Stanton’s debut novel is a fictionalized account of the life of Pedro López de Ayala, a 14th-century Spanish poet and historian who served under a series of kings.
Ayala, who lived well before Spain was united under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, authored some of the most famous works of his era, including Crónicas de Los Reyes de Castilla and the Libro Rimado del Palacio. These texts, plus a healthy dose of imagination, form the basis of Stanton’s well-crafted piece of historical fiction, which brings medieval Spain to life. Stanton writes in the first person, as if Ayala were penning his own memoir, starting with Ayala’s noble upbringing and his move at age 7 to the French papal city of Avignon, where he learned the secrets of both falconry and women before a brush with the plague sent him back to Castilla and León. He then spends the rest of his life serving as a scribe and advisor to four kings: brutish, inept Vicente; just but credulous Enrique II; frail, stubborn Juan; and young, inexperienced Enrique III. Ayala meets a number of other famous historical figures along the way, such as English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and French military commander Bertrand du Guesclin. In Ayala’s eyes, the Jews are basically dishonest schemers and the Moors are infidels, and Stanton only briefly mentions their suffering under Catholic rule. Instead, the novel focuses on the endless wars—and royal weddings—that took place among the kingdoms of Castilla, León and various other European nobilities. At times, the book gets bogged down in esoteric details, but for the most part, Stanton delivers a fast-moving narrative that deftly explores the power, violence, love, lust and piety of the period, via an intriguing character perfectly positioned to witness it all.
A compelling read for those interested in medieval Spanish history and literature.