I have to admit to a degree of worry as I started to read this new book, because I am a great fan of Ms Belfrage’s Graham Saga.
My first worry was that it wasn’t going to be as good – and my second was that it was going to be Alex and Matthew in the 14th century: a trap that many successful authors fall into, of replicating carbon copies of their successful characters in another period of history.
Well, I needn’t have worried on either head.
I am very fond of Alex and Matthew Graham, but there is always – in my reading – that element of tension in their relationship. With Adam and Kit, despite the somewhat – unusual – beginning of their marriage, there is never any doubt for me that no matter how tumultous this period of history is, their love is solid. This is not, I don’t think, a will-they won’t-they story, set against a faintly-drawn generic historical background. It’s a story of will Fate let them, in what has to be one of the most violent, tumultous, passionate, uninhibited periods of English history. A man and a woman, who find each other, and are determined that conflicting loyalty, intrigue, and murder will not come between them.
Be not misled, gentle reader. We are not in the realms of courtly love here. We are dealing with a real and passionate period, where a brutal punishment can be meted out to a man in scenes of graphic savagery, and a woman be poisoned to death by her own family – and where the same man who raises a sword with violent skill, can make love to his wife with kindness and tenderness.
We are also dealing with a very accomplished author, who can describe love as well as pain with skill and empathy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alex and Matthew are very much a self-contained unit, but Kit de Courcy and Adam de Guirande are a fantastically-drawn pair of lovers enmeshed in a complicated political and social web. And a well-researched, authentic, believable one, that feels as right to the reader as a warm wool surcote.
Be warned: there is a considerable amount of brutality in this book. The Welsh Marches in 1321 were a place of unpredictable political allegiances, where a wise man keeps an eye on the main chance. Not a period where an author should tread, without a considerable amount of background research, and certainly not a period where an author who fears to describe spilled blood should go. (Just as well this author fears neither.)
I scent a long and happy relationship for this reader, with the de Guirandes….