Estela de Matin has secrets and that made her an engaging character right from the beginning. Alienor is intrigued too and takes her into her household out of curiosity. The women build a kind of trust even as politics and scheming threaten Queen Alienor and those around her. The Victomtess of Narbonne, Ermengarda, has to put her people first and the whole of France second. Estela is talented in both singing and playing her mandora, so she’s placed as a troubadour in training.
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction. The history aspect was first and foremost. I loved all the details that made me feel like I was learning even while I was entertained. The fashion and gender roles of 12th century France are well incorporated to the tale. For example, it was fashionable for the ladies to have high foreheads, so some would modify their hairline by shaving part of their hair off to extend their foreheads.
While there were strong gender roles during this time period, the ladies were not sidelined in this tale. There is indeed romance, but they don’t spend all their time on it. So refreshing! I loved that the female characters would talk about all sorts of things and not just romance. They drove the plot and didn’t always have to rely on bedroom skills to do so.
Dragonetz was an interesting character as well. He’s a knight and a troubadour. He is sworn to serve the Queen but he also has a secret lover. He also has a dedicated spy and confidant – Sancha (spelling?). She’s a unique character in that she’s really a man who has chosen to live as a woman for decades. I really hope the series explores her character more.
I did leave the story feeling a little confused on three points. First, would Estela really have left home with so little? She comes from a privileged family and it’s not clear to me what could have forced her out on her own, literally sleeping in ditches. Second, I don’t get why Estela gave up her virginity when she did to who she did. I was left wondering if she just wanted it over with so she could stop worrying about it. Third, I don’t get Arno. The one weak thread in this novel is this idea of love above and beyond station, family, marriage, etc. I think Arno was caught up in that and was supposed to be this example of unrequited courtly love… and yet it didn’t feel like a complete picture to me. With that said, some of these points might be made whole in the sequel.
The story ends with several dramatic scenes, wrapping up the main mystery of who has been leaving threats for the Queen. There’s still a larger mystery that Dragonetz must solve plus the politics of Narbonne are practically on fire at this point. The crusades weren’t all glory and profit and I loved that several aspects were displayed through the characters. All told, 4.5/5 stars.
The Narration: Jake Urry is always a treat to listen to. He has an excellent voice and I have enjoyed several stories that he has narrated. With that said, his female character voices could use a touch more variation. He can do a decent female voice, but all the ladies sounded like alto ladies. There wasn’t much difference from lady to lady. There was some singing in this book and often it was in a foreign language – and Urry did a great job with these songs. I also liked the little snippets of music between chapters. I know this is a small thing, but it took me forever to figure out that it was ‘Moor’ and not ‘maul’ that Urry was saying, referring to the one Moorish character in the story. 4.5/5 stars.
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jake Urry. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.