Sunday, October 26, 2008
Book Description From Publishers Weekly:
This lighthearted historical romance, the third in a series (after 2004's A Rogue in a Kilt), takes on loyalty, love and lies in 15th-century Scotland. Kate Templeton, an unmarried London tutor blessed (or is it cursed?) with the gift of foresight, is masquerading as the widow of a Scottish lord to gain information on her imprisoned friend, King James I of Scotland. Incarcerated in the Tower of London for the past five years, James seems to have been abandoned by his people. Kate, his loyal tutor, has decided on her own to travel to Stirling Castle in Scotland and determine why the Scots have ignored the crown's ransom demands, and who among the court James can count on to help him. Kate has been warned to stay away from Scotland's "Thief of Hearts," Ian MacKay, but his heart-stopping good looks make that hard to do. Ian works as the eyes and ears of the regent Albany, an ass of a man and an enemy of James, but what Kate doesn't know is that Ian is secretly working to restore James to the throne. As Ian and Kate begin to uncover their shared agenda, duplicity and dilemma drive them apart. Though the abundance of Scottish dialect can distract, Blair's attention to historical and regional detail supports a fine balance of action and romance, making this political potboiler a winning read.
A quick read which I read in one day. It was not a bad Scottish highlander romance, but it wasn't great either. Still there were parts of it that were exciting and hot, but overall I found the constant decriptions of our tall and busty heroine annoying - "okay already, I know - she's tall and big breasted!" I wasn't sure, is she big boned and curvy, or are we supposed to believe she's on the overweight side? The blonde, tall and virile Ian is very good looking and the sexy build up and the romantic scenes were good, although the one in the hammock went on for pages - a hammock - on a ship no less? No way!
But, the book had it's exciting moments, it wasn't just about the courtship between our hero (Ian) and heroine (Kate.) A lot of the book focuses on the political history of the day with Scotland's King James (Stewart) locked up in the Tower of London for upteen years, waiting to be ransomed. The first chapter was a bit confusing in keeping track of what Kate's secret mission is and why she is in Scotland posing as a widow, but once you're into the book, you understand the gist of it. There was a big rescue scene towards the end, in which Ian is badly hurt and being held in the Tower of London and Kate must help him escape. It was reminiscent of Claire and Jamie in Outlander when Claire is rescuing Jamie from prison. I thought the whole scene from start to finish was well done by the author and was a real page turner. Her historical scenes are well done, but she has a tendency of throwing in too many modern phrases which is jarring in a historical setting. How many 15th century Scottish highlanders said "friggin'?" Kate spoke and acted like a 21st century woman, except for the occasional "nay" and "ye" thrown in, but I found the written Scottish accents annoying since they were not well done, and the variations of spelling of some words were inconsistent - typos overlooked by the editor - sloppily done. No one seemed to want to stick with a uniform way of spelling the world "dinghy." Sometimes is was dinghy, sometimes it was dingy - hadn't anyone at this publishing house heard of this word? Too much reliance on spell check, I'm afraid, so many of these kinds of misspellings fell through the cracks.
Some old faces or names from the other books were here, I was happy to see Lady Beth from the first book and her Laird husband. I loved that book, although I do worry for her, since Kate has "the sight" and forsees danger for Beth and her family. Overall, the book was good for a quick read (I read it in a few hours) but a bit lacklustre compared to the first book in the series, which is the best, A Man in a Kilt. If you're going to read any of the books, read that one, and skip the 2nd, A Rogue in a Kilt, which was (IMHO) awful.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
A pastiche of a historical romance, it juxtaposes the ethos of the Victorian characters living in 1867 with the ironic commentary of the author writing in 1967. The plot centers on Charles Smithson, an amateur Victorian paleontologist. He is engaged to Ernestina Freeman, a conventional, wealthy woman, but he breaks off the engagement after a series of clandestine trysts with the beautiful, mysterious Sarah Woodruff, a social outcast known locally as the forsaken lover of a French lieutenant. The author, who continually intrudes on the narration, presents three different endings, encouraging his readers to reach their own conclusions.
This is a book I've thought about reading for years, but never got around to it. I think I saw the movie years ago with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, but if I did, I remember nothing about it, so the story was completely new to me while reading this book, having no idea how it would end - and after reading it, I still don't! There's nothing worse than reading a book and then having one of those ambiguous endings that make you think you completely missed the whole point and meaning of it. In a way, I feel like that with this one. I feel stupid, and unliterary. Bleh.
On the surface, the premise and plot are good. Charles Smithson, a well to do aristocrat of the late 1860's in England is engaged to Ernestina Freeman, the only daughter and heiress of a large department store owner. Ernestina is only too well aware that her family is in trade, and she tries to overcome this, but in many ways she overdoes it or forces it, but this doesn't seem to bother Charles all that much, for he's already well off - he doesn't really need her money, since he will be coming into a considerable amount and title when his bachelor uncle, who has made Charles his heir, dies.
But, while visiting Ernestina in Lyme Regis, a seaside bathing resort, he meets social outcast Sarah Woodruff. Sarah is an enigma - to both Charles and to the reader. What is really behind her odd behavior of seeking solitude and suffering from acute melancholia? The story behind Sarah is that she had been a respectible governess who fell in love with a Frenchman a few years back while nursing him from a shipwreck. He left for France, promising to return and marry her and never returned. She waits and waits for him along the Cobb in Lyme (the same from Jane Austen's Persuasion) and rumor has it she is half mad with grief and also a fallen woman. But no one really knows the truth. But, during the strict and straight laced times of Victorian England, she is a social pariah and avoided. Charles is intrigued by Sarah as soon as he sees her for the first time and soon his interest in her becomes more personal as they meet a few times by chance, and she asks him for his help. He wants to help her in the interest of a good samaritan doing a service for a tragic half crazed lone woman, but deep down he is sexually attracted, and yet repelled by her - a mirror of the sexual hypocrisy that was prevalent in Victorian society. Anything to do with sex was hushed up and not spoken of, reserved for only the darkest most private and secret of marriage beds. Yet, never has there been such a huge amount of pornography on hand as in this era. The male society was fascinated with what it could not openly discuss or acknowledge. Charles found himself in the same - albeit unaware of it - boat.
Upon first glance, Sarah appears to be the tragic figure in this story, but by the end, poor Charles is the tragic figure. Because of his obsession with Sarah, he meets her on purpose in a barn in Lyme, they kiss and then he pursues her to Exeter. All this is upon learning that his uncle has decided to marry a younger woman thus disinheriting Charles. He tells his future father in law, who embraces Charles anyway into the family and offers him a partnership in his family business - an idea anathema to any gentleman. A gentleman is not in trade. Charles is at his wits end, and it is in this frame of mind he goes to Sarah and they consummate their odd relationship (all in 90 seconds mind you - poor Sarah). Only afterwards does Charles realize he has been decieved by Sarah. She had been a virgin afterall, she had not been a fallen woman, and being the gentleman that he believes himself to be - grasps onto in fact as a lifeline - he tells her he wants to marry her and to end his engagement with Ernestina. They part ambiguously. Sarah expects never to see him again - in fact, acts as if she does not wish to see him again. He races off to Lyme, breaks his engagement and goes back to Exeter only to find Sarah has left without a trace. His manservant has gotten his revenge, and has not delivered a love letter from Charles to her. Charles has thus ruined his name and life, with no little help from his clever, lovelorn manservant, Sam who has his own interests to worry about in a side story that runs parallel to Charles'.
You can't help but feel sorry for Charles, I know I did, but at the same time, I shook my head over his folly. Why, why, why? Stupid man. And what was Sarah up to? Why did she lead him on and then turn him away? For the next two years or so, Charles leaves the country, an exiled Englishman, always thinking of Sarah and wondering where she is. Finally, while traveling in America, he is notified she has been found (again, thanks to Sam, his former manservant). Charles races back to London, seeks her out at the address and they meet. It's a strange meeting. She seems over her melancholy, but is living in this household with a famous artist. She does not want to be with Charles, yet she assures him she is not the artists mistress, nor does she ever intend to marry anyone. Charles is nonplussed, I don't blame him. She is a Sphinx, what is she really up to - what does she mean?? She then makes him believe she has given birth to his daughter and lets him meet her. Is it really his daughter - or is this just more of her bizarre cat and mouse game? Has her intention all along from their first meeting been just to destroy him thoroughly? If so, she's done a good job at it. The ending to me was odd, I wasn't sure if we were supposed to believe that Sarah was lying about the girl/daughter or what? I hate these kinds of endings!
Still, it was an interesting story, although tragic to see poor Charles' decline all in the name of honor and being a gentleman, and how ironic he ceased to be a gentleman in the eyes of society, because of what he did.
Some various moments with Charles were priceless to read. His encounter with a prostitute one night was horrific and hilarious at the same time, but his encounter with her little baby was tender and moving (much more so than with his own supposed daughter.) His drunken debauch with his friends was eye opening, and his ventures into paleontology collecting specimens seems so naive and carefree in hindsight, compared to what happens to him later on in the book after his fatal decision concerning Sarah. I liked a reference to Caesar and the Rubicon - that is exactly what it was like for Charles once he left Sarah to break his engagement with Ernestina. Sarah does seem to be very much like a Siren, luring him into her strange, sad world, and then watching him as he crashes upon the rocks, doing nothing to help.
A worthwhile read, with glimpses into Victorian society - aside from the author constantly injecting his opinions about everything in an omnicient sort of way. I found it slightly annoying and distracting from the main story, though some of the footnotes were interesting to read. I also could have done without the Victorian poetry at the beginning of every chapter - but I've never been a fan of Victorian poetry to begin with.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
In the late eighteenth century, plantation owner Damien du Bourg struck an unholy bargain with a fallen angel: an eternity of inspiring lust in others for the gift of immortality. But when Marley Turner stumbles upon Damien's plantation searching for her missing sister, for the first time in two hundred years it's Damien who can't resist the lure of a woman. But his past sins aren't so easily forgotten-or forgiven.
This was my first "paranormal" romance, I had high hopes for this author, since I was curious and had heard good things about another book she recently wrote, Fallen. This book was such a waste of my time, total drivel, but I finished it easily, since it only took about a day to read, but it was so stupid! I kept wishing it would get good - and I guess that's what kept driving me to read it - thinking it would get better - but it didn't! Lesson learned.
Marley Turner is a busty, slightly overweight, religious young schoolteacher who goes to New Orleans in search of her wayward, sexually promiscuous, irresponsible sister who has disappeared there. Did I mention Marley was big breasted?
While in search of her sister, she meets Damian du Bourg the handsome owner of a large (but crumbling) southern plantation on River Road. He's known for his "sex parties" in which upright people from New Orleans are invited, by invitation only, to shed their inhibitions (in masks no less!) and have sex with everyone, everywhere, in any way or position - all night long! Marley gets quite an eyeful her first time at one of these, clad in a black bikini, of which her big D cup breasts can hardly be contained in. Damian, the immortal in the book, has been a slave to the demons that made him immortal for over 200 years. His job is to incite lust in people - hence the parties. But he has long ago given up partaking in the pleasures of the flesh himself, it's been over 100 years for him - until he meets Marley (of course.) Innocent, good girl Marley who hasn't had sex in five years, turns this immortal hunk on and he is forced to jack off in the bushes after seeing her in her bikini - blech! This story was so ridiculous - I just can't continue writing about it!
Read at your own risk - it was the stupidest, most inane story made for lots of gratuitous sex scenes that are meant to be super hot, but I frankly found them lacking and emotionless, and even a little gross at times. The book also has an epistolary form to it with letters written by Damian's dead wife recounting her sexual awakening with him - *shudder* Add to that the predictable happy ending and this was a total wash out.
This book's plot was so bad I can't even write anymore about it. Although the writing itself wasn't terrible, though there were some editing errors and typos. Still, if only there had been some humor in it, but the whole thing took itself so seriously - it would have been comical to read otherwise.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
A young woman caught in the rivalry between Queen Mary and her half sister, Elizabeth, must find her true destiny amid treason, poisonous rivalries, loss of faith, and unrequited love.
It is winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee Spain with her father. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee. Her gift of "Sight," the ability to foresee the future, is priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court. Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward's protector, who brings her to court as a "holy fool" for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up in her own yearnings and desires.
Teeming with vibrant period detail and peopled by characters seamlessly woven into the sweeping tapestry of history, The Queen's Fool is another rich and emotionally resonant gem from this wonderful storyteller.
I've waited a long time to read this book. I've read all the others in this series, except for her latest one, The Other Queen (which I hear is not that great) and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed this read about Hannah, the queen's fool. Having read this series out of order, I found it was sort of advantageous. This is the book that preceeds The Virgin's Lover, so while reading The Queen's Fool I was already aware of what happens in regard to some of the major characters and future plotlines, such as what happens with Lord Dudley, his wife, Amy, and of course the Princess Elizabeth, future Queen of England.
This is primarily the story of Hannah and her life at Court under Queen Mary. The Jewish daughter of a bookseller and printer who must hide her true faith, she also has the Sight and can sometimes foretell the future in a blurting out trance kind of way. She haphazardly meets Lord Robert Dudley (who we get to know much better in The Virgin Queen, and he's just as dashing in this book as well). He sees for himself that Hannah does indeed have the Sight. She becomes his vassal - the holy fool in the court - for it is believed she has the sight. Forever political and scheming, Dudley is well aware of how useful someone who can tell the future can be in the heady lifestyle at court with plots and schemes and knives in the back.
The ailing young King Edward is on the verge of death and through a series of events, Hannah becomes friends and confidante of first Princess Mary and then Queen Mary once she ascends the throne. She also becomes a companion to the Princess Elizabeth - who is characterized as being sexually promiscuous, a master plotter and schemestress and takes pleasure in seducing and hooking other women's husbands. Hannah sees all in both her Queen and Princess, but loves and cares for them both, even though the two of them are always on opposite sides. Elizabeth forever accused of treason and plotting against her sister, and Mary wanting to be a good older sister to Elizabeth, but torn by her Catholic faith of what she believes is the True Faith in religion for England. Elizabeth dazzles and Mary (poor thing) is a drudge for most of the book. I really felt sorry for her.
This is the backdrop of the story, but what I was drawn to was the arranged betrothal between Hannah and her young fiance, Daniel. He is an earnest young man, studying to be a doctor. He too is of the People (Jewish) but must hide it in these troubled times. They have an uneasy courtship. Hannah does not want to marry, she is happy at Court as the Fool. She dresses in britches and wears her hair like a boy (she is 14). Her Daniel patiently waits for her, insisting they will marry when she is 16. Hannah is torn between her attraction to Daniel in a way she can't exactly describe. The few kisses she's experienced with him leave her breathless, but she also has an attraction and hero worship for Lord Robert Dudley who spends most of his time in this book imprisoned in the Tower of London. He is a romantic character, larger than life to her and she cannot say no to him (although, later on when she is older, she does - and I was so proud of her!). Hannah and Daniel have their ups and downs but all along I was rooting for Daniel, though Dudley was pretty irresistible too.
Most of the book takes place in London at the various palaces and homes of the Court, but part of the book takes place in Calais where Hannah goes to live with Daniel, her father and Daniel's mother and sisters. Hannah is terribly unhappy there and away from Court and the book drags a bit in this part until the battle of Calais in which England loses it's stronghold there. Hannah must flee for her life back to England, leaving Daniel behind. They had become estranged before this and once she loses him she realizes (rather suddenly out of the blue, I thought) that she had always loved him all along. They have a complicated story, and I don't want to spoil it for those of you that haven't read it, but I liked the way the book ended.
I've always kind of liked these Philippa Gregory books, they are not exactly great historical fiction, but they are fast reads, entertaining and usually pretty exciting. I really like the Tudor period and the descriptions and backgrounds in the books make you feel like you are there living and experiencing life at Court, despite the historical innacuracies. I liked this book better than The Virgin's Lover, though it was not as good as The Other Boleyn Girl. There is some sex, but nothing graphic, but enough to be a little racey and give the book some flavor. I recommend this entire Tudor series, it's worthwhile reading and it's not a must to read them in order either.
4/5 for it's happy ending.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Supremely sensible Emmaline Dove wishes to share her etiquette expertise with London's readers, and as secretary to Viscount Marlowe, Emma knows she's in the perfect position to make her dreams come true. Marlowe might be a rake with a preference for cancan dancers and an aversion to matrimony, but he is also the city's leading publisher, and Emma is convinced he's her best chance to see her work in print…until she discovers the lying scoundrel has been rejecting her manuscripts without ever reading a single page!
As a publisher, Harry finds reading etiquette books akin to slow, painful torture. Besides, he can't believe his proper secretary has the passion to write anything worth reading. Then she has the nerve to call him a liar, and even resigns without notice, leaving his business in uproar and his honor in question. Harry decides it's time to teach Miss Dove a few things that aren't proper. But when he kisses her, he discovers that his former secretary has more passion and fire than he ever imagined, for one luscious taste of her lips only leaves him hungry for more.…
I didn't know what to expect from this book, having never read anything by this author before but - I loved it! It was so different from your usual lord meets commoner girl and falls in love romance. It had witty dialogue, the hero and heroine are not strangers to one another and it ended up so happily and - romantically - a great ending!
Set in 1893, the end of the Victorian era, Emma Dove works for Lord Marlowe. He is divorced and vows to never marry again. He owns a publishing house, she is his invaluable and ever efficient secretary. Having worked for him for 5 years and paid well, she has no illusions about him and knows him for the charming womanizer and self centered opportunist he is, but she also has aspirations of being a writer herself. She sticks with him in hopes that he'll publish some of her etiquette books, but he always rejects her manuscripts as dull and she is quite disheartened when she realizes he's been rejecting them unread! She is indispensable to him but quits in a huff and goes to work for his main competitor, Lord Barringer (who seemed a bit interesting at first, but then we never see him again!) Once she quits, Marlowe sees her in another light and realizes, when her success begins as an etiquette columnist for the rival newspaper, that he was very wrong about her in many ways! Plus, he realizes how pretty she suddenly looks and eventually kisses her. From there the book takes off!
Emma has a lot of baggage from growing up in a very straight-laced household, always worrying about what people think about her. Marlowe buys out her new boss, and she finds herself working for him again - only on more of an equal level. She'll be one of his columnists as "Mrs. Bartleby" and working together closely. The form a friendship that quickly turns to passion. Their courtship is delightful to read. The dialogue is quick but very romantic and humorous. It's a pleasure to read the way he sets out to seduce her - and he succeeds! But, there's a catch. He has told her he'll never remarry again. She knows this, but passion overrules sensibility and they have an idyllic affair, but over time, Emma cannot continue with it, for she falls in love with him and feels she must end it. It's heartbreaking to read, but thankfully, it all comes to a happy -but albeit predictable - conclusion and is a very warm and fulfilling ending - I ate it up!
There are some graphic romantic sex scenes in this romance, but not a lot. The sexual tension and romance leading up to their affair is great and their frolicsome fun in bed and in the kitchen and other parts of the house are a joy to read about (although I was waiting for something to do with chocolate)! I thoroughly enjoyed this book - read it in one day, a quick fast paced read! I'll look for more books by this author!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The long-awaited sequel to Sharon Kay Penman's acclaimed novel When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance recounts the tempestuous marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in a magnificent story of love, power, ambition-and betrayal.
He was nineteen when they married, she eleven years his senior, newly divorced from the King of France. She was beautiful, headstrong, intelligent, and rich. It was said he was Fortune's favorite, but he said a man makes his own luck. Within two years, Henry had made his, winning the throne of England and exercising extraordinary statecraft skills to control his unruly barons, expand his own powers, and restore peace to a land long torn by banditry and bloodshed. Only in one instance did Henry err: Elevating his good friend and confidant Thomas Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury, he thought to gain control over the Church itself. But the once worldly Becket suddenly discovered God, and their alliance withered in the heat of his newfound zeal. What Becket saw as a holy mission-to protect the Church against State encroachments-Henry saw as arrant betrayal, and they were launched inevitably on the road to murder.
Rich in character and color, true to the historical details, sensitive to the complex emotions of these men and women, Time and Chance recreates their story with all the drama, pain, and passion of the moment. It is Penman at her best.
I loved this book.
Penman is one of my favorite authors - one of the best historical writers of fiction out there. I was completely caught up in the world of Henry and Eleanor. I seem to have a penchant for medieval storylines and this is one of the best - and true to boot! Let me read about trenchers and chain mail and castles and the rainy season in Wales and I'm happy! I savored the book and took it slowly which is the way to read her books. They are chock full of detail and politics you can't speed read your way through it, you really have to soak it up and understand it all.
As the summary says above, this book centers on the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both are larger than life. I truly admire Eleanor, I think she must have been an amazing person. They make a great couple and she gives birth to a slew of children, yet still retains her figure and beauty well into her late 40's (where the book leaves off.) I must admit, I identified with her and hated Henry for succumbing to a lasting affair with Rosamund Clifford. I felt I was there with Eleanor when she travels to England in the winter, heavy in pregnancy to confront Rosamund and see for herself - "Is it true? Is Henry besotted with some young little blonde bubble of a thing?" Poor Rosamund, she really did seem to have a good heart, and genuinely loved Henry - yet I kept hoping Eleanor would have her poisoned! I also am surprised that during all the years that Rosamund was with Henry he never got her pregnant, yet Eleanor was amazingly fertile with Henry! Their life was passionate and I liked the idea that their marriage bed was too. I really felt for her the betrayal she endured of knowing Henry had a concubine, and not just some little nothing - a lasting one that he took pains to see and bring to him, the book even ends with her with him en route to Ireland - aargh! Still, I must admit, I have kind of crush on Harry - it's hard not to! He's handsome and charismatic - and a king! Who can blame Rosamund for loving him as well as Eleanor!
The other storyline was the one between Thomas Becket and Henry. Great friends, Henry makes the mistake of installing Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. As soon as Becket takes on this mantle he changes radically and fights Henry continually over matters of how priests who are murderers are tried. Can the church only try them or can the crown as well? Henry wants these criminal priests to be punished and tried by the Crown, but Becket opposes it and thinks the Church should try priests and if found guilty, they'd be stripped of their vestments. Henry then wants to be able to try them again as layman, but Becket won't have it, and it's this huge drawn out feud between them for years! It's trying for both since they'd both been so close at one point, but Thomas changed so radically, and Henry couldn't believe it and Becket was going around ex-communicating bishops and chancellors and finally went to France in exile. As you all know, Henry ultimately though unwittingly is responsible for the terrible murder of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. I must admit, while reading the book, I tended to side with Henry and got awfully sick of Becket and how he just seemed to cross Henry every chance he got. But there at the end, when his murder is described, I did get teary eyed and felt terrible for him, and then to learn how he had mortified himself and wore a hair shirt and everything - well, it's no wonder he became a saint. What really happened to him when he became Archbishop? It seems he did undergo some kind of amazing and spiritual transformation. I felt badly for Henry too upon realization of Thomas' murder and what he must have thought when he found out the truth of what Becket had worn under his vestments. It really does make you wonder.
A third storyline which I loved since it reminded me of Penman's Welsh Trilogy was the story of Ranulf in Wales. He is Henry II's beloved uncle who is a bastard of Henry I and half Welsh. We are introduced to Ranulf in the previous book of this series, When Christ and His Saints Slept. Ranulf is torn, he loves his life in Wales, married to Rhiannon, his blind wife, raising his children and being a part of the Welsh life. But, he's also half English, the king's uncle and he must decide what to do and who to side with when England goes to war with Wales - as it so often does! Ranulf is the concience in this book - he shows us what fighting and leaving one's family to go to war and the consequences can mean. Another character I really enjoyed reading about was Hylwel, King Owain's son who was friends with Ranulf and a poet.
This is a sprawling story with lots of characters, many hard to keep track of. But, I notice that Penman often does you the favor of refreshing your memory in a gentle way of who was who: Roger, Bishop of Worcester, the king's first cousins, Rainald, Ranulf's gossip loving brother, Maud, Henry's mother, Ranulf's sister, Eleanor's sister Petronilla, Maud, the Countess of Chester who's husband had been nearly a maniac, there were just dozens and dozens of characters that are interesting in of themselves. This was a great follow up to When Christ and His Saints Slept which wasn't bad, but I found a bit dry. This book had life and passion and love in it. I highly recommend it if this is your thing.