the disgusting drunken hot-tempered sot that he seems? Will our pair find true love in the end, or end up killing each other instead? Will Juliana’s stupidity (I kid you not) ruin them all? 

Well I’m not telling. I have to say that I was disappointed in the way this novel was represented in the book description – “executed in flawless period detail” – I’m sorry but that is not the book I read. While I’ve read quite a few novels set in the medieval period, I’m not *up-to-snuff* enough to spot the minor discrepancies but things just didn’t feel right compared to the experiences I’ve had with novels by Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Penman. Since the copy I read is an uncorrected proof I won’t quote but I did find a word used by John that I couldn’t find a reference to earlier than the 1600’s. Eleanor of Brittany referring to England as Britain instead of England? I don’t think so… 

Once I accepted that this wasn’t going to be a serious novel with any new insight into the period, I decided to kick back and enjoy the story and the sparring between the pair, and it was fun in the first half of the novel. However, in the latter half the plot became a tad bit too complex and I felt the author threw in one too many plot twists (as well as the kitchen sink) and it all eventually developed into a dire, silly and completely improbable mess. If there is still time, I would heartily recommend trimming down some of the secondary characters to tighten things up, as well as a list of characters at the front to refer to. It became mind-numbing at times trying to recall who was who – particularly when just about everyone started being someone else entirely.

In the end, the book I ended up reading was more something in the line of a medieval spy/thriller/action/adventure romp and if you go in realizing its make-believe and not real history you might enjoy it, but if you’re looking for something similar to Chadwick or Penman, I recommend you pass this one by. I give three stars to the first half and one to the latter and round it out to two stars. From a glance at the author’s notes there are plans to continue the story in Cyprus. I will be passing on that ride.

FTC? I got a copy from Amazon Vine.

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