By Elizabeth Chadwick
St. Martin’s Press
In 1066, England finds itself overrun with Normans. Ailith, a young Saxon woman and the wife of a blacksmith, is living a content life even while her home country is invaded — until she loses both her husband and infant son on the same day. Her life comes to a halt and she sees no way to move on. In a few short hours, she goes from being the mistress of her own home to wet nurse to a Norman friend and living almost as a servant in their home.
Ailith’s life becomes even more complicated and unhappy by a wedding proposal from a man she despises. When a womanizing Norman named Rolf makes her mistress of his household of his newly acquired lands, she jumps at the chance at a new life. Ailith and Rolf soon fall in love and a daughter, Julitta, is born. When circumstances change quickly, Ailith is forced to make the difficult decision to leave Rolf and her life behind.
Elizabeth Chadwick is a writer I like a lot. I tend to fall in love with her characters and their intricate relationships. In this book, I liked Ailith. She was strong and proud but is also deeply scarred and vulnerable. She gets moody and dark but has every right to feel the way she does after all she lost. Rolf, on the other hand, while likable, seems to think more of his horses than anything or anyone else. He spent too much time brooding and fantasizing about other woman for me to really like him.
The story is told in two parts. Ailith’s life and then her daughter Julitta’s. However, the story shifts abruptly and characters feel like they just disappear. Rolf, for instance, while he was still mentioned, only shows up to marry off Julitta, unsuitably I might add, and is gone again. The two stories, while connected, didn’t feel integrated and I felt like I was reading the same story with a few new characters thrown in.
But, all the above being mentioned, I still found myself liking the story. There’s romance — which I found I didn’t always get into even when large parts of the story hinge on two people finding happiness or at least of few hours of pleasure — and a lot of horses in this one. Although, I think maybe I had my fill of hands running down flanks for awhile. I don’t mind the romance part, I think it was just too much for me this time around. Chadwick is great at the historical details though and she does draw you in. You want to yell at her characters and cheer them on at the same time. While I don’t think this will rank up near the top as one of my favorite books of her’s, I don’t plan to stop reading her novels.