Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath

What happened to Harold Godwinson’s first wife Edith Swaneck (or Elditha as she is known in this novel) after his tragic death during the 1066 Norman Conquest? Too often, women are merely a footnote in history and I love historical fiction which speculates about the unknown, untold stories of women in history. Instead of focusing on Elditha’s life leading up to the conquest, this novel explores the after events. How did this woman cope with losing her husband and the father of her children first to another woman and secondly to death and the Norman invasion? What was her fate and the fate of her children once they were in the hands of the enemy and what did she do improve their chances at safety and happiness?

On one hand, this approach certainly set it apart from other books focusing on the Norman Conquest and allowed for more creative freedom but on the other hand, it wound up being a little anti-climatic to focus on the events following 1066 rather than leading up to it. While the book was very eventful, I didn't really get a sense of the emotional turmoil both Elditha and others would have gone through upon learning the outcome of the Battle of Hastings, not on the scale I expected anyway. What should have been the biggest event of the book was quickly passed over in the beginning and while the following events were thrilling at times, without giving away any specific spoilers, they wound up being all for nothing. The efforts Elditha made to escape and keep her children safe were moot in the end and I struggled to understand how Elditha could abandon her children as many times as she did. Granted, she had many children and they were split up and she always left them in trusted care and sometimes she didn't have a choice - but sometimes she did and I just think if I had been her, I would be doing everything I could to remain with my most vulnerable children, whatever the cost to myself. When she finally attempted to extract one of them, she unnecessarily risked everything she'd spent half the novel accomplishing. So that was a little frustrating.

That said, it was very well written and researched. The dialogue and characters were realistic, even if I didn't always agree their decisions. It was written in third person, mostly from Elditha's point of view but also a few others. When it was told from a male point of view, it was still in relation to the women's world, as this is very much a story about women and we do not get to see the Battle of Hastings in action. The author had a lot of room to work with a creative license since soon after Hastings, Elditha disappears from records so her fate was open to lots of speculation and the author used her knowledge of the times to make believable assumptions. This is the first in a planned trilogy called Daughters of Hastings and I look forward to the second two which are to feature Elditha's daughters Gunnhild and "Thea" (renamed such in the novel because her real name, Gytha, would have caused confusion with more than one character named Gytha), I am interested to see what the author does with these characters.

1 comment:

  1. Great review :) I have this sitting on my kindle waiting to be read.


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