Review Blog

Aug 13 2015

Winter siege by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

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Bantam Books, 2015. ISBN 9780857501479
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Medieval England, Crime, Redemption, Civil war. When Ariana Franklyn died in 2011, she left behind a small body of work set in medieval times involving a woman trained as a physician solving crimes through forensic investigation always a step in front of those who wanted to kill her as a witch. These four novels, Mistress of the art of death, The death maze, Relics of the dead and The assassin's prayer were mesmerising in their Medieval setting, showing attitudes to women and medicine at the time. But she had a last novel in progress, and her daughter, Samantha Norman has completed it and it is now published.
This story takes a slightly different route from the previous four, detailing the lives of Gwil, a mercenary who rescues a young girl raped and left for dead by a monk known for his cruelty. It is the time of civil war between the forces of King Stephen and his sister Matilda, involving much of southern England.
Gwil and Pen take refuge in a castle where Maud is the one in charge, but her enforced marriage sees her relinquish control to an older man, now her husband, and his whore, Kingva. When he has a stroke, the only person Kingva turns to is a monk who arrives in the castle with King Stephen's men, on the lookout for a piece of parchment taken by Pen, the girl he raped. When Maud refuses to submit to King Stephen's men after sheltering and then helping his rival, Matilda, escape, a siege lays the castle open to treachery.
This is a powerful historical crime story set in turbulent times where lives are often lost for little or no reason. The callousness of wondering mercenaries is appalling, and Gwil seeks to redeem himself by caring for Pen. The narrator of the story evokes a change of heart from his scribe, who is at first condemning of the participants in the story but by the end learns compassion and empathy.
The episodes detailing the siege are just wonderful, laying before the reader the extremes of life lived during such a time.
A wonderful thriller, following the development of Pen and her protector Gwil, the shadow of the monk is always there, even though Pen fortunately has no recollection of the incident. A menacing read right to the last.
Fran Knight

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