Today’s team review is from Noelle. She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage.
This review is written as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and the book was purchased.
Romance is not to my taste, but historical fiction is. So I decided to dip my toes in the waters of a romance novel set in Wales in the late 13th century. I was also encouraged by the fact that Anna Belfrage is recognized as a prolific writer of historical romance and time travel novels (a favorite genre of mine) and has a large, enthusiastic following. His Castilian Hawk is the first book in her latest series, The Castilian Saga.
The story: Robert FitzStephen has served King Edward I of England, known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, since he was a boy of twelve. Robert is bastard-born but follows his king loyally and is now riding with him once again to bring the rebellious Welsh under control. In protecting Edward at the end of a battle, Robert unknowingly kills an ally of the king, Sir Ralph d’Outremer, along with his son. Edward decides to make Robert return the bodies to the one remaining member of d’Outremer’s family, his daughter, and also gifts Orton Manor, home of the d’Outremer family, to Robert as a reward for his years of loyalty – with one condition. He is to wed the daughter to keep the manor and lands under Edward’s control.
Thus the author sets the basis for an improbable love story. Opposing this arrangement most forcefully is Edith, sister to one of Robert’s traveling companions for many years. She saved Robert’s life fifteen years previously and has been serving as his wife in all ways except formally for all that time. Eleanor d’Outremer, called Noor, is in her early teens when she learns of her father and brother’s death (but not who killed them) and is now entirely alone. She has no choice but to comply with the King’s order to marry the unknown Robert FitzStephan. Her life is further complicated by her blood ties to the Welsh princes, Llewelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd, with whom Edward is attempting to negotiate a peace.
Noor is very young and innocent but is also feisty, proud and brave. As she grows from a ‘small brown hen’ to a beautiful woman, she gradually falls in love with Robert and is determined to be a good wife, but she has to face down Edith and deal with the havoc Edward is wreaking on Wales. Robert also falls in love with Noor and comes to call her his Castilian hawk, recognizing her Spanish heritage, spirit and grit. However, when faced with the chance to save one member of the Gruffydd family, Noor sides with Wales. Will Robert stand with his king or follow his heart and protect his wife from both the King and the wiles of Edith? What will Noor do when she learns Robert is the man who killed her father and brother? Who will tell her?
This book is delightfully complex and engrossing with its many conflicts, both personal and royal, and is populated by very real, three-dimensional characters – not handsome, not beautiful, but flawed with inner demons and doubts. I like that these characters evolve over time in the face of increasing pressure from without, and I found myself alternating between disliking and then sympathizing with the various personae, as one might do with people in real life. The dialogue is real and natural, and the author weaves in enough descriptions of the country, the manors and palaces, and the battles to set the historical scene, of which I knew little. It led me to do a little exploration of the history on my own. Thus I can see why this author has built such a following.
However, I have to warn any potential readers: there is a lot of sex in this novel and it is graphic and detailed. Since I don’t read romance novels, but see this in many other genres, I suspect the sex is expected. I did find myself rather bored when it was inserted at various times when I felt it wasn’t really necessary and detracted from the flow of the story.
Overall, I was impressed with the author’s story-telling and ability to plop the reader right into the middle of it. I might even read the next book in the series.
For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.
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.
Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?