Franklin, Ariana and Norman, Samantha - 'Winter Siege'
This is a truly extraordinary last book by this author who regrettably passed away in 2011 midway into the writing of her latest novel and her daughter Samantha Norman has finished, beautifully, the story left for her.
It is 1141, England is in the middle of civil war between King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I. The story starts in the Cambridgeshire Fens and Britain is in the middle of a bleak winter, absolutely freezing cold with snow covering everywhere. A young girl runs into the path of some barbaric horsemen looking for potential rape victims. By making herself noticeable to them in this way she is drawing their attention away from her relations who are hiding in the reeds. Once they have their way with her they abandon her naked body and carry on the way they were riding.
Gwil, a battle hardened mercenary, is horrified to stumble across the poor little girl who is so close to death. She is clutching a sliver of parchment and is absolutely terrified. Gwil knows he must help her recover her life and he feeds her and clothes her and helps her recover her strength. He teaches her to use a longbow and also a cross bow and makes her more independent. As the shock of her attack has made her lose her memory he doesn't know what her name is and decides to call her "Penda" after the Pagan warlord. As he was unused to dealing with girls and to help to disguise her, as he was teaching her about armaments, he decided to treat her like a young boy and he shortened her long red hair and dressed her accordingly.
Gwil (short for Gwilherm de Vannes) talks to God all the time, God is his conscience and in the same way Don Camillo the Italian catholic priest of the Giovannino Guareschi books talks and argues with God, Gwil does the same and it is a beautiful device to hurry the story along. Danger lurks everywhere they go and they get into a lot of scrapes before they team up with some nobles who are looking for shelter from a snow storm and together they finally find shelter at Kenniford Castle but safety is not reached there and many more adventures happen to Penda and Gwil before the dramatic conclusion.
When I was sent this book I expected it to be a continuation of the Mistress Of The Art Of Death stories, two of which I reviewed previously namely Mistress Of The Art Of Death and The Death Maze and was initially rather disappointed when it was not. As I read on however, I really got caught up in the story and my earlier misgivings were forgotten and I was really truly gripped. I enjoyed this story tremendously, which is so well-written it is impossible to see where the writing of the two authors meet.I understand Samantha Norman hopes to continue her mother's legacy and is writing a continuation of the Mistress Of The Art Of Death series for later publication. I look forward to reading these in due course as there were many loose ends left unfinished. Anyway this book was exceptional and should be read by all historical mystery fans. Extremely well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England