It is the year 1140 and England is soaked in blood as Stephen and Mathilda fight for the throne. Oliver Pascal, hearth knight to Earl Robert of Gloucester, is returning from crusade when he stumbles on a horrific scene while riding through a small village. The inhabitants have been brutally slaughtered, his old friend Lady Amice lies dying after a brutal rape, and the only survivors are her young son Richard and her maid Catrin. Before dying Amice makes Oliver promise to see Richard and Catrin to safety which he does by taking them to Bristol Castle. There Richard and Catrin begin to rebuild their lives-Richard as a squire and Catrin as an apprentice midwife training under the wise elderly woman Ethelreda.
As Catrin and Oliver spend more time together they begin to fall in love but Oliver is constantly called away to duty and a ghost from Catrin's past threatens to crush their love. Catrin must decide where her destiny lies as the war for the crown rages on.
This was my first book by Elizabeth Chadwick and I must say I really enjoyed it. I haven't read a lot of historical fiction concerning the war between Stephen and Mathilda but I think she did a very good job of painting a vivid picture of the times-Englishman against Englishman, no village safe from the roaming mercenaries-a country just completely devastated. Catrin is strong and independent, Oliver is fiercely loyal, both have tragic pasts. It was lovely to see them slowly drawn together. The descriptions of midwifery in the 12th century were very realistic and it was interesting to see how steeped in superstition the people of the time were. I for one would not have wanted to attempt giving birth at this time (or to live in the time period at all since women were trated as either expendable, baby machines, or were constantly in danger of assault).
I think the only potential problem area for some readers may be the decision Catrin makes when her blast from the past shows up to wreak havoc on her life. Some may say that this decision is out of character since Catrin definitely knows her own mind but I can understand why she made the choice she did. I think it gives her more dimension and does not paint her as one of those completely infallible characters that lead perfect lives and never make a bad decision.
Although I am certain the best Chadwick novel is still ahead of me, I really enjoyed the romance and history in this one and am glad I picked this up as my read by this author.
Borrowed from the Norton Shores Library