March 8, 2015

Book Review: The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

I really enjoyed Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series, and was sad to hear she had passed away. So I was super excited to get to review The Siege Winter for Shelf Awareness! It's set during the English civil war of the 1140s (which I knew very little about prior to reading this book). I had to keep setting the book down to look stuff up online. It's got a bit of a mystery in it, but it's really more historical fiction, and I highly recommend it. 

Ariana Franklin (aka Diana Norman), author of the acclaimed Mistress of the Art of Death series, died in 2011 before completing The Siege Winter. But her daughter Samantha Norman finished the novel, allowing readers to enjoy Franklin's exciting historical fiction once again.

The year is 1141. England is in the grip of a civil war, as Empress Matilda and King Stephen battle for the throne after the death of Henry I. The chaos means that lawless men roam unhindered, and Emma, a young girl from the fens, is kidnapped by a depraved monk, brutally raped and left for dead. Gwyl, a kindhearted mercenary archer, finds Emma and nurses her back to health, disguising her as a boy and renaming her Penda. Little do Gwyl and Penda know that their paths will soon cross with the Empress herself.

Meanwhile, Maud of Kenniford has been forced into marriage with a loutish, much older man, because her castle and lands are considered vital to Stephen's cause. Defying her husband, Maud makes a treaty with Matilda's forces, triggering events that will lead to a long winter's siege.

Although the subject matter is grim, the jocular attitude of several of the main characters makes The Siege Winter surprisingly amusing. Penda's feistiness, Gwyl's determination and Maud's intransigence are all likable qualities, and the vividly depicted historical setting will keep the reader simultaneously engaged but sad at the knowledge that Franklin won't be writing any more books. Fans of British history and historical fiction are sure to love the intrigue and scope of The Siege Winter.

Do you like historical British fiction?

I wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. The cover image is an affiliate link.