Winter Siege, by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, is a medieval thriller set in a country at war. When King Henry of England died in Normandy in 1135 he named his daughter, Matilda, as his successor. However, her cousin Stephen, on hearing of his uncle’s death, rushed to England and claimed the crown for himself. What ensued was a decade long war during which many of the wealthy land owners switched from side to side as they tried to secure the best deal for themselves, little caring which of the claimants sat on the throne so long as they benefited. As always, it was the common people who suffered the most from the turmoil that their battles created.
The story centres around a mercenary named Gwil and a young girl he rescues when she is brutally attacked by a travelling monk with a penchant for red-heads. They travel west from the Cambridgeshire Fens seeking answers and revenge. Although the book purports to deal with the plight of humbler folk I saw this aspect as only a small part of the tale. Much of the action is set in Kenniford Castle where a wealthy young women named Maud holds court. Her life and the lives of her peers are more vividly described than the lives of the villeins and surfs.
For me this book failed to come alive. It was nicely enough written, the story flowed and the picture painted was of interest. It just seemed a tad bland compared to other historical thrillers that I have read. The plot had potential and I enjoyed the role of the narrator and his easily shocked scribe, which worked well in highlighting the attitudes towards women at the time, but there was a lack of tension. I did not feel the hunger, fear and loss despite the trauma being described.
I like historical fiction to teach me something of the times in which it is set and this tale succeeded on that front. As a compelling read though it failed to deliver. Not a bad book by any means, just not one that I personally will be recommending.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.