This is a novel that manages to combine big historical questions of politics and royal personalities with the intimate beginnings of a marriage actually contracted years before the novel begins. It shows a world of inheritance, arranged marriages and secrets in castles. Romance is a slow built thing, just as a more normal relationship may begin, even though it technically began with a wedding ceremony five years before. Constance is a straightforward young woman, who was married at fourteen when she suddenly inherited a sizable estate and her relatives worried that one of her many suitors would force her into an unsuitable match. Even worse, as King John had a history of taking into wardship rich underage heirs, she may have disappeared completely. The husband selected was thought to be strong enough to guard her, but he disappeared immediately after the ceremony. Matthew Wintour had returned to the battlefield for reasons unspecified, and Constance has been waiting to meet her husband for five years. This is a historical romance in which Constance must find out about her husband who she has barely met, yet he has so many secrets. His family, his motive for fighting, his loyalty or otherwise to the king. With a frank attitude to the attraction Matthew feels for his wife, whether they truly fall in love as they discover each other remains the question. This intense novel written with a sure eye for detail of rooms, clothes and human feelings is an involving read, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book begins in 1214 with Constance and her cousins trying to pick out her newly returned husband from a group of young men gathered in the hall below. It is obvious that there is some great secret between them, and this is the first stirrings of a plot that will come to importance later in the novel. Even when the self conscious Constance is formally reunited with her husband, it is obvious that he has many secrets. Though on one level he is frank and friendly, they are both aware of the slight absurdity of their situation. Constance’s desire is to return to her childhood home of Lacelby, and it is travelling there that they discover many secrets about themselves and the family which Matthew seemingly abandoned. A building which of itself holds secrets proves to be an even more powerful obsession for Sir Ralph Wintour, and Constance soon discovers that her affection for her own house is small in comparison. As passion, long held grief and other emotions develop, even luxurious accommodation cannot compensate for the challenges Constance and Matthew must face.
As an absorbing historical novel, this is an enjoyable read with enough excitement and passion to maintain the reader’s interest throughout. As a keen reader of historical fiction, I know there is a lot of research which goes into a novel where politics is not the main story, as even the clothes, rooms and food must be correct not to jar. I was convinced that the author definitely “knew her stuff” and I was kept enthralled not only by a story of two people exploring their relationship, but also how Constance as a woman asserted herself as more than her appearance and legal role would suggest. A confidently written novel, this book offers a lot of enjoyment.