My rating: 4 of 5 stars
How would you grow up, in an age where women were generally borne only to be bartered as marriage partners for position, land, power, and heirs, and men could not trust brothers, childhood friends, their king if a noble, or their nobles if a king? How would you hold up, if you were a girl-child, beaten by your parents to teach you to be submissive, told you would be married to a man far older than you, whom you do not know? What personality would you present to the world? What would you dare to hope for? Would you hope for anything?
Isabel, the central figure in this story, is that beaten girl-child. She is married, at age eleven, to Robert de Beaumont, a count who is considerably older than she. At first, she sees him as a possible refuge and chance at happiness, away from her parents, as his wife and mother of his heir. During their lives together, Isabel watches events unfold, as her husband is one of the English King’s closest advisers, taking him away from her for long stretches. She realizes that, even after they have several children together, both sons and daughters, that he is not in fact to ever be the love of her heart and soul. Eventually she is able to live a full and rich life with the man who is in truth that love of her heart and soul.
While Isabel does find deep romance later in her life, this does not feel like a romance story. At least, the real romance does not happen for the heroine until late in her life. The reader may be able to anticipate that eventual result, and the frustrating wait for the resolution lends a bit to the reserve of this recommendation.
Isabel is a strong-willed woman, but for too much of the story her strong will seems mostly to manifest in her demonstrating willfulness, rather than showing the “sense and understanding beyond her years.”
However, even having reservations about her character development brings its own set of reservations. The medieval age is not one easily understood, by feminists or any other authors. None of us lived there. Most of us have never endured being beaten because that is God’s will or because it will make us submissive. Isabel definitely displays a strong, developed character as years go by, because she does not continue that cycle of beating. She really does attempt to live a life of duty and dedication to her husband. While readers may despair a bit of her holding to that, one must applaud her doing well enough to finally understand the guiding of her heart. She did not let her parents, or her society, dim any of that.
In Isabel’s age, women were expected to marry and bear sons (or at least to be bedded and then bear sons.) She does better than that. How would any of us have done in her shoes?
Most definitely, read this book! You will not regret it.