There was a time when I read historical fiction almost exclusively, I believe in my early teens, before I discovered science fiction. Since then, I've tended to stay away from the genre due to its tendency to be formulaic. A formula, however, doesn't stop something from being entertaining, as this medieval English romance/mystery/war story proves. We follow a few main characters: Emma, a young girl from the fen who is abused horribly; Gwil, the middle aged mercenary who finds her, nurses her back to health, and raises her as his own; and Maud of Kenniford, a young noblewoman made a pawn in the war of succession between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. No one gets off easy. Sorry, that's an understatement: rapine, murder, torture, and betrayal abound. It's a bit much for a reader like me, to be honest. I can't abide reading about horrible things happening to good people, and as fetchingly plucky as Emma and Maud are, it's not enough for me to overlook the horrific violence against women.
While the writing itself is good, I'm not a fan of the narrative device used to move the story along. The story is broken up between the present day and the past, the latter being the story itself and the former being an old abbot telling the story to a young scribe. It's really unnecessary, inserted only to introduce a twist at the end that is painfully obvious, plus now that I think about it, the twist wouldn't even be necessary if that part of the novel didn't exist. It's extraneous, serving only to take away from the actual story. So while generally enjoyable this book was, I'll not be picking up many more historical fiction novels in the future.