by Joanna Courtney
Publisher: MacMillian (out of the UK)
Page Count: 448
Release Date: May 18, 2017
How got: personal buy via Amazon UK
First attention getter: already loved the author
A crown can be won, blood cannot be changed.
Mathilda of Flanders is furious at her father's choice of husband for her. William of Normandy has a reputation as a rough warrior but after a violent start to their courtship Mathilda discovers him to be a man of unexpected sensitivity, driven by two goals: to win her heart and to win her a throne.
Astoundingly the throne seems to come first, for King Edward of England invites the newlyweds to Westminster and declares William his heir. But with the passing of time, this secretive promise is soon forgotten . . . though not by William. Or Mathilda.
As events either side of the Narrow Sea reach crisis point, Mathilda has to decide what she wants: heart or throne? How deep does her ambition run and what is she prepared to sacrifice to succeed?
Star Rating - 5
As a final chapter in Courtney’s 1066 queen trilogy, this finale rounds out the perspectives on this series of events nicely. Giving us a human look at figures commonly translated as the villains in the story, I was amazed again at how well the author is able to bring her historical figures to life so vividly. So little is known about William and Matilda that isn’t shadowed by legend; it was a real treat to see them as real people in a series of events so important to English history.
Commonly, William the Conqueror is showcased as the bad guy of history. I’ve read him in several fictional renditions, each time he’s portrayed as conniving and ruthless. And yes, Courtney doesn’t shy away from that aspect of him. Her William is very politically savvy, coming off as conniving at times. He’s also extremely ruthless, which given his personal history and the times he lived is understandable. If you’re an individual or town that betrayed his hard-earned trust, god help you.
Yet, Courtney rounds him out also as a man who loves deeply and strongly, loyal to the death. He might expect rock solid loyalty, but he also gives it. I also appreciated how intelligent she made him, both politically and in reading humanity. He has a special talent for reading a person, inspiring their loyalty if allies and reading through them if enemies. He’s uniquely devoted to Matilda as well. Given his history as a bastard and the grief his beloved mother faced due to her circumstances, he vowed to hold unto Matilda and no other, focusing all his energy and emotions on her. This makes for an incredible relationship, given the norms for such in the early medieval period.
Matilda also stands out in the characterization department. At first, I had some reservations. We started out with her so young, and she had the character traits of that age. Flighty and self-centered, I was cringing at first, hoping against hope that this wasn’t going to be a continuing trend as I can’t get behind a heroine like that. I should have had faith in Courtney. Matilda quickly shows her intelligence, practicality, and down to earth nature pretty quickly. I loved how she approached life, dealing with situations and relationships as they came up with common sense, thinking things through. She doesn’t get carried away with flights of drama; she examines a situation and deals with it. I found her to be the PERFECT match for William.
I go on and on about how well the characterizations are done by Courtney, but that in no way means she lacks in other areas. The main relationship between William and Matilda stand out as one firmly grounded in intelligence, mutual respect, loyalty, and hard-earned trust. I think it’d be hard to find two people more suited for each other. They have their abrasive moments, especially when it comes to William’s prickly sense of trust and loyalty. Yet, they always find ways of working through them and coming through the fires all the stronger.
Courtney also draws her readers into a time period rife with conflict and shifting loyalties. The events leading up to the Battle of Hastings are examined in depth, mostly from the POV of William/Matilda since this is their story and other POVs have been explored in previous novels. Yet we also get a few glimpse from William’s cousin and Matilda’s sister, Judith, wife of Tostig Godwinson, to see another side of the story. We get a visual for a territory in turmoil, not completely controlled by William and loyal to him. Yet, when the prospect of conquest is on the horizon, Normandy comes behind him full stop. I found myself as sucked into the developing invasion as I was to William and Matilda’s relationship.
This is another stellar example of Courtney’s writing. She has everything: outstanding characters, a solid prime relationship, and a bubbling cauldron of treachery, war, loyalty, and coming invasion that was early medieval Normandy and its court. I’m not sure if more will be coming from this series as I think I remember it being mentioned it was a trilogy, not an ongoing series. However, if Courtney ever decides to write anything else, I’ll be first in line to take a gander. She stands as one of my favorite writers now. Keep ‘em coming, Joanna!!