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The Seige Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Ariana Franklin, best selling author of medieval thrillers, died while writing “The Seige Winter” in 2011.  It was completed and published by Ariana’s daughter Samantha Norman.

The narrator of the story is William, Abbot of Perton Abbey around 1180 a.d., who is telling the story on his death bed for a young monk to transcribe.  The story is one about his family and their household about 40 years earlier, during the wars between the daughter of Henry I, Matilda, and her cousin, Stephen.  Henry on his death bed had declared Matilda his heir, but most of the barons of the land refused to swear alliegance to a woman and selected Stephen instead.  It was a time of great hardship as nobles loyal to Matilda were beseiged by Stephen’s superior troops and villages were plundered and burned.

One of the casualties during this time was the rape of a young girl in the Fens by a bunch of mercenaries led by a murderous monk loyal to Stephen.  One of the mercenary archers, Gwil, took pitty on the girl and defected in order to take care of her and to get her to safety.  He called the girl Penda since she could not remember her own name or the horrendous circumstances that caused her to be separated from her people.  To keep her safe on the road, Gwil insisted she disguise herself as a boy, and he taught her archery skills so that she would have a way of making a living.  After some years on the road as entertainers, they were forced into the company of a group of nobles who were fleeing from mercenaries, a group that happened to include Empress Matilda herself.  They all fled to Kenniford Castle, the home of Maud of Kenniford.  The Abbot, William, was the young boy at the time of the story who was Maud’s stepson.

One theme in this novel is about the place of women in medieval Anglo-Saxon and Norman society and how some were able to transcend their station in life through happenstance of birth and through hard work, skill and some degree of deception.  There are several very strong women role-models in this story, all of whom are to a large degree feared and admired by William.

There is considerable tension in this thriller as the reader waits for the inevitable second face-off between Penda and the murderous monk.

The Seige Winter” is well-crafted and informative about a period in history that was fundamental to the formation of the powerful Norman baronies in England during the Middle Ages.  It keeps readers on the edge of their seats to discover what will happen to several favorite characters, including Penda, Gwil, Maud and her love interest, Sir Alan.

Recommended.

Liz Nichols

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