Lotharingia by Lara Byrne

Lotharingia by Lara Byrne

Three women are the focus of this story:  Beatrice, Margravine of Tuscany, her daughter Matilde, Countess of Canossa, and Agnes, Dowager Holy Roman Empress and mother of the Heinrich, King of the Germans. All are powerful, transcend the limits imposed on women, and influence the politics of the day. It is a time in Europe when the sacred and the secular mingle. The women are surrounded by calculating churchmen, some good, some not so good. The story demonstrates how closely marriage and politics were intertwined and how even the most powerful had little choice when it came to marriage.

The possession of certain relics; the marriage of Matilde to her cruel step-brother, much against her will; her love affair with King Heinrich; Beatrice’s possession of a prophesy, the last words of her ancestor, Charlemagne; and Heinrich’s ambition to become Holy Roman Emperor like his father and grandfather; these are the things that move the plot along. The author does a creditable job of laying out a complicated story – the research cannot have been easy. It is likely to be a little confusing for someone unfamiliar with the politics and personalities of the period, like me. I had difficulty keeping track of the churchmen, especially as the author sometimes used first names and sometimes titles. Fortunately a list of characters at the beginning of the book helped. Also there is a brief summary of the characters at the back of the book.

There are some anachronisms – scenario/chuffed/stash/and others – and also occasions when pronouns were used when proper names would have been more appropriate. A proofreader would help.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the book and suspect there may be another about Matilde. The tidbits concerning what went on before the opening scene led me to think a prequel would be in order.

Also, very cheaply priced.

****

The Cold Hearth by Garth Pettersen

Set in 11th century England and Norway.

Two incidents at the beginning move this Viking/Saxon saga forward. The first is the prologue which relates the murder of an entire family and household members by a neighbour. The second is the attempted murder of Swein, son of King Cnute (author’s spelling) who is warned that all the sons of King Cnute are dead men. Cnute has three sons (Athelings). Swein, the eldest, and Harald Harefoot are the sons of his first wife. Harthacnute, although the youngest, is his father’s heir. Harald is the protagonist of the story. He has retired to a ruined estate which happens to be where the family was murdered. When Harald learns about the attempted assassination of his brother, he becomes wary of those about him. The neighbour, son of the man responsible for the earlier killings, appears friendly, but is he? The two housecarls Harald has hired for protection – are they to be trusted? And what about the two dispossessed sons of the previous king, Ethelred? Even Harthacnute comes under suspicion until an attempt is made on his life.

            There are long periods of low drama when we read how Harald revives the estate his father has given him. The action picks up after he is attacked by hirelings. An element of suspense could have been added by the question: who did the hiring, but we already learned this early in the book.

            Set against the machinations of kings and princes, is Harald’s attempt to live in peace and build a life for himself and his wife, and a neighbour dealing with the guilt of a crime he didn’t commit.

Harald is not the stereotypical Viking alfa-male. He loves his wife and frequently defers to her. And he forgives and helps someone who betrays his trust.  

            There have been two previous books in The Atheling Chronicles but this one reads well as a stand-alone. Although the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, the way is set for another in the series.

            Lovers of the period will enjoy.

****

I wrote this review for Discovering Diamonds.

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