Book Review : Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill

In a land where the sky is king, the weather announces itself hours in advance; the fields, ditches and dykes have a Mondrian‑like geometry, that repeats itself with utter predictability as far as the horizon; and you can see anyone approaching for miles.”

It is rare, in fact so far unheard of, that I start a review with a quote from the book in question. However this quote sums up so perfectly how I remember the Fens of my childhood it was an obvious place for me to begin.

Fiona Neill has hit upon the very openness of the landscape and the huge brooding skies; skies that reached the ground, skirting fields of wheat and barley for mile upon mile. Unlike the rugged Lakeland landscape I now call home The Fens are not beautiful in the traditional sense, but they have a unique quality and one which for me is ever present.

It is this unique quality which Fiona Neill has been so accomplished at embedding into her novel. It is a quiet delight to find a novel with such a strong sense of place, a sense of place which not only grounds the novel but is central to it’s key themes and motivation.

For The Fenland that Neill writes about is seeped in history and that history is cleverly interwoven into the lives of the characters.

Patrick, husband and Art History teacher, is the descended from the Dutch pioneers who drained the land, reclaiming it from the sea.

Mia, younger daughter; eccentric, creative and straight talking, becomes fascinated, some might say obsessed by the Anglo Saxon burials recently uncovered. They offer a glimpse into the past but they also indirectly threaten the future. Tas, Mia’s traveller friend, is likely to lose his site in order to preserve this newly discovered and important site.

The past, seeping through to the present, is a theme running through the very veins of this novel. For when Lilly, fated older daughter and A grade student collapses at school, her parents Grace and Patrick are thrown into a world of turmoil.

Grace has spend years constructing the perfect life for both her girls. The product of a chaotic and abusive childhood, Grace clings to normality and the concrete. Navigating her life with her notebook of Certainties she has suppressed the most traumatic event in order that her girls may thrive. But just like the rising marshland water that is infecting their new home, the more Grace fights her past, the more it threatens her present. Her need for boundaries is ingrained, but what happens when those boundaries stop being healthy and become a cage?

The story is testament to the fact that the past runs through all of us. Deny it and it will find a way to make it’s self known. Neill shows the reader that by suppressing the past we are giving it a momentum of it’s own.

Yet secrets within this novel are not confined to just the past. Here we find a compelling portrait of a family coping with both collective and individual problems . No one person is telling the truth. Each is keeping close watch over their own and indeed other people’s secrets, in a misguided bid to protect the family as a unit.

Lilly, for example, has created a double life; dutiful and driven daughter, competing for a coveted University place, verses young woman experiencing love, sex and deceit for the first time. When the pressure of this charade becomes to much the fallout affects not just Lilly and her family but the wider and surrounding community.

This novel is held together by tight family bonds. The theme of siblings and their unique relationships runs deep. They are a source of tension, humour and unexpected revelations, which once again underline the connections between past and present.

Neill has created a cast of characters that are authentic and believable. Their motivations, however misguided never seem outlandish, such is the skill with which they are drawn. It is a mark of Neill’s accomplishment as an author that the reader finds their sympathies continually shifting throughout the novel.

Should you want to take a trip to the open Fenland landscape the Beneath the Surface is an excellent place to start and one I would recommend.

Huge thanks go to Penguin Random House for sending me a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review : The Murder of Harriet Monckton By Elizabeth Haynes

Historical fiction has always floated my boat. I love immersing myself in the past, particularly when the story in question is based on fact. And particularly where there are unanswered questions and room for interpretation. Give me a slow reveal of fact and supposition cleverly interwoven and I am in clover.

I also love a long book. The joy of finding a book that is skilfully put together and captivating is unbounded. Who doesn’t want a really great story to go on?

So I approached The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes with excited anticipation. Heartfelt thanks go to Emma Dowson at Myriad for my gifted copy.

I wasn’t disappointed; my reading experience was every bit as satisfying and enthralling as I had hoped.

Based on a true story Haynes takes us back to Bromley, 1843 and sets about unmasking the killer of Harriet Monckton. A young aspiring teacher Harriet is found dead in the privy at the back of her local Chapel, 24 hours after leaving a friends house to post a letter.

It is quickly established that Harriet has been poisoned but is this through her own hand or has she been murdered? The revelation that unmarried Harriet is ‘with child’ adds further complexity and intrigue.

As an inquest is called various potential suspects come to light. Haynes has used actual coroner’s reports and witness testimonies from the original case to paint a picture of both a life and community riddled with secrets, all touched by suspicion.

Could gentle Tom Churcher be Harriet’s killer? It was he who found the body and seems strangely affected by her death. Having been seen ‘walking out with’ Harriet, despite being unofficially betrothed to another, could this be a love affair turned sour?

What of his spurned sweetheart Emma? Is this a killing with is motives in jealousy and revenge?

Harriet’s friend and sometimes housemate Frances Williams cannot be discounted either. Why exactly has she become so close to the deceased and what would it cost her if the true nature of their relationship was disclosed?

And what does Richard Field, husband of a dear friend, know of Harriet’s death. As former landlord and clearly former lover he is quickly pulled into the circle of suspicion.

Finally and perhaps most chillingly, we must consider The Reverend George Verrall. Is his relationship one simply of spiritual guidance and confessor as he would have his followers believe, or is there a more sinister side to his relationship with Harriet ?

This, perhaps unsurprisingly is a story of secrets, of hidden facts and relationships build on half truths and lies. The plotting of this novel is skilful, layers of deception are slowly revealed as each character uses their own distinct voice to present their individual relationship with Harriet. For Harriet means different things to different people and this is key to our tale.

It is through these authentic voices we build a snap shot of a group of characters who are misunderstood not only by each other but by themselves. Working hard to justify their actions or, indeed, inactions there is a sense of self deception which permeates their testimonies.

Richard Field, for example, works hard to convince not only the reader but also himself that he is a dedicated family man, taking little or no responsibility for the pivotal role he played in Harriet’s life and undoing.

Rev. Verrall’s account aims for piety but smacks of desperation. His attempts to lead the inquest to a verdict of suicide make him all the more suspicious and frankly distasteful.

And this is a view that is enhanced and repeated through the use of Harriet’s diary. For crucially Harriet’s is not a voiceless victim in this story. The use of her own written testimony adds clarity, gives her character power but also brings into sharp focus one of the key strengths of this novel.

The abuse of power, both spirtual, sexual and financial power is behind Harriet’s sorry tale. For Harriet is not an uneducated women. Rather she is spirited, independent and eloquent. Her relationship with Richard Field was based on genuine feeling, it’s ending a moral sacrifice on her part for the sake of a dear friend.

Moreover her treatment at the hands of George Verrall is the classic abuse of power. Religious power and abuse masquerading as concern and correction, the sacrifice of one young woman for a greater male purpose. The weaving of deceit and concealment is all too common both in Harriet’s life time and our modern day society.

For the real genius of this novel lies in it’s ability to commentate on the treatment of women in the past, but make it relevant to society today. As a reader I couldn’t help but link the kind of abuse of power detailed so starkly with in these pages to the events of recent years; the #MeToo campaign and all its associated stories and movement. The situation Harriet faces is still something faced by women all over the world.

Elizabeth Haynes has employed to maximum effect the ability to look to the past to illuminate the lessons we are still learning today.

And what if the killer of Harriet Monckton? Well, you will find no spoilers here but as with everything else in this gem of a book, nothing is ever quite as it seems.

Book review – Expectation by Anna Hope

Ever get an Advance Reader Copy of a book that makes your heart sing?

That’s what happened to me when I was approved for Expectation by Anna Hope. So thank you Transworld Books for making a middle aged blogger very happy!

Anna’s post World War 1 novel Wake has lived large in my memory for a number of years. I vividly remember reading it on a 5 hour train journey north. Spellbound and moved, I finished it almost in one sitting. Thank goodness my stop was the end of the line, as I would have undoubtedly missed it otherwise.

Hence my excitement about the release of Expectation.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Expectation is a novel about three women, all ploughing their own furrow. All following their own and others expectations, none of them completely fulfilled.

Cate, Hannah and Lissa have been friends for years. Connected by past events and shared memories, all three are at a crossroads in their lives.

Lissa is an actress, not quite fulfilled, still seeking success, constantly in awe and frustration with her artist mother.

Hannah is successful, married but desperate for a child, and facing down the process of IVF and all that it brings.

Cate is a new wife and mother but feels life has over taken her and that somehow she has missed out; that she has taken a wrong turn and is not fulfilling her potential.

Throughout the novel we see each woman peering in at the lives of their friends, and building their own expectations and desires. Each woman is questioning what they have achieved and quietly coveting what the other has.

Hope has created a believable portrait of friendship that houses underlining tensions and unspoken truths. Events and emotions in both the past and future seek to undermine the foundations of their friendship and those of people surrounding them.

The power of this novel lies, undoubtedly, in the authenticity of the characters. Their dilemmas and stumbling blocks aren’t outlandish or unusual. In fact that they are common, some might say mundane but they are all the more powerful and heartbreaking for that.

There is a real sense of empathy with these characters. We care what happens to them.

More than that we feel what happens to them. We have been Cate, or Hannah or Lissa. Surely is a rare individual who hasn’t questioned where their life is heading or where they have ended up.

And it is this quiet simmering undertone of dissatisfaction and re evaluation, which drives the story along. Can these characters make the changes they need, even if means changing the course of their lives and not fulfilling their own and others exacting expectations? Or are they destined to live up to Expectation but live unfulfilled?

Hope is showing us that fulfilling ‘Expectation’, is not necessarily the key to happy and successful life. In doing so she has created a novel that refines the terms and phases of our everyday lives.

Is fulfilling Expectation a mark of success? Or do we judge our lives through different eyes?

Book review : The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

On this occasion I see very little point in playing my cards close to my chest, because I am about to gush repeatedly and quite possible extensively about how much I found to admire and love in the pages of The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

This book quite simply took my breath away.

And not because only because as a chronic claustrophobe, I had to read with a curious sense of detachment. It took by breath away as this novel has so much to offer and so much to say.

Throughout my reading I made copious notes, as this beautifully plotted and many layered novel slowly revealed itself. I made so many notes that in truth I am not quite sure where to start.

Part of me wants to mull things over a bit more; this is a book that leaves you pondering and reflecting after each sitting. I guarantee these characters will dance through your dreams and whisper to you while you go about your day.

But another part of me is desperate to review this while it’s all still fresh in my brain. And I feel strongly that this novel deserves a publication day review.

So am starting in the obvious place, at the beginning.

Not just the beginning of the novel but right at the novel’s conception, the point where Alix Nathan found inspiration for this incredible story.

It surely must be an author’s dream to stumble across something as tantalising as a genuine late 1700’s advert searching for a person willingly to spend seven years underground and entirely alone all in the name of science.It is a gift of a starting point, and from it Alix Nathan has created a gift of a novel.

And so we come to our story. Enter Powyss. An amateur botanist, wealthy and living with limited social contact. Considering himself a man of science, tired of simple experiments surrounding his plants, he conceives a scheme to raise his standing in scientific circles.

He advertises for a man to lived beneath his house in specially designed apartments. Filled with books and furnished in style the only thing the chosen subject will want for is human contact. For seven long years.

One man comes forward. Warlow, a local labourer, a married man with minimal education and a growing family. His labours will earn him £50 a year for life and his wife and children will be well cared for during his time away.

The novel begins as Warlow enters the apartments. At this point it is not necessarily the confinement that is the cause of his immediate discomfort but rather the palatial surroundings he finds himself in. Everything that Powyss has seen as essential to Human enjoyment and sustenance, books, fine china and linen, even an organ is entirely alien to Warlow.

From the beginning obvious tensions and paradoxes are apparent. Powyss sees himself as educated, even worldly and yet his actions and reactions particularly to Warlow underline his naivety and social arrogance.

Powyss does not understand the working man, he does not understand how his estate runs, how the people he employs think and feel.

Choosing to dismiss his acquaintance Fox’s lyrical letters highlighting social unrest, beginning with the French Revolution and spilling across the Channel in the form of workers uprisings, Powyss see the wider world as irrelevant to him. Powyss pointedly ignores his gift of Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, leaving it’s pages uncut, whilst key members of his staff are lapping up it’s teachings.

In fact, far from isolating himself from what is happening in the wider world, Powyss is replicating a societal microcosm in his own home. What could be more pertinent to the ‘Rights of Man’ than choice, education and freedoms? At so many points the novel is an astute exploration of the nature and notion of universal suffrage.

For quite unwittingly Powyss has created a world where perceived order and hierarchies are being subverted. Power shifts as Powyss comes to understand the implications of what he has done. How easy will it be to release this man after such a period? After years of repression, confinement and potential suffering, what kind of retribution will Powyss face. Once again we staring down a metaphor for a wider socio-economic situation.

Or course it is of no surprise that the experiment fosters danger. But does this danger come from the expected quarters ?

The experiment brings change, upsets balance and careful order. It doesn’t just change Warlow but everyone who comes into contact with it.

And of those affected who, poses the greater risk to wider stability.

Is it Warlow? Living isolated and becoming more disassociated from the world and his own self, beginning to understand, even fleetingly, just how important even small freedoms can be.

Or does risk lie in Powyss’ own shifting priorities? For a man who seems to revel in his self perceived solitude, the experiment is bringing dramatic changes to his social circle. Warlow’s wife Hannah is strangely beguiling. What effect will her presence bring to the situation?

And we shouldn’t underestimated Abraham Price and his sweetheart Catherine, master gardener and housemaid, two of Powyss’ overlooked staff. Both are dissatisfied, both drawn to political developments, but who will take their frustrations to the next level?

The experiment is ill conceived of that it there is no doubt, both subject and creator end up trapped and changed by their experience.

Alix Nathan has created a masterpiece. And I don’t say this lightly. There are so many layers within this novel. So many recurring themes, strands that weave beautifully together.

Clearly this is a meditation on what if costs to live both within the world and the effects of being removed from it. But it’s also offers valuable comment on such themes a religion, personal and political power, rights of women and suppression of humanity. It is a novel with a social conscience, a love story and on many levels a tale of horror.

My review is, I hope, heartfelt but is actually a mere skim across the surface of this incredible tale. One blog review will not unlock the wonder of this novel, but I hope it persuades you to turn the first page.

From there you are lost…

Book review : Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

I am certainly a little late to the party with this one but ‘wow’, what an absolute gem. This was chosen as a read for one of my book clubs, and I am so grateful it was. The novel had been languishing, undiscovered on my Kindle for weeks and I had clearly been missing something very special.

Before I go any further I must say a big ‘Thank you ‘ to Claire for kindly providing our group with some great ‘book club’ questions. It focused our discussions and gave us a great insight to this multilayered tale.

So what’s it all about? Well a brief synopsis is called for here because one of the joys of this novel is in it’s unravelling. An air of mystery is present from the beginning and pervades throughout, and there is no way I am spoiling anyone’s reading pleasure!!

We begin at the death bed of Frances Jellico. Triggered by repeated visits from the ‘vicar’ Frances is swapped by memories.

It her mind she is back in 1969. A long summer when Frances, recently released from a life of caring and drudgery after the death of her mother finds herself working in a crumbling country house. Tasked with cataloguing and researching the house’s horticultural architecture by it’s new American owner, she finds herself living alongside an intriguing couple Cara and Peter.

Cara is fiery, unstable and longing for Italy. Peter, there to catalogue the inside of the house, seems both drawn to and unsettled by his partner’s unpredictability.

Frances is certainly drawn to both Peter and Cara. Attraction to Peter pulls her close and Cara’s compelling stories seem easy to believe, however unlikely they maybe.

Parallels can quickly be drawn between the two women. Both have difficult relationships with domineering and seemly cruel mothers, both seem to worship fathers long since absent. The lack of parental guidance has all too clearly left it’s mark. Peter seems to take on the mantle of both lover and father figure for both women at various points. Parental chaos is a key underlying theme of the novel.

All three characters fall into a Bohemian and careless routine. Drinking and eating late into the night, pulling each other into strange confidences and conversations, making unlikely and misguided decisions. Decisions that will have terrifying consequences for all concerned.

The state of the house; that of faded grandeur and with an air of broken down convention, has a dramatic and far reaching effect on all three characters, but perhaps most markedly on Frances. Here we see a casting off of restraint. This rather uptight and cowed Woman steps into the light, casting off her Mother’s hand me down girdle and donning floating vintage gowns. Along with her clothing she sheds morality and normality, swept away by this heady new atmosphere and strange, remote setting.

Moreover the house seems to act as metaphor for the character’s lives. It reflects the jaded nature of their past but it too has a history is full of complexity and sorrow. The turmoil of the buildings mirrors the turmoil all the central characters seem to find themselves mired in.

For all of our characters are searching for a truth, a reason for a being, a deeper meaning to their existence. All protagonists have secrets, some more shocking than others. And all are trying to find a way to make peace with those secrets and reconcile themselves with decisions they have made.

At times it feels as those there may be supernatural forces at work within the house. Frances particularly experiences unexplained and unexpected events within her rather shabby sleeping quarters. Confusion and chaos increase throughout the novel, but is it real or imagined? Supernatural or a reflection of the state of someone’s happiness or guilt? Is it just easier make a glib reference to ghosts or even miracles, rather than confront an uncomfortable truth?

For be in no doubt, the narrators in this novel are nothing if not unreliable. Cara is feted as the obvious problem but slowly we come to question everyone’s reliability and integrity. Who, if anyone can we believe? What is Frances hiding? What of Peter’s past? For even the house has secrets that it won’t easily relinquish.

There is a pervading theme of seeking the truth, of spying on others, of listening at closed doors and only hearing part of a story. Characters in this novel are not in possession of the full facts, they can’t see the full picture and the consequences are dire. I promised no spoilers but Frances first discovery is a clear signpost for truth seeking and secrets in the most clandestine of ways!

Because from the start the reader is working through a fog of confusion. Where is Frances now? Who is this ‘Vicar’, and why is he bringing her back at the end of her life to a summer long ago?

As the story concludes ask yourself; are you sure of the truths you have acquired? Or do you need to spend a bit more time with Frances, Cara and Peter? Is there more to unravel in this rather complex web of ‘truth’?

Claire Fuller has created one of those delightful books that is so easy to read and utterly compelling, yet is multi layered and complex. One of those books that is just meant for discussion, that becomes even more vibrant and in this case, sinister with continued thought and probing.

It is a book ripe for rereading, with the promise of finding yet more hidden treasure.

Book Review: Haverscroft by S.A.Harris

I am always in the market for a good ghost story. Followers of Bookbound may well remember that Susan Hill’s classic ghost story ‘The Woman in Black’ made it, rather strangely perhaps , into my Top Ten Comfort Reads. I like nothing better than raising my heckles and disappearing off to dark, forbidding places, bring on the spooks I say!

But the trouble is, in recent years I have found good ghost stories rather hard to find. By the way I am quite happy to be proven wrong in this assertion, so feel free to send me your best supernatural offerings. But be warned I am quite picky. I am not talking horror here, not overtly gruesome or grizzly. I am talking about an old fashioned ghost story, filled with lots of psychologically head messing and gloomy attics. Ideally it will contain a storm and definitely an isolated house with untold secrets. Throw in a few freaked out locals for good measure and I am in clover .

The last great ghost story I remember reading was Sarah Waters delicious The Little Stranger. Dark, powerful and reread at least twice, it scratched my ghost story itch. I was starting to think that no one was writing great ghost stories anyone more.

Then along came. Haverscroft

In the past few weeks my Twitter feed has been increasing filled with talk of a new, exciting supernatural tale. Written by Sally Harris and published by Salt, this was a modern ghost story; bang up to date in setting and style but with all the ingredients for a perfect ghost story and more.

When my beautiful little bookish bundle arrived from Salt, right in the middle of half term, I suspected I was in for a treat.

So here begins the tale of Kate and Mark; we join them on the day they move to Haverscroft, a rundown house in the countryside. Escaping from their London and trying to repair the cracks in their marriage, the couple arrive at Haverscroft with their young twins. Mark is sure that this the place for them, he is confident and firmly grounded in reality. By contrast Kate is unsure; buying the house feels like a concession to her past mistakes. She is recovering from a breakdown, has left the city and her old life in a determination to make the marriage work. Driven by guilt and uncertainty it is a shaky ground for a new beginning.

Add in the locked attic, sealed by the previous owner, the strange Mrs Havers, doors that refuse to stay shut and an expensive but crumbling classic car in the garage and the we are heading towards ghost story perfection.

Yet Haverscroft is so much more than a standard ghost story. Sally Harris has built this story in a modern and beguiling way. Kate, our guide through this old house and all that comes with it. Her vulnerability makes her immediately relatable, her determination to make this work for her family makes her admirable. And yet her struggles with her mental help don’t make her appear entirely reliable. Harris has created this unreliable narrator to increase the readers interest and make us question what appears to be happening. Can we trust Kate ? Are the things she is experiencing and feeling supernatural happenings or are they due to her fragile mental health?

Slowly and skilfully Harris paints the picture; Kate is not a one dimensional static character. She grows in strength and confidence as the novel progresses. Her feelings about the house and it’s happenings are supported and reflected in the reactions and experiences of the twins, Shirley, the house keeper and other locals. As the house begins to reveal it’s secrets and difficult questions are asked then it moves from being vaguely unsettling to toe -curlingly terrifying.

And if Kate is an unreliable narrator, she is not the only one. In a tale spun of secrets, the feeling that few characters are telling the whole truth adds to the mystery and uncertainty. Mrs Havers, with her selective memory, Mark with his strange behaviour, disappearances and unsettlingly communications; just two of several further examples of an unreliable narrator. Haverscroft is a tangled web of half truth and secrets untold.

Another reoccurring theme is that of mental health. At first Kate seems isolated and alone in her struggles, yet as the novel progresses other characters are revealed as having their own mental health issues. Richard Denning, long time gardener and friend of Mrs Havers has been in an asylum, his past spreading suspicion and doubt on his present and future. The secrets of the house are tied up in the Post Traumatic Stress of Edward Havers war years and his subsequent behaviour. And how far can we trust Mrs Havers? Is she trapped in the beginnings of dementia as Lyle, the local solicitor would have everyone believe.

Herein lies the strength of Harris’ exploration of mental health. It is others reactions to another’s mental health that provides catalyst for the drama, both in the past and the present. There are parallels between Mark’s behaviour and his reaction, some may say exploitation of Kate’s illness, and reactions to both Mrs Havers and her sister by Edward Havers. Here is a story that focuses on power, power within relationships and how love and guilt are used to control, even years later.

Harris has creative a breathtaking portrayal of the damage caused by secrets and what happens when secrets and grievances refuse to die. Using the classic ghost story motifs surrounding lost children and troubled marriages Harris has written a bang up to masterpiece. It’s domestic setting and attention to detail makes it entirely relatable and it is all the more bone chilling for it.

Thank Sally Harris for giving me another great ghost story to ‘enjoy’ and proving to me that the art telling a ghost story is not forgotten.

Haverscroft is published by Salt Publishing and can be bought right here!

Book review : Templar Silks …and the places books take you!

Having discovered Elizabeth Chadwick through her wonderful Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy I was delighted to be able to review Templar Silks, due for publication 4th June 2019. Thank you to Sourcebooks for an Advance Reader Copy.

Templar Silks continues the story of William Marshall. Having served loyally as a Knight at the court Henry II, William is reaching the end of his long life. Realising this illness will be his last William knows it is time to fulfil his vow, made long ago in Jerusalem, to become a Templar Monk.

Whilst waiting for his Templar Silks to be delivered to him, William prepares himself for what lies ahead by recalling a lost time; his pilgrimage to the Holy Land to lay the cloak of his Lord, Henry the Young King on Christ’s tomb.

Through his rich and vivid memories, some sensuous, many disturbing Chadwick recreates this incredible and evocative time in history.

What has always struck me about Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing is her amazing eye for detail, and Templar Silks is no exception. At no point does any description feel laboured or over long. Rather such passages are a delight to the readers senses. The opulent Jerusalem Court of the the 1100’s provides the perfect scope for Chadwick to weave her magic. Whether the reader is in the throes of battle or the inner sanctum of a court Mistress, Chadwick is skilled at drawing the reader into the novel. They are able to taste, smell feel their surroundings stepping back hundred of turbulent years in the process.

Moreover the level of detail is testament to just how well researched this novel is. Whilst it is documented that William Marshall did actually spend time in Jerusalem, his actions there are largely unknown, giving the author tremendous creative freedom. Such freedoms within in a historical novel can be both a blessing and a curse. The great challenge is always to stay true to character and importantly period. Through sustained and thorough research Chadwick, as always, pulls it off.

Her portrayal of a life governed by earthly and spiritual duty is rich and colourful. Marshall is portrayed an honourable but flaw man, living in treacherous times.

As with the Eleanor Trilogy there are strong female characters within the novel. Characters that use what power they have to make their own mark in a male dominated and often brutal world. Chadwick is often concerned with love but she is always concerned with power, and how the power balance is constantly and ruthlessly shifting in uncertain times.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s ability to evoke a sense of place is impeccable. She is able to create worlds long gone in vivid detail and she does what only a truly skilled writer’s can. She makes you want to go there. Not just in your minds eye; Chadwick makes you want to pack a bag, maybe hijack a tardis or two and physically experience what you have read about.

That was exactly the experience I had after reading the Eleanor Trilogy a couple of years ago. The Summer Queen, The Autumn Throne and The Winter Crown tell the fascinating story of Eleanor of Aquitaine who was married to both Louis VII of France and Henry II of England. A duchess and ruler in her own right, she was a powerful women in a time when when it was very much the exception rather than the rule. Her second marriage to Henry produced eight children but also saw her incarcerated for her role in the rebellionby her son Henry the Young King against his father.

Chadwick’s description and portrayal of Eleanor as both a Queen and a woman was powerful, and again cleverly drawn sense of place drew me in. It lead to one of those occasions that my family dread but almost (!) always end up thanking me for; one of those occasions when we went in search of history.

Or as my youngest son calls it ‘some random place Mother has read about in a book.’ !

This time the random place in question was Fontevraud Abbey, in the beautiful Loire Valley.

Truly a place of beauty both in setting and architecture, this World Heritage Site was the final resting place of Eleanor. Along with Henry and two of their children, Richard I and Joan, it is believed that their remains were moved or destroyed during the French Revolution. However Eleanor’s beautiful tomb and effigy remain.

Books take you places; cliché it maybe but it’s undeniably true. A good book can transport you to other worlds without you leaving your seat. It take you away, through the pictures it paints in your head. And a great book will paint those pictures and make you want to touch them, smell than and walk amongst them.

So reading Templar Silks I am currently in search of a time machine. Anyone know how I can hitch a lift to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages!!

Books mentioned in this blog:

  • Templar Silks – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Summer Queen – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Autumn Throne – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Winter Crown – Elizabeth Chadwick