Queen Aethelthryth had two chaste marriages. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, “To have one chaste marriage may be regarded as good fortune. To have two chaste marriages looks like calculation.”
The wonderful novelist, Candace Robb, writes about medieval mischief–death, murder, and intrigue–in her rich and addictive novels set in fourteenth-century England, including the Owen Archer series and the Margaret Kerr trilogy. She posed me this question: “Can you imagine a way to show how writers might use the material to brainstorm themes, topics, women who haven’t yet been written about?” In my guest post for her blog, I write about about my new book, A Medieval Woman’s Companion and how the amazing women in it could be usefully employed by budding artists and established writers alike. You can read what I suggested here, including more about Queen Aethelthryth.
What a terrific challenge it’s been to fantasize about the many books that could be created in honor of these women’s lives. Please read what I wrote about here. I was inspired to write my historical novel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, by the Old English poem, Beowulf. You never know what work will spark the creative flow. I’m so grateful to Candace for asking that question–it’s given me some ideas for future novels to write.
And be sure to check out Candace’s expertly written and evocative novels, that stir the reader’s imagination and emotions.
As Emma Campion, Candace has written about real-life fascinating women like Alice Perrers and Joan of Kent. Below is my review for her new novel set in York: The Service of the the Dead: A Kate Clifford Mystery, which you can order here.
And be sure to check out Candace’s book launch video below. Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir introduces the event and they sing divinely.
My Review of Candace Robb’s The Service of the Dead.
Archer, businesswoman, negotiator, foster mother, widow, detective–Kate Clifford enchants us from the instant we break open Candace Robb’s The Service of the Dead with its crackling frisson of violence and mayhem. Like Kate, we don’t know whom to trust in late fourteenth-century York, at a time when choosing the wrong side in the king’s feud with Henry Bolingbroke could prove not only potentially disastrous –but fatal. Richly weaving a tapestry of intrigue and violence, Robb masterfully creates a world set in a time of regal intrigue. A doughty widow, determined to establish financial independence and society security, Kate and her emotional depth resonate profoundly with the reader. This dazzling work highlights Robb’s deft skills as a chronicler of times that echo in all too timely ways with our own.
Forced to contend with annoying and treacherous relatives, Kate must determine who is loyal and who may not be worthy of her trust. We puzzle with her–is that character trustworthy? Or could he be a paid informant? Loyal mistress to her servants and a firm but kind substitute mother to her wards, Kate attempts to disentangle clues that lead to the perpetrator of violent and shocking transgressions, including murder. We uncover the facts while peaking over Kate’s shoulder.
Brutal, violent echoes from her past drive Kate’s determination to uncover the truth about mutilated and defamed bodies in the present. Revenge for acts long ago haunt her, as does her twin’s spirit. He’s a witty, though all too dead, guide, who acts as psychiatrist and support as Kate negotiates the treacherous cobbled streets of York.
Layering political intrigue with familial drama, Robb makes the personal political and the political all too personal. This riveting novel imagines Kate –a fully medieval yet surprisingly modern widow–determined to loyally support a chosen family of outsiders, while defiantly challenging powerful men who mistake her gender for submission. She emanates a fierce determination in a time of uncertainty, ambiguity, and potential death.
Kate’s household comprises intriguing characters–warm and prickly– centripetally drawn to one another and centered around the indomitable Kate’s warmth. With a cook kneading his violent past into fragrant dough, a generous-minded thief, a servant with a sexy smile, and two bastard charges–not to mention two loyal and potentially deadly wolfhounds–Kate Clifford crafts community in a time when England was racked with internal strife.
We close the book eager for the next volume of Kate’s life. Will the raven-haired Kate dally with the handsome Earl’s retainer? Or find shelter in the strong and reliant arms of a tender-hearted, loyal– and reformed– assassin? Tragic history reasserts itself, echoing in Kate’s life in York in violent, terrifying, and resounding ways.