In this romance, a spirited young woman meets her match in a stalwart soldier during the turbulent times after the death of Charlemagne.
At 12 years old, highborn Isabel narrowly escapes an assault near her home in Narbonne by a band of Frankish soldiers. She’s rescued by a handsome warrior whose name she won’t learn until eight years later, in 825. By then, Chetwynd has been granted a lordship by Charlemagne’s heir, King Louis the Pious. Unfortunately, Chetwynd is no longer in favor in Louis’ court, after a dalliance with Queen Judith that has endangered his career and his friendship with Isabel’s brother, Justin, an influential diplomat. Isabel has not yet married; obsessed by the memory of her rescuer, she’s allowed rumors of her ruin to reach the ears of her suitors. Her grandmother Winifred, knowing that Isabel longs to leave Narbonne and visit Justin in Aachen, convinces her granddaughter that a chaste marriage to Chetwynd is the only way Isabel’s father will grant permission for the journey. But as the couple travel, the temptation to consummate the union grows; when Isabel is kidnapped by bandits, Chetwynd fears that his involvement in court intrigue has made her a target as well. Curtis (My Polio Memoir, 2016) uses some outdated romantic tropes, such as choosing the threat of rape to bring her couple together. But while Chetwynd thinks at first “if Isabel was his wife he would be able to exert some control over her,” he does ultimately grow to value her headstrong independence. Through Chetwynd’s sister, Gilda, a nun, the author provides an intriguing glimpse into the paradoxical freedom some women found in convents, which could be a haven for victims of abuse. But while its names and dates are accurate, the historical novel lacks grounding details. Characters partake in vague “food and drink,” for instance, a missed opportunity to offer specifics that would flesh out the ninth-century setting.
An old-fashioned love story in an unusual historical milieu.