Wednesday 17 November 2021

The Siege Winter

Finished November 15
The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Ariana Franklin was the pen name of Diana Norman who died before finishing this book. Samantha Norman is her daughter who completed the manuscript. 
This novel takes place in 12th-century England, when the Empress Matilda and King Stephen were battling for control of England. There are several groups of characters whose lives intersect at Kenniford Castle where Maud, who inherited the castle, as well as several other estates, is trying to save the estate and its people. 
As the novel opens she is forced by King Stephen to take an oath to him, and to marry John of Tewing, an odious man who has brought his mistress with him.
In the nearby fenlands, a group of mercenaries who have been joined by a sociopathic monk, come across a small red-headed girl named Em, abuse her and leave her for dead. Em survives and is nursed to health by another mercenary, Gwyl, an archer from Breton. Gwyl has been horrified by the acts of the mercenaries he previously travelled with, and agrees to take Em under his wing, disguise her as a boy named Penda, and train her in archery. Em has no memory of who she is and what happened to her, but Gwyl is afraid for her if her memory returns. 
The monk has unfinished business with both Gwyl and Em, and won't hesitate to come for them if her finds out where they are. 
The Empress Matilda is on the run from King Stephen and travelling through the winter storms with only two men looking for a place she can wait in safety while a more permanent refuge is prepared for her. 
I really enjoyed the depth of the characters here. Maud is an independently-minded woman, raised to be so by her father and his men, and she plots how she can regain her sovereignty over her holdings and her self. She is supported by several other women, relatives and servants, who are loyal to her, as well as her men. Em/Penda is a resilient and skilled girl, who thrives under Gwyl's tutelage and protection. I found myself rooting for both these female characters as they battled evil men and found support and respect from other men who were more honourable. 

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