[Note: I received early access to this manuscript in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you NetGalley and Mobius. Publication Date: April 18, 2023]
It’s been a long since I‘ve been able to so completely and happily immerse myself in new historical fiction about a time period and location I know little about. This one is a total treat and completely absorbing throughout! Awarded THE KING’S JEWEL five stars on Goodreads.
Elizabeth Chadwick transported me to southwest Wales during the Middle Ages at the time King William II (1056-1100 – aka William Rufus – son of William the Conqueror) sat on the English throne. But this story belongs to Nesta ferch Rhys (1085-1136), young daughter of the Welsh prince, Rhys ap Tewdr (1040-93).
At the start of the book, Nesta is a much loved royal princess whose life is suddenly shattered when her father is killed in battle, her younger brother (the heir) shipped off to safety in Ireland, and Nesta and her mother forced into captivity under the control of the powerful and more numerous Norman invaders, who would like nothing better than to absorb Wales into their own country. (Of course, we know they eventually do!)
As we follow her life across the decades, Nesta, like many women, becomes a political pawn — at the mercy of William II’s younger brother and successor, King Henry I (a notorious philanderer). After years of being alone, abused, and forced to dissemble to everyone around her, Henry forces Nesta to marry Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor, a minor Norman knight. Making peace with a marriage to an inconsequential Norman is the last thing a proud princess of Wales wants. But Nesta is determined to hold onto her Welsh heritage and wait for the day her brother regains control of their family’s former territory, thereby restoring her position and prestige.
Nesta’s life is full of drama, some of it disturbing. Rape, violence, kidnapping, and sudden death are all around her. But what I found so absorbing in author Chadwick’s focus on Nesta’s personal exploration of the nature of true love, which, as it turns out, becomes a lifelong exploration. Asking the same questions we might. Is it best built on a foundation of respect or intense attraction? Is love about uncontrollable passion or unwavering support? And what role does loyalty play, if any? What about family politics?
Whether you are interested in this time period or aren’t — this book is for you. Because it offers everything wonderful that historical fiction can. A chance to….
• experience how people lived in another era,
• meet characters from history you can come to know and understand, and
• observe how little human nature changes over time.
Elizabeth Chadwick is a remarkably talented writer whose work, for me, strikes that perfect balance of historical fact, solid research and compelling storytelling. Because when an author achieves that, all of us who love historical fiction benefit. Enjoy!
More about the author, Elizabeth Chadwick.
You may be interested in my reviews of other books by Chadwick:
Her 3-Novel Series About Eleanor of Aquitaine