The Siege Winter: A Novel

The Siege Winter: A Novel - Ariana Franklin, Samantha Norman The 12th century is drawing to a close and a dying abbot feels the need to tell a story in order to cleanse his soul. Dictated to a young scribe his story is the accounting of the 1141 battle between Matilda and Stephen over who should rightly wear the crown. As in any civil war there are always secrets that must be kept, terrible tragedies on all sides, heroes are made, innocent victims suffer, villains plot and mercenaries sell their services to the highest bidder.

The unlikely heroes in this story are an 11 year-old girl named Emma – cruelly raped and tortured, then left for dead by a godless monk with a fetish for red hair, Maud, the 15 year-old chatelaine of Kenilworth – the castle that could provide Stephen with his much needed access across the Thames and Gwil – the mercenary reluctantly taking on the mantle of hero in the hopes that his past sins will be forgiven. The villain is so wicked you can almost picture him twirling his moustache (if he had one to twirl) in anticipation of his next dastardly act. Their paths cross at Kenilworth.

This book is rich in historical detail; particularly what life in a castle must have been like from the dungeons below and the drafty walls in the living area to the archers on the turrets and the steam in the kitchens. Ms. Franklin began the manuscript before her death then rather than leave it unfinished her daughter, Samantha Norman, a feature writer, columnist and film critic took up the pen (as it were) and finished the story. While reading I could discern no obvious transition from one writer to the other. I am glad she finished the story because she completed a very good book. This book is definitely self-standing with a more than satisfactory ending but I understand that it may be the first in a series. I am a fan of Ms. Franklin’s “Mistress in the Art of Death” series, in which the last book left the readers hanging a bit, so I cannot help but wonder if Ms. Norman has plans to tie up that series as well? I hope so, because she has certainly proven herself up for the task.