In many ways, this was a charming novella with much to recommend it. Certainly, post-conquest Britain is a fascinating and under-represented time in historical fiction, and Murdoch clearly knows her stuff. The historical setting is there. But I felt there were also a few issues with the novella.
First, and this is just an irritant really, it hadn’t been properly edited. Seasons get muddled, dresses change colour, and some grammatical errors persist. All of these things distract from the story, and could have been easily prevented.
And then we come to the main plot, and the characters. This was the sticking point for me.
In the main, though, I think the issue is that this book has been improperly marketed. Look at that cover; you’re thinking Philippa Gregory, right? Well, if you’re looking for dashing rakes and heaving bosoms then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. Phillippa Gregory Murdoch ain’t, despite what the publisher’s blurb claims. This book isn’t an adult romance. That’s not necessarily an issue. Plenty of people prefer their love-tales chaste (and this is SERIOUSLY chaste – they marry and then there’s one kiss, and LOTS of talking about the kiss), but for readers like myself who prefer a little heat in their romance, this isn’t the way to go.
But what I do think is that this book would be perfect for a tween and teen audience. It’s basically Jacqueline Wilson does the Norman Conquest. There’s lots of chaste romance, talking earnestly about issues, and a nice, goody-two-shoes narrator. Think Girls In Love, but with Normans and Anglo-Saxons. No, no, it’s more chaste than Girls in Love. But anyway, you get the point – it’s short and sweet in a way that would appeal to girls in the 11–15 age bracket.
So, in essence, this book wasn’t for me, but it had a lot to recommend it, and it would suit a younger audience than the one it is marketed towards. I think the publishers made an error suggesting it for fans of Philippa Gregory, and I think someone in the editing process really dropped the ball. But it’s worth a look for teens, if you don’t want them reading about exactly what Henry VIII liked to have done to him in bed yet.
Rating: 3.5 stars