As civil war devastates mid–twelfth century England, Maud, the 16-year-old chatelaine of Kenniford, weds a boorish older man to save her people. Raped and discarded, Em, a peasant girl from the Cambridgeshire fens, is rescued by an aging mercenary and becomes an expert archer under his tutelage. Their stories converge as Matilda, the previous king’s heir, escapes her rival, King Stephen, and seeks shelter at Kenniford.
The event-filled plotline includes themes of vengeance and coming-of-age, a hint of romance, and a mystery about a piece of parchment that Em’s attacker will kill to repossess. Her slow recovery from emotional trauma is especially touching.
The cheeky wit and precise descriptions that were Franklin’s hallmarks are as sharp as ever, and the major characters are delightfully human. The book also has a genuine feel for medieval life and times. This unique collaboration is a worthy conclusion to one remarkable career and a promising beginning to another.
This review first appeared in Booklist's January 1st issue. The Siege Winter is published by Morrow this week in hardcover ($25.99, 352pp) and as an ebook. In the UK, the book is titled Winter Siege.
I've reviewed several of Ariana Franklin's (aka Diana Norman) books previously on this blog - Fitzempress' Law, her first novel from 1980, and King of the Last Days, which is about as hard to find. My favorite, though, is Shores of Darkness, historical suspense-adventure set during the time of Queen Anne. It's an outstanding romp through the late Stuart era.