Tuesday, 30 November 2021

STARTING TOMORROW ...

... our Annual STORY SONG 
Join in with the fun


we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
 from the author's novel,
but all have our traditional format of...

Read the story
guess the song!

lined up for your enjoyment and entertainment
we have

DECEMBER
1st Deborah Swift  an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham Brack - The Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy Vallar - Rumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell Denvil - The Great Forest
5th Nicky Galliers - Two Stories
6th Annie Whitehead - excerpt from To Be A Queen
7th Judith Arnopp - an excerpt from The Winchester Goose
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta Livingstone - Labour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpe - excerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H Borg - Excerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare Flynn - Excerpt from The Green Ribbons 
17th Anna Belfrage - A Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St John - excerpt from Written in Their Stars
19th Nicky Galliers - Duty
20th Erica Lainé La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage  - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie Young -  The Secret Ministry Of Frost

ENJOY!

Monday, 29 November 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - November

designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)


NOVEMBER
RUNNER UP


Book of the Month

I've said before that I wish I hadn't started making a monthly personal choice because selecting the best is, sometimes, impossible!
but my winner 
 is

read our review


this will be the last cover & book of the month selections

from January 2022 
we will simply indicate our 

'REVIEWER'S CHOICE' 
and 'DESIGNER'S COVER of the MONTH CHOICE'

and look out for an exciting 
NEW ANNOUNCEMENT!




Friday, 26 November 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Falcon's Flight: A novel of Anne Boleyn by Natalia Richards




Tudor
France
(The Falcon's Rise Book 2)

"Anne Boleyn's life is threatened, intrigue, gossip and treachery abound, and her destiny is finally revealed. A young Anne Boleyn and her sister are sent to Paris to attend Mary Tudor, the new Queen of France. Unclear where her loyalties should lie, Anne soon makes an enemy of the queen. When the widowed Mary returns to England, Anne stays on in France to serve the new queen, Claude, but Anne's sister's actions put the girls' new court career at risk. A dangerous love affair follows and Anne finds an unlikely ally in the French king's mistress. But nothing ever goes to plan...The Falcon’s Flight is the second part of Natalia Richard’s vivid retelling of Anne Boleyn’s early life. Book one, The Falcon’s Rise, vividly portrayed Anne’s early life in England. The Falcon’s Flight takes us on to Anne’s ever eventful life on the continent."

This is a novel of the early life of Anne Boleyn, particularly interesting as we know so much about her later years, but not so much about her pre-English-queenship period. The novel delved into the day-by-day routines and rituals of Anne's days as maidservant to the queens of France, the courtly intrigues, scandals, jealousies, loves and relationships, which any devotee of the Tudor period will find fascinating.

The research appears impeccable, although I do wonder if perhaps there was a little too much information given at the expense of the narrative. There was quite a bit of dialogue in places giving a 'tell' not 'show' impression, which in my opinion slowed the story down in places. There was a lot of traveling from one place to another - maybe a little tedious for the reader? And a host of characters, some of whom were difficult to remember, especially as many had the same or similar names - although that is not the author's fault! 

A good read; will be of particular enjoyment for Tudor fans. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anne Holt
 e-version reviewed



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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

A MYSTERY OF MURDER Helen Hollick

(please forgive the self-indulgence!)




Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads
Episode 2 of the Jan Christopher Mysteries

Cosy Mystery / Novella
1970s
England / Devon

"Library Assistant Jan Christopher is to spend Christmas in Devon with her boyfriend, DS Laurie Walker and his family, but when a murder is discovered, followed by a not very accidental accident, the traditional Christmas spirit is somewhat marred...What happened to Laurie’s ex-girlfriend? Where is the vicar’s wife? Who took those old photographs? And will the farmer up the lane ever mend those broken fences? Set in 1971, this is the second Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery. Join her (and an owl and a teddy bear) in Devon for a Christmas to remember."

Independent reviews taken from Amazon

" - Further development of the central characters and their back stories, with an interesting jaunt down to Devon to spend Christmas with Jan's boyfriend's family.
- The introduction of some interesting new players.
- Evocative descriptions of life in rural Devon in the depths of December.
- A twisty plot with plentiful red herrings to allow the reader to solve the mystery alongside Jan and friends.
- Nostalgic and accurate depiction of a bygone era, really capturing life in 1971 (I remember it well!)
- Touching picture of Jan's world view at the tender age of 18 - how different the world looks for 21st century 18 year olds (of which my daughter is one!)
When so many books are so weighty these days, a nice quick read like this is refreshing and restful. I'm already looking forward to the next one!"
Debbie Young

"How much fun it was to read a story set in the long-ago era when I was a youngster. I remember the change from imperial to decimal that is mentioned. I love all the detail which has been so naturally introduced - no nasty infodumps, here, the details are filtered in, just as they should be. And, boy, does it bring back memories. A delightful tale. I look forward to reading more in the series."
'Highlander''

"After reading this, I feel that I've met the main characters myself, know them well, love them and have been taken back to their time and place. This is not a knife-edge thriller with a twist on every page. What happened in the plot, although intriguing, was for me secondary to the way the characters interacted. A family together over Christmas, loving, bickering, finding things don't turn out in the way they expected: what could be more real than that?"
'Charles M'


Chill With A Book Award
the first in the series

IndieBRAG medallion winner



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Monday, 22 November 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles


US/Canada cover

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama
WWII / 1980s
Paris/  Montana

The Paris Library is a two-timeline story, set in Paris during World War II and in a small Montana town in the 1980s. Based on the history of the American Library in Paris and its role in supporting first troops across Europe and later the resistance to Nazi occupation, the novel uses the device of memories revived and reconsidered through the interest of a teenage girl in her reclusive, private neighbour as its construct.

Lily, the teenager in Montana, doesn’t fit well in her small town: she craves a life of literature and art, of travel and adventure. She barges into her neighbour Odile’s life, lonely and curious about this war bride and her self-imposed distance from the community in which she lives. Odile becomes a mentor of sorts, Lily’s interest and actions forcing her to revisit the years of occupation and the secrets and betrayals they contain.

The American Library, dedicated to scholarship and open to all who loved and respected books, regardless of country of origin, race, or class, was a refuge for expatriates, displaced people, and Parisians alike for much of the war. But even the oversight of the sympathetic German officer assigned to monitor its activities – himself a librarian and a colleague of the director prior to the war – cannot save everyone from Nazi cruelty. As people disappear, some briefly, some forever, Odile’s last vestiges of her happy, innocent life as one of the librarians disappear with them. 

Most of the book is set in the Paris timeline, and of the two I found this the most interesting for its depiction of occupied Paris, both the horror and the mundane. There was, for me, a significant educational aspect, too, regarding the Library’s role during those years. The characterization of the Library’s habitués created a sense of the rich life of its patrons and its importance to them; for many it took on the role of both private club and a found family, just as Odile does for Lily as the girl struggles with her father’s remarriage and her place in a new family. 

There were a couple of niggles. I felt distanced as I read Odile’s story. I was shown and told, but never, for me, did I have a sense of deep emotion being conveyed. Perhaps, though, this was a device meant to reflect the detachment of memory after forty years. More disturbing to me were the occasional chapters in the war years written from another character’s point of view. The book does not have an omniscient narrator; if these are Odile’s memories we are experiencing, then I could not reconcile how there could be another point of view, except as relayed by her. 
Overall, an interesting story, one that I both enjoyed and learned from. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L Thorpe





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Friday, 19 November 2021

Rebel's Knot by Cryssa Bazo

shortlisted for Book of the Month
1600s
Ireland

"Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .
A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O'Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted.
When someone from Áine's past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.
As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other's arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?"

This is the third of Ms Bazos's books set during the period of the English Civil Wars, although she does not confine her stories to England. Here she takes us to Ireland and the bloody, desperate fight there to rid the country of the English occupiers. Cleverly, this book's opening scene features the same episode which began the last book, Severed Knot, although you absolutely do not have to read that book to enjoy and understand this, as it is not a sequel and features different characters. I enjoyed this book so much that it is tempting just to gush a list of superlatives, but I shall resist.

There is plenty of drama and nail-biting action in this story but it is still very much character led. And what well-defined characters we have: Áine reveals herself to be shy, thoughtful, given to recalling the stories of old, and yes, folk find her strange. Yet she is no stereotype and she is a careful and clever thinker. Niall is driven by his need to avenge his kin, and he is a battle-hardened warrior but he is no two-dimensional war hero. He wrestles with his conscience, he is torn between loyalty to his kin, and loyalty to his commander, and he also feels responsible for the strange girl he has under his protection. The early scenes where these two puzzle over their feelings, misreading signs or reading too much into them, are a delight. The glances at each other across the crowds, the wondering about words unspoken, all rang so true when describing a young couple falling in love but unsure if their feelings are reciprocated.

There's a fine supporting cast, too, from Niall's comrades in arms to Eireen, the sensible and practical matron, and the baddies are nothing like pantomime villains. I particularly liked the way these enemies were portrayed, so that at any given moment there was more than one suspect for the label of traitor.

Which leads me nicely into a brief comment about the plotting of the novel. In a word, it's superb. It's twisty, it's full of drama and genuine edge-of-the-seat moments, and all the threads were tied neatly together. The author is adept at putting her characters into perilous situations and leaving her readers aghast, unable to work out how they might prevail. The action is cleverly and economically described, by which I mean that the words almost move out of the way so that we can see what's happening in the faster-paced scenes. 

And then, there are the quieter, tender moments which are beautifully written. The emotions feel real, recognisably human, and are at times heart-wrenchingly poignant. I'm not ashamed to say that I wept.

The historical detail is impeccably researched, but delivered with a light touch, so that we are plucked from our modern world and dropped into the heart of every scene. We are in the woods at the rebels' camp, we are at the bustling market, we can see every person in the scene, we are holding our breath as the English soldiers pass by... 

Strong characters, period setting, action, drama, and a love story. Perfect.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed

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Wednesday, 17 November 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Buccaneer Coast by James L. Nelson


Nautical
1600s
Caribbean
 
(Blood, Steel, and Empire Book 1)

"More than one hundred years after Columbus blundered onto Hispaniola, the West Indies are held in Spain’s iron fist, and no threat to that absolute rule is tolerated. But such total control cannot last, not with the riches of an empire at stake, and French, English and Dutch all struggle to pry open the Spanish grip. But one threat will emerge as the most dangerous of all: the buccaneers.
Camped on the shore of Hispaniola, these half-wild men eke out a living hunting the island’s feral livestock. Among them, Jean-Baptiste LeBoeuf — hulking, silent, deadly with musket and blade — lives out his exile, content that no one in the hunters’ camp is at all curious about his past. But when a deadly hurricane sweeps through the Caribbean, it up-ends the buccaneers’ rough existence. And it leaves in its wake opportunity as well, a chance for a new life for LeBoeuf and his fellow hunters. This stroke of luck, however, is not all it seems, and when even greater violence is visited upon them they find themselves locked in battle with some of the most powerful and ruthless men in the Spanish Empire."

As a long-term devotee of James L Nelson (I started with his Biddlecomb and Brethren of the Coast books years ago) I leapt at this new title – and enjoyed the exciting adventure. The characters are believable because they are complex and not predictable. They act, do, think and say things that we as real life people act, do, think and say, (albeit we are not traitors, semi-feral buccaneers or hard-hearted pirates!)

I was immersed into the story from the first paragraph, turning pages on my Kindle into the early hours of the morning needing to turn the light out and go to sleep, but too engrossed to stop. 

Chapters take you to different characters and locations, where different things along the same timeline are happening, so from the brewing hurricane about to hit the wild men buccaneer hunters of Hispaniola we are then in the awful confines of below deck aboard a Spanish ship, then ashore after the storm has blown itself out. From there we're aboard a privateer being chased by a Spaniard (only it's more complicated than that...) I didn't find this change of perspective or character POV at all jarring, such is the excitement of Mr Nelson's vivid writing and my absorption into the narrative, although some readers will find it confusing at first - just go with it.

The scenes of the hurricane were awesome (although that seems such a trite word, I cannot think of one more suitable). We get gales and strong winds here in the UK (they can be scary enough, thank you!) but I have never experienced a Caribbean hurricane. The immaculate writing and description on those pages brought the force of such a storm truly alive. The wind tearing up trees or the crew and the ship battling to remain afloat...? Oh my goodness, this was fictional reality as powerful as watching any movie. I’d go as far as saying if you are susceptible to seasickness - keep a bowl handy! And then we were taken to a slightly different area of the Caribbean where there came a sea chase by ships and crews who had weathered the storm. No spoilers but, if you want to know how to handle a ship in a tight spot, and don't particularly care about breathing while reading...

As the reader you are there while the characters are hunting wild pigs, there, reloading your musket as the Spanish prepare to ride you down... there aboard ship, clinging to a stay for dear life... there with the ship flying up into the wind with the crew preparing to tack or wear ship... And that’s only the first few chapters!

As with all Mr Nelson’s books the detail and accuracy is meticulous. I write my own nautical adventure series, but how I wish I could produce an end result as superbly engrossing as Mr Nelson so apparently effortlessly does. (Although unlike me, he does have the advantage of being a real seaman! Mr Nelson sailed aboard the replica HMS Rose – now better known as Surprise, so he knows his ropes. Literally. I've never sailed in anything larger than a small pleasure dinghy.) 

I do have one criticism, which many readers/writers, even editors, do not always pick up on. Eyes running around!  'He ran his eyes over the deck' or 'he ran his eyes over her face''... We say this all the time, but written down it conjures a picture of uncontrollable eyeballs. (Ditto 'dropped' his/her head/leg/arm). To use these expressions very occasionally is ignorable, but when they crop up too often it can get noticeable. There were also a few typos, mostly words that would have been easily overlooked. These two things did not spoil the story, but I did notice them.

Aside from that, this novel is how buccaneers, privateers and pirates really were; how life in the West Indies in the 1600s really was. There is violence, treachery, greed and suspense in this novel, as you would expect for such a turbulent period, the years when Spain, England, Portugal, France and the Netherlands were determined to hold the wealth of the Americas and the Caribbean for themselves (and fought each other in order to do so). This was the era preceding the 'Golden' age of piracy, when the world began to change for these wild, rough buccaneer men.
Mr Nelson recreates it very well indeed.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 


© Helen Hollick
 e-version reviewed




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Monday, 15 November 2021

Izar, the Amesbury Archer: And Master Metal Smith by Michael E. Wills

shortlisted for book of the month





Young Adult / Fictional Drama
Early Bronze Age

This is the story of a young man’s life during a transitional period of history. People were embracing new technologies and ideologies as they moved from the Neolithic period into the Early Bronze period. As a young boy, Izar was a hunter and an archer, but when he falls off the edge of a cliff, his life and his destiny change.

In May of 2002, the Wessex Archaeology staff found the grave of a man who would come to be known as the Amesbury Archer, and this discovery becomes the foundation for Wills’ story.  Wills takes his readers back to the beginning of the Bronze age, where he introduces us to Izar, a young boy whose life could have been the life of the man whose remains were found in Wiltshire, England. Using the information from the Amesbury Archer’s bones and the items found with them, Willis transforms Izar’s story into a tale that brings the archer back from the grave. The result is a book that readers will not want to put down.

What worked well throughout Mr Wills’ book is how the author weaves the archaeological discoveries into a story of a plausible life of the man whose skeleton was one of the most valuable Bronze age discoveries in Great Britain.  Readers experience Izar’s life from the day he becomes a disabled young boy to him becoming a respected metal smith. Wills masterfully helps readers understand the value of Izar’s progressive mindset and his openness to new ideas, which in turn helps Izar grow as a person and helps the people of his world transition from one age to the next. The author skillfully intertwines the rewards and consequences of Izar’s choices when the archer is presented with challenges. It is through these rewards and challenges that we discover Izar’s strength and endurance. It is through his story that we see him as a revered man who was seen as a symbol of faith and hope.

Although some younger readers of young adult fiction (YA) would embrace the book, the story is a better fit for middle school children ages 8 – 12.  This story would fit very well in a class as part of an archaeology unit focused on the Early Bronze Age.  If I were teaching the unit for an 11 – 12-year-old class, the novel would be required reading for the students, whereas if I were teaching a unit for an 8–9-year-old-class, it would be a book that I would read to them. 

As I read this novel there were so many times that I had to stop to reflect on the archer’s journey. I found myself comparing the fears of the unknown experienced by the people in Izar’s life to the fears of the unknown that people have today.  I could feel Izar’s pain when he suffered loss, just as many today suffer the pain of loss.  I could also feel the wonder and excitement of the people in his life when Izar successfully masters a new technology, just as many in today’s world are awed by the new technologies of our time. This is a story that I recommend be included as part of a unit of study for middle school age students or as a book parents or guardians could read with their children. This story not only brings history to life, but his story creates an awareness of present, and inspires others to embrace visions of the future.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Cathy Smith
 e-version reviewed

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Friday, 12 November 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of From Knight to Knave by Jae Malone



Amazon CA not found
only available in paperback

fictional drama / fantasy
various eras
Somerset / various locations

"Six separate stories, from 1357 to 1992, detailing events of the Maitland family of Winterne Manor. The Knight: Will Hallett, the English archer knighted at the Battle of Poitiers, to The Knave: Jerry Atkins, property tycoon and villain, who wants the manor. These are the back stories of events featured in the four volumes of The Winterne Series"

This is a book of short stories that expands on the author's previous Winterne series of semi-historical, semi-fantasy novels set in Somerset. 

The stories are interesting, with engaging characters, but as I haven't read any of the main series I was left a little adrift at times. It was rather like arriving late at a large, well-attended party that was in full swing, and feeling somewhat lost as I did not know a soul there. 

Each imaginative story takes the reader to a period in time where we meet different characters who were connected to Winterne Manor at that period. The research seems well done, with a nice blend of history and adventure, intriguing characters and interesting storylines. The downside is, if you haven't read the major books in the series these stories might be a little confusing. On the other hand, they were most enjoyable!

Just a personal opinion, but I think a little more detail about the book on Amazon wouldn't go amiss, and I strongly suggest an e-version (especially Kindle Unlimited) which would entice readers into the series itself. The cover was lovely, but perhaps a darker sky or background as the white figures do not stand out enough - is that a horse or a unicorn? I also found the images along the bottom of each page a little overwhelming, although those as chapter headings were rather charming. 

In all, a well written good read, but for even greater pleasure delve into the main series first.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Mary Chapple





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Wednesday, 10 November 2021

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Grace on the Horizon by Emma Lombard



fictional drama / nautical
19th century
various locations

"GRACE ON THE HORIZON is the second full-length novel in The White Sails Series. Grace and Seamus, united by their past experiences, are adrift on a raft of shame in the sea of 1830s London society. After a personal tragedy, Grace’s desperation to leave London forces Seamus to accept a dubious commission on the private explorer, Clover.

With the expedition financed by Colonel Hamilton and his private backers, Seamus is tasked with mapping a round-the-world voyage. But Colonel Hamilton has an additional package that requires delivering—Father Babcock—a priest wanted for murder. The church wants Babcock transported far from England to set up a new mission in South America.

Battling his overprotectiveness, Seamus breaks his oath to always tell Grace the truth and hides Babcock’s identity from her. But the journey aboard the Clover is far from smooth sailing, and Grace suspects a saboteur. Trapped within the ship’s confines, she must learn to forgive her husband's well-intentioned duplicity and determine who wishes them harm—because now she also has her unborn child to protect.

Is it an aggrieved member of the Admiralty who believes Seamus disgraced the service by resigning his command to chase after Grace? Perhaps Grace’s father, Lord Flint, seeking revenge against her for ruining the family name? Or a jealous suitor determined to ruin the life Grace is trying to build with Seamus?"

I'd say it's advisable to read the first book in this series of two. Although the author alludes to the plot, it is important to know what happened to Grace and, indeed, to Billy, in the first instalment. It is mentioned, but perhaps not in enough detail for those readers who are meeting the characters for the first time. The full horror of Silverton and his hatred of Grace can only truly be appreciated, if that is the right word, by reading Discerning Grace (which I reviewed earlier in the year).

That said, once again Ms Lombard shows an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the workings and working parts of a nineteenth-century sailing ship. The descriptions of the daily life on board and, more particularly, what happens during a storm, are incredibly detailed and realistic. In fact, in all her scenes, it feels as if one is not reading, but watching. She has a deft knack of writing all her scenes in such a way that you can, at any point, see clearly every person in the room and know how they are positioned and where. It's uncanny. Because of this deftness, she is able to manipulate the reader, making the pages turn quickly, which perfectly suits the fast-paced action. You hurry to keep up with the action and yet, you pick up all the visual detail along the way. 

Grace was, in the first book, quite hot-headed, prone to acting first and thinking later. I'm pleased to see that she has grown up, and that marriage not only suits but has mellowed her. Does this mean her spirit is quashed? Absolutely not. She finds herself in a great many scrapes, but not through any fault of her own, and she calculates her responses carefully. It doesn't mean she doesn't end up in trouble though. Seamus, too, has become a little older and wiser, but he is hidebound by his loss of reputation and his determination not to repeat his past mistakes. Not easy, when others are in no mood to forgive perceived wrongs.

The plot keeps you guessing, the interludes when the Clover drops anchor at various far flung locations are descriptive and eventful, and the sense of strong friendships forged by years together on board is touchingly presented.


© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed


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Monday, 8 November 2021

The Castilian Pomegranate by Anna Belfrage

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Medieval
Spain

"An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return. Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.
Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . .
Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.
Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.
Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger.
Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?"

When the sun is shining and you check your 'to do' list for the day and see that you have a new book by Anna Belfrage to read and review, it is very much not a chore to sit in the garden and read all day. Which is exactly what I did a few weeks ago when the last of the summer sun threw its warmth at me and Ms Belfrage scooped me away to medieval Spain. And I really did feel as though I was there, with delicious descriptions of flower blossom, and the sights and smells of the Spanish countryside, the bustle of Barcelona and lush depictions of interiors of palaces and chapels. There is so much rich detail that you really feel you are there alongside Robert, Noor, and their frankly rather motley crew of companions. 

I've read the first in this series (His Castilian Hawk) and I advise you do the same. Not because you need to in order to catch up with the story, but just because it's a really good read. In this new book, Ms Belfrage gives sufficient background information that you can read this as a standalone.

And so we know why Noor and Robert have found themselves in Spain. They become embroiled in the fighting and complicated politics out there, between French and Spanish, Christians and Muslims, between warring Spanish realms, and discover the blurring of lines of loyalty. That motley crew of companions expands, with the wonderfully-drawn character of Fernand. In a way he is a rather minor character, but he absolutely has to be there in order for the story to be told, and to watch his development as a young man growing to full adulthood over the course of the novel, was a joy.

Fernand's story, and his initial attitudes to life are also an example of a thread running through the book, which shows how everyone is constrained by their social status. Even the high born cannot choose their own paths. Some characters' lives are in danger simply because of who they are; their birthright endangers just as much as it protects them. Anyone who manages any social mobility must constantly defend that jump.

The book is perfectly paced, the action interspersed with quieter moments, but always cleverly building to the next high-octane scene. There is so much to absorb here. The above-mentioned societal rules, the complicated and often ruthless, even barbaric, politics of the region, the heart-stopping action and battle scenes, the tender love scenes, the careful early setting up of later scenes, when the actions of certain characters lead to severe consequences... 

And yet, this is not a difficult read. Ms Belfrage blends her characters and their stories so seamlessly that I had no idea who was real and who was fictional. 

This, of course, is easy to do when you are a master of story-telling

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed


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