I love early medievals, so The Harlot’s Daughter, set in 1386 looked like a good choice. I was also pulled in by the choice of story. The major events happened and a lot of the characters were actually real people. I just love historicals like that. Though I was slow to get into it at first, I liked the poetic style and the metaphors and symbolism. It was done well but I didn’t see the characters all that clearly and started thinking the book would be shallow. I was wrong. It was just starting.
Lady Joan, called Solay, the eldest daughter of Alys Piers, mistress to the late King Edward III, shows up at court hoping to gain some support for her mother and sister. Through the unfair dealings of the legal system they have lost everything but the house they live in and have been selling their belongings in order to eat. Solay has been raised to mistrust everyone but particularly men and especially men of the law.
Lord Justin Lamont is a sergeant-at-law. He is part of a council set up by Parliament to straighten out the financial mess King Richard has made. He’s not a favorite of the king, of course, but he has the law and truth on his side. He has become the man who tells the king bad news, because he’s not afraid to do it.
This book explores, rather well, the question of whether law and truth can be counted on to win in an arena where the very authorities are corrupt. Both Justin and Solay have to face, over and over, their own belief systems. Gifford doesn’t go for the simple answers. These are complex characters in complex situations.
A big plus for me, this heroine is a totally different kind of person. I don’t think she’s much like any other heroine I’ve ever read. She’s smart, but she has been raised to be very cynical and will do what it takes to provide for her mother and sister. She’s not selfish or greedy but it’s not surprising she comes across that way. Her loyalty is to the only two people she’s ever been able to trust. Anyone else is fair game for serious manipulation. I was reminded, time and again, of the senator/president’s wife in the first season of 24. But Solay grows through her relationship with Justin and is an excellent heroine.
Unexpectedly, Justin grows a lot, as well. I would have assumed the guy with the high moral values and faith in truth and right would simply have to be patient and soon he would waltz right on in to his HEA. But his world was just too black and white and he comes through his own trials a different man.
The author had me in tears for the characters within the first third of the book, which isn’t easy to do. I don’t buy cheap plays for emotion. Ms. Gifford earned every tear.
From the back cover:
Betrothed to a man she must betray. She is the illegitimate daughter of a dead king, trying to regain a place at court. He is the powerful lord determined to stop her. And around every corner lurks treason that could threaten them both.
Read an excerpt.