This is the second novel I’ve read by Belfrage, and both have been highly enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I was going through a stressful period at work, so I wanted a book that would take me away from my worries. The description of this one intrigued me. I haven’t read many novels set during the reign of Edward I of England.
The opening chapters set up an unlikely marriage: bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, one of Edward’s soldiers, and Eleanor d’Outremer (Noor), a half-English, half-Spanish noblewoman who is left alone in the world after Robert kills her father and brother as they charge at the king without warning. To reward Robert’s loyalty, the king tells him to marry Eleanor and take possession of her lands. With such a complicated beginning, it’s no surprise that the marriage starts out poorly. Robert already has a beautiful bedmate, Edith, of many years duration, who is a good friend as well as lover. And initially, he’s not impressed with the smaller and quieter Noor, so he makes mistakes that wound her deeply.
However, beneath the quiet exterior, Noor is a complex, feisty character, and Robert is a man of principle who regrets hurting her. He eventually realizes that he must woo his wife and set Edith aside. Which is when the complications truly begin. The manipulative Edith has no intention of slinking away quietly now that Robert is a wealthy man. And Noor is related to the Welsh princes who are fighting a losing battle to keep Wales free of English domination. When one of those princes comes clandestinely to her castle to request a favor based on kinship ties—that she save his youngest child, whom he has kept secret from the world—she makes a difficult choice that puts her marriage in further peril by embroiling her and Robert in the cutthroat politics of the day.
The characters of both Robert and Noor have wonderful arcs, full of personal growth and change. The time period is fascinating. I appreciated learning more about the conflicts between England and Wales. This book was exactly what I wanted: a solid historical novel with just enough romance to spice it up. I look forward to the publication of its sequel, The Castilian Pomegranate.