Sunday, October 23, 2011
The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick
England - 1216: Dissatisfaction with King John has bred a civil war which threatens the social order...
Unwanted and unloved, rebellious Miriel Weaver is forced to a convent by her violent stepfather. Her plan to escape from the harsh life of a novice nun crystallizes with the arrival of recuperating soldier of fortune Nicholas de Caen. Miriel sees in his pride and self-sufficiency a kindred spirit and, once he is well enough, a way out.
The two part in Nottingham on bad terms which are to blight both their lives. When they meet again by chance, they agree to call a truce -- but the truce becomes first friendship and then a dangerous passion. Almost too late, Nicholas and Miriel realise that the chain of events triggered by their first meeting could now ensure they never know the pleasure of living...
(from the publisher)
One of the great things about discovering a wonderful historical fiction writer like Elizabeth Chadwick is that she's still producing stellar novels, and she has a long backlist for me to work my way through. For the King's Favor was one of my favorites from last year, and The Marsh King's Daughter was another fascinating historical read.
The Marsh King's Daughter centers on Miriel, the granddaughter of a master weaver who has passed on his skills to his beloved granddaughter. After his death, Miriel's violent stepfather and mother try unsuccessfully to curb her willful personality. Sent to the nuns at St. Catherine's Abbey, Miriel's strong spirit will not bend to the strict regimen and often cruel attempts to make her conform.
Miriel's life changes drastically the day Nicholas de Caen is found by the nuns near death in the vicinity of the abbey. Nicholas had been captured by King John's soldiers as he was involved in an attempted seige. Tied up and thrown in a cart to be interrogated later, he was part of the king's baggage train that traveled across the treacherous marshlands. As the mists rolled in and the waters began to rise, the helpless baggage train began to descend in murky waters and quicksand, drowning men, horses, and burying the royal treasure. Nicholas escapes in the confusion and steals what he can of the king's gold and treasures, although the effort nearly costs him his life.
As Nicholas slowly begins to recover at the abbey under Miriel's medical care, she befriends him and sees him as a way of escape. When his strength returns, the two make a daring escape. Miriel knows she is in grave danger as a young woman out in the world is liable to come under suspicion. She steals a part of the royal treasure from Nicholas and takes off on her own to make her way in the world pretending to be a young widow.
The journey Miriel takes from a runaway novice to a successful businesswoman in the wool industry was interesting and believable. Her intelligence and sense of independence carries her through the difficult times....and many challenges are ahead, particularly as Nicholas and Miriel cross paths again and realize that their lives are meant to be spent together. But evil villains, secret plots, a hidden treasure, and jealous spouses will stand in the way of their happiness.
Loved it! Chadwick's authentic portrait of daily life in the twelfth century is fascinating. From the mind set of medieval men and women, the dress, customs, manners, and mores of the times, Chadwick truly does make the past come alive.
But I do have one curious observation.....does anyone know why this book is called The Marsh King's Daughter??? There is obviously some symbolic meaning that I am missing, or some historical reference that I am not familiar with. I did a quick search and all I could find was a story by Hans Christian Andersen entitled "The Marsh King's Daughter" which contains a refrain:
“Gold and possessions will flee away,
Friends and foes must die one day;
Every man on earth must die,
But a famous name will never die.”
This does have some connection, but I'm just guessing. I'm curious about this and there's nothing that I can find on her website that addresses this. Any info from those in the know would be appreciated!
5/5 stars Highly recommmended for historical fiction fans.
Title: The Marsh King's Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Chadwick