Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: November 24, 2015

Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Lord Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Lord Roger thinks she is. So when Lord Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be. England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other. Adam fears his lord has over-reached, but at present Adam has other matters to concern him, first and foremost his new wife, Katherine de Monmouth. His bride comes surrounded by rumours concerning her and Lord Roger, and he hates it when his brother snickers and whispers of used goods. Kit de Courcy has the misfortune of being a perfect double of Katherine de Monmouth – which is why she finds herself coerced into wedding a man under a false name. What will Adam do when he finds out he has been duped? Domestic matters become irrelevant when the king sets out to punish his rebellious barons. The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Lord Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can. 

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In the Shadow of the Storm is the first Anna Belfrage novel without a Graham, Just take a minute and let that sink in. I knew it was coming, but the reality of it still stung so I understand how difficult it might be to comprehend and/or accept. Or I hope I do any way. How funny would it be if I were the only one in mourning?

Okay, enough with the chitchat. You're here for my thoughts, not my rambling introductions or lighthearted sarcasm so I best get on with it and put my cards on the table. Traitorous as if feels to admit, I enjoyed this piece a great deal. Belfrage's writing is chock full of personality and humor and I love the quality and charm her tone brought the fabric of the narrative. 

In terms of technique, I took great interest in the relationship dynamics of Belfrage's cast and appreciated the length she went to craft such multi-faceted personalities. You learn something about someone in almost every scene and those insights often shatter your initial impressions. This sort of forced perspective is something a lot of writers struggle with, but I felt it flowed naturally from Belfrage's pen and enhanced my experience as a reader.

Historically I loved the material, but the Welsh Marches are my original stomping ground so I am probably a little bias. Belfrage's work is not as atmospheric as Chadwick's in my estimation, but her sense of pacing and movement are beyond compare. The politics of the day are painted with a complexity that does justice to the age and I liked how Belfrage applied it to the fictional drama of her protagonist's ordeals.

Much as I loved The Graham Saga, In the Shadow of the Storm stands to illustrate how painful endings can disguise new beginnings. There were moments I felt the drama mirrored that of her previous work, instances where I wondered at her direction and purpose, but I've no major complaints and feel the book serves as a solid foundation for The King's Greatest Enemy series. 

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Kit lifted her eyes to the horizon. The hitherto blue sky to the west was fast disappearing in a bank of storm clouds, almost black with contained energy. She shivered, struck by a premonition. Peace would not last, she thought - it was not over yet. 
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