Publication: Covenant Communications, August 1st, 2015
Genre: Historical Romance
Format: Free review e-book from the publisher
I read Elizabeth Chadwick as a young reader, and recently was introduced to Sharon Kay Penman. My favorite novel ever is Into the Wilderness. I just started Outlander again, after marathoning the whole first season in a weekend (read about that here). This may give you a clue as to the context of this review.
Eleanor and the Iron King promised a historical fiction set in medieval Wales. It delivered, sort of. Eleanor de Lacy is the daughter of a wicked English count, and at the beginning of the novel she is traveling to meet her soon-to-be-betrothed, Brac Goch, the supposedly ruthless, warmongering Welsh prince who lives just over the border. Her family have been feuding with him for years. Unsurprisingly, she looks forward to her pending marriage with dread and anger. Being sold like chattel; marrying a stranger; harboring a secret conviction that her intended is the murderer of her beloved elder brother. Immediately upon her arrival, the two are handfasted. Over the next several months, she stubbornly clings to her anger and resentment, even though Brac Goch gives her no reason to believe he will mistreat her (as her father did). Skilled in the use of herbs for healing, she wants to continue to use them to help the Welsh castle inhabitants, but the fact that her new betrothed forbids it acts as a spur for her feelings.
The story of their coming together mixes with a ghostly haunting, betrayal, and even magic. With all the different sub-plots, the history never felt real. Instead, it felt like a painted backdrop on the stage of a familiar and somewhat confused play. There are some novels that do historical fiction and ghosts really well, and there are some that do historical settings and magic/magical creatures really well (see the Similar Reads at the end of this post for an example). And then there are books that try to do too many things, and for me, this was one of the latter.
Eleanor herself I found to be insipid, boring, and silly. Readers spend a lot of time in her head, listening to her complain about her new situation, worry about her dead brother, etc., etc. She makes foolish decisions even though she knows she shouldn’t be doing things like going out walking in the rain and snow, and repeatedly gets into trouble because of them. She stubbornly clings to her beliefs even as evidence mounts against them, pointing to contradictory truths. Throughout the whole of the book, her stubbornness and foolishness are the motivations that cause suspense in the story and tension between characters. It’s not enough for me, and I found it annoying. I like my heroines with more sense.
Given my dislike of Eleanor, and the thinly drawn historical setting, this is not the book for me. I did finish it, and I don’t necessarily regret reading it, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, I recommend…
Elizabeth Chadwick has written many, many stories set in medieval England and Wales. Some of my favorites are:
Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes series is probably the classic historical fiction about medieval Wales. The first in the series is about Prince Llewelyn and his English bride Joanna. If I were to recommend only one, it would be this one.
For readers who like their historical fiction mixed with fantasy, Judith Tarr weaves in magic, elemental beings, and faeries into her historical fantasies. While I really enjoyed the Alamut series (like Falcons of Montabard, set during the Crusades against the backdrop of the medieval Middle East), she has also written novels about the British Isles.
This last one is all English, but it is a fantastic blend of historical fiction and historical romance.
Would you recommend any books set in medieval Wales that have ghosts? I’m not sure I’ve read any. Are there any books you would add to this list?