Review: His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage
Today, I'm delighted to share my review of His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage as part of a blog tour through The Coffee Pot Book Club.
For this gem of a novel, I didn't need a review copy, as I'd already pre-ordered it. And I was not disappointed. Follow me to the Welsh borders...
I was intrigued straight away when I first read the blurb for His Castilian Hawk. The beautiful cover helps, of course, too.
We head to the border region between Wales and England in 1282 when King Edward I of England campaigned to subdue the Welsh following Dafydd ap Gruffudd's recent uprising which led to the capture of his brother, Llewelyn. Robert FitzStephan is a man-at-arms, at the king's side when one of the king's men and his son appear to attack him. Honed by years of campaigning and warfare, Robert kills the two until Edward halts him.
When Edward makes Robert wed the dead man's daughter, Eleanor – called Noor – Robert regards this as his chance to gain further respect, now that he has become a landowner. Noor has Welsh and Castilian blood, a mix that plays a vital role later in the novel.
For many years, Edith, a healer and camp follower, has been at Robert's side and in his bed, and he has no intention to change anything, even though he knows that she graces the beds of other men at times. His young bride is short and frumpy, still a child, and not at all like the alluring Edith, so he quickly forgets her when he heads back into the Welsh mountains in search of Daffydd, with his men and Edith in tow.
As the months drag by, Noor grows from dumpy teen to a curvy lady used to running her manor in the way she was used to, in her husband's absence. Her self-confidence grows with the responsibility. Jealous of Robert's attention for Edith, she refused to bed him on their wedding day, and having found him naked on Edith's pallet, has made Noor determined not to let the woman rule her life.
On Robert's return, he finds a wife full of spirit, of determination. And as he slowly falls in love with her, he's going through periods of regret for his old life, and his ancient friendship with Edith. But when Edith tells him she's carrying his child – a suggestion he denies vehemently – things begin to turn sinister...
Set against the backdrop of Edward's warfare, His Castilian Hawk is a gripping ride through the past. Ms Belfrage shows the harsh realities of the times, both in terms of fate of Welsh ’rebels’ as well as in the men's treatment of their wives. She pays great attention to detail. Her characters, real and imagined, are people from the era, not with a modern mindset. And the setting against the backdrop of busy castle-building, dense Welsh forests, and the lush lands of Noor's manor are well researched.
I must say it took me a long time to warm to Robert, but I think that's intentional. His is a steep learning curve that has him question everything in the end: his loyalty to Edward, his affection for Edith, and his wife's own loyalty. His initial treatment of Noor annoyed me, and I wanted to slap him. I guess that's a good thing, as it shows how much this story has captivated me. You could get a sense of how his character changes through time, as Noor challenges his long-held beliefs.
Noor is a wonderful character, feisty, determined, but also naïve. She is still in her teens, so that's not surprising. She makes mistakes that lead both of them into danger, and into further adventures...
Although the romance features strongly in this novel, with several detailed love scenes, it also shows the dark side of Edward's brutal campaigns, and Ms Belfrage does not shy from describing wounds, childbirth and executions in harrowing detail. It's a strong combination that paints a vivid picture of the times. Just how I like the novels I read...
His Castilian Hawk was a delight to read! It's visual, historically as accurate as possible, and has twists and turns that challenge the characters. One of my favourite reads of the year.
His Castilian Hawk
(The Castilian Saga, Book 1)
By Anna Belfrage
Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.
Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.
Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.
Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.
Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG