Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: The Siege Winter

Kerry Hammond is here to tell us about a historic novel set in the 12th Century.

The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman was released by William Morrow. 

I am a big fan of historic novels, but have rarely attempted to enter a world as far back as the 12th Century. I was also intrigued to find out, through a MysteryPlayground author interview, that the novel was started by Ariana Franklin and finished by her daughter Samantha Norman after her death. I decided that there was enough mystery surrounding this book that I had to read it.

The story follows an 11-year-old girl named Emma, and her dark and sad tale begins in the year 1141. She is the daughter of peasants and one day while in the fields, she is attacked by an evil monk and left for dead. She is found and taken in by a traveling mercenary named Gwil, and the two begin a friendship that turns out to be both natural and unusual. Emma has pushed her traumatic experience out of her conscious mind, but the effects of it are clear when she dresses as a boy and wishes to be called Penda, leaving behind all connection to the girl she once was. Gwil trains her to be a skilled archer and they travel together and perform for wealthy families and royalty.

Their travels lead them to Kenniford Castle, where a power play is about to take place. Penda’s skills as an archer turn from entertainment to survival as she helps protect the castle from siege. King Stephen and Empress Matilda are fighting for power and Kenniford’s control plays an important role in the strategy of each. All the while, the monk who has attacked Penda has discovered that she survived, and he continues to hunt her to finish what he started and to retrieve an item that he knows to be in her possession. An item that could incriminate him and thwart his plans for rising to power in the church.

Emma’s story is narrated, nearly 40 years later, by a dying abbot at Perton Abbey. He tells the story to a scribe who is recording the tale, and we at times return to their storytelling sessions. I loved this part of the book and I often wondered about the abbot’s connection to Emma. The reader must hold out until the end to find out the entire story and how it circles around to the final scenes.

This book was wonderfully written. It was part historical novel and part mystery. The characters were amazingly three dimensional and I found myself so invested in their lives that I alternately laughed and cried as I read. The time period depicted was well researched and brutally told. My book included insights and interviews and I learned more about the authors and how it came to be that Samantha continued the story started by her mother. I never once saw a change in writing style or any indication that there was a collaboration of sorts. It was seamless and a truly unforgettable book.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent.

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