The Seige Winter
By: Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of the publisher via GoodReads First Reads programme
1141 a.d.: King Stephen is warring with his cousin Empress Matilda over the throne of England. Every cathedral, every castle, every seat of power will swear fealty to one or the other—but not every stronghold is as strategic or as valuable as Kenniford Castle in Oxfordshire. Its mistress, sixteen-year-old Maud of Kenniford, swears fealty to Stephen, but Matilda’s forces have decreed that she marry the odious John of Tewing.
Life in the fenlands carries on as usual—that is, until the mercenaries ride through the marsh, and a small red-haired girl named Em is snatched and carried off. After the soldiers have finished with her, they leave her for dead. But fenland girls are not easy to kill.
Although she has lost all memory of her past life, including her name, Em survives and falls under the protection of Gwyl, a Breton archer. Together Gwyl and his new protegé—now crop-headed and disguised as a boy—travel through the countryside giving archery exhibitions. But there is one man who hasn’t forgotten the little red-haired girl. He has some unfinished business with her, and he is determined to see it through.
And one freezing winter in an Oxfordshire castle completely besieged, he might well get his chance…
I was really sad to have learned (quite late after the fact) that Ariana Franklin had passed away a few years ago. I never read her Mistress of Death series but read and loved her standalone novel The City of Shadows. The premise of this novel sounded really interesting and I’m happy to have received an advanced reading copy of the novel through GoodReads. As an aside, I find it a bit strange that they flipped the title around for the North American release (the UK release was under the title The Winter Siege) but anyway…This book was released on 3 February 2015.
Ariana Franklin brings the bleakness of this period of English history to life in this novel: the horrors fo the war, the effect of siege tactics, the politics of the time…The characters, especially those in some position of power, find themselves facing difficult choices to make. The story also provides a very stark reminder of what it means to live as a woman during this period, the power they are able to wield coupled with what they have to put up with (if they were in a position of some authority). And then there’s characters like Em; it was absolutely brutal what she went through, and it’s a wonder how she was able to survive afterwards. The interweave between the “present” of 1180 AD and events of 1141 AD with the siege was interesting, adding a sense of mystery to what happened in the story and why this event was especially important.
But as much as I loved The City of Shadows, I found the writing in this novel a little strange; at times it seemed like the narrative was directly talking to the reader, but couldn’t quite decide which narrative style to ultimately take. I’m not sure if this might have been the result of Samantha Norman also finishing the edits, but it made for a rather jarring experience while reading. I also honestly found some parts pretty boring, and found myself caring more about Gwil and Em’s journey more than anyone else’s (a first, I suppose, as I usually find the courtly intrigue and characters involved more interesting in a story like this). Gwil himself was an intriguing character, how he was rather reluctant in taking care of Em after the attack and growing to care for her like she was his own daughter. The progression was nice, and I thought his conversations/relationship with God was quite refreshing from recent characters I’ve read in other books 😉
Overall, The Siege Winter was an interesting read. I don’t know if some parts that I felt were boring was the result of the mood I was in at the time I was reading (which may or may not be a trend on my part lately) but there is enough mystery to keep the reader engaged throughout. If you enjoyed Ariana Franklin’s other novels and mystery novels set in medieval England, you may enjoy this title.