Book Review: His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga, Book 1) by Anna Belfrage
His Castilian Hawk
(The Castilian Saga, Book 1)
By Anna Belfrage
For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.
Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.
Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.
Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.
Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.
Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?
“…Sir Ralph had but one son and one daughter. The son lies at your feet”—he pointed, but Robert chose not to look—“and so the daughter is converted into an heiress.” He frowned. “Not much of a castle is Orton Manor, but I want it in the hands of a man I trust.” He nodded at Robert. “You will return the bodies to the little lady, and then you’ll wed her.”
King Edward must surely be jesting. Robert FitzStephan had no notion of marrying, let alone marrying a woman of wealth. He may be in favour with the king, but he is a bastard son, and a bastard son does not hope to rise to such lofty heights. But Edward is serious, and so Robert must ride to Orton Manor.
Eleanor d'Outremer had watched her father and her brother ride off to battle, and instead of welcoming their safe return, she is presented with her future husband and two corpses. There is to be no delay, no waiting — they are to be married immediately. King Edward demands it and she must obey. But there are those who would see her marriage to Robert fail, and they will stop at nothing in their quest to do so…
A majestic country, drenched in the blood of its kinsmen is the setting of Anna Belfrage's fabulous new book, His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga, Book 1). Belfrage always writes emotionally compelling stories, and His Castilian Hawk is no exception to this rule. I was expecting a lot from this book, and I got everything I anticipated and then some. Belfrage has brought this era gloriously back to life.
A Welshman knows how to die well, for Edward I had given them ample opportunity to practice, and while the blood of their king stained the cobblestones at Shrewsbury, they would make sure that the threat from the dragon would remain at the forefront of Edward's mind. Edward's brutality towards the Welsh is often overshadowed in history by his hammering of the Scots, and therefore few would have heard of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, let alone know who he was and what he did — I am sure such knowledge would have pleased Edward immensely. Belfrage has done much to rectify this with her depiction of the Conquest of Wales, and although this story is told from the perspective of Edward's camp, the realities of the war and what the people of Wales endured is evident in every page. At times, the narrative makes for a harrowing read, and yet it is one that is impossible to turn away from. This is the story of a proud people, brought to their knees. It is the story of a cornered dragon who would fight on until that final bitter end.
Usually, I would start a review by looking at the protagonists of the novel, but in this book’s case, I feel that I need to start with the antagonists. When a story is set in the camp of a notoriously uncompromising king, it is sometimes difficult to get a grasp on who the real enemy is. The English army is in Wales because of the rebellion, and yet it is the actions and reactions of Edward that drive the narrative of this story forward. As in life, Belfrage has given her readers an Edward who is on the one hand a deeply pious man, devoted to his wife, and then on the other is quite content to lock up children in cages and to prolong the execution of a man who was, if nothing else, a worthy opponent. What Edward never grasped in this novel, as he didn't in life, was the spirits of those who opposed him were not so easily crushed and instead of achieving a nation’s submission, he earned a nation’s resentment. It isn't easy to write a balanced account of Edward, which weighs up both the good and the bad, but Belfrage has done so most admirably. Edward is not a mindless monster in this novel, and he does show compassion, where compassion allows, but neither does Belfrage stray away from the historical fact of what this man did to the Welsh and how he went about doing it. I thought Edward's depiction was fabulous.
It is rather strange that history celebrates the men, whereas the women are brushed over as if their contributions, their lives, were inferior and of no consequence. Belfrage has tried to rectify this gross negligence by presenting her readers with a very realistic portrayal of Eleanor of Castile, Edward's beloved wife. Belfrage has chosen to depict Eleanor as a very knowledgeable woman, she is politically astute, and she knows how to play this game of kingdom and thrones. She is also a very single-minded woman — Eleanor will not be parted from her husband, if he is going to Wales then so is she, which all sounds terribly romantic and, of course, it is. But Belfrage also touches upon Eleanor's ruthless acquisition of lands and her somewhat fluctuant temperament which meant that she was a woman to be feared, rather than respected. I enjoyed reading about this controversial figure who lived in the shadow of her husband, and although at times her actions appalled me, there were also moments when I found myself rather liking Edward's queen.
Robert FitzStephan, the man who saved King Edward's life and then found himself wedded to a stranger. Robert cannot say no to his king, even though he had no thought of marrying, nor could he have predicted the chain of events that would follow his marriage. Born a bastard, Robert is fortunate to have won the king's favour. His loyalty, therefore, to King Edward is absolute, but that does not mean he agrees with every order – although, he will always do as he is told. At times, Robert is very conflicted, as anyone decent would be when faced with such a deplorable task, and because of this conflict and this uncertainty, he comes across as very real in the telling. His relationship with Eleanor (Noor) does not start well, and he does things that will come back to haunt both of them, but once he realises what a gift he has been given in Eleanor, his attitude towards her changes, and it is almost like a lightbulb moment when he really sees her for the first time. I thought Robert's depiction was brilliant.
Likewise, Eleanor’s struggle with who she is, what she has seen, and what she knows, came across very realistically. Eleanor is a young woman who is very alone in the world. She lost her mother at an early age, and the war has taken her father and brother. She has kin, but she does not know them. Eleanor is a very insecure young woman, but through the course of this novel there are hints of the woman that she will become. I cannot wait to catch up with her again in the second book of what promises to be an enthralling series.
His Castilian Hawk is a very sensual book, where passion between two strangers forced to marry becomes a deep and unquenchable love. The era this book is set in does not lend itself to romance, but there are still scenes in this novel that are incredibly romantic. The relationship between Robert and Eleanor is one that is, on the face of it, fated to fail. However, as this novel progresses, these two protagonists come to realise that the only way they can survive is if they cling onto each other. The passionate scenes remind the reader that this book is primarily about Robert and Eleanor’s growing love for each other.
Anna Belfrage has really outdone herself in His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga, Book 1). It is a book that deserves to be read again and again and again. A sensational treat for lovers of quality Medieval Historical Romance.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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His Castilian Hawk
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again ) she is delighted to be back in medieval times in her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love.
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Publication Date: 28th September 2020
Publisher: Timelight Press
Page Length: 355 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Romance