I haven’t particularly been interested in reading too many medieval romances. I don’t know the history, and my poor opinko liberal agnostic heart simply can’t deal too much with religion being a totally accepted part of everyone’s life. But I’m always glad to try new things, and Blythe Gifford is an author I’d heard good things about. Plus, the story is about a decidedly middle class heroine, which struck me as exciting.
Katrine is an unmarried woman living in Flanders in the 14th century. Flanders is chafing under an oil embargo imposed by English King Edward II in his war with France. Wool is important to Katrine, a weaver. She meets and negotiates with Renard, a man she thinks is merely a wool smuggler, for the precious wool. But Renard, the bastard son of a duchess, is in Flanders for reasons of his own as he tries to win people over to King Edward’s cause. Betrayal, passion and deceit loom large for these two. Can they sort out the various misunderstandings they develop and find happiness?
This was a very engaging and quick read, with characters I immediately connected with. I particularly liked Katrine, who is constrained by the times in which she lives. I thought that Ms. Gifford did a fabulous job making it clear just how subjugated the women of that time were by the whims of their men. There were times that I was really genuinely afraid for Katrine as I read, which is a sign the author did something right.
Renard is less likeable. I thought he was a bit too stand-offish, and kind of a hypocrite because he seems to think it’s perfectly OK to lie to Katrine about who he is and what he’s doing, but he seems to view Katrine as a lying, manipulative whore. Over and over again, right to the end. The fact that he really should have known better after a while just made him seem too immature for my taste. And, while I understood his desire not to be controlled by passions and not to produce a bastard, his angst didn’t entirely ring true for me.
The villains in the piece, on one hand, worked for me because I really felt they posed a danger to Katrine. But they also tended toward the one-demensional psycho and the silly hypocrite variety. But some of the other secondary characters, like Katrine’s servant, Merkin, and Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa, were great fun to read about.
I loved the setting Ms. Gifford brings to life. I especially enjoyed the fact that she did delve into the consequences of war for the common people. I never felt I was reading a lecture, and while I’m not sure I’d have wanted to live in those times, the picture I got was very vivid.
I love books with compelling characters, and particularly books with heroines I like. This book definitely has both, and I would recommend it to fans of medieval romance.
When a mysterious, seductive trader arrives at her door, noblewoman Katrine de Gravere reluctantly agrees to give him shelter. The payment–enough wool to keep her precious looms filled.
Sleeping under the same roof, tempted every minute to let his fingers linger on this flame-haired, reserved innocent, Renard wonders if she suspects his real reasons for being there. In a town where no one feels safe, Katrine makes him yearn for things long forbidden, but can he trust her not to betray him?