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An Endless Exile Paperback – October 4, 2005
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I don't mind at all about the embellishments. If I were interested in the truth and nothing but the truth, I wouldn't read fiction. However, from my perspective the real story is about Torfrida, Hereward's wife. The story opens as Torfrida, who has been estranged from Hereward for four years, learns he has been killed. From there the story goes back and forth from the present to the past.
We become acquainted with the 12 year old Torfrida when she arrives at the home of her betrothed, Robert - son of Gilbert de Ghent. Gilbert is also the godfather of 18 year old Hereward who has been banished from his father's home. While in Gilbert's home, Hereward involves himself in fascinating shenanigans right and left until he is eventually banished from England by the King at the age of 18. During their brief time together in Gilbert's home, Torfrida and Hereward forge a type of bond.
Torfrida's and Robert's marriage never takes place because Robert doesn't live long enough. Torfrida returns to her father's house and Hereward becomes a mercenary - hiring himself and his men out to various noblemen. Their paths do not cross again until Torfrida is 21 years old at which time, they fall crazy in love, resulting in marriage and a family of three children. During much of this time, Hereward continues fighting - first as a mercenary and later as a guerrilla against William the Conqueror from his base in the fens on the Isle of Ely.
As with most HR's who deal with true history, several battles are described in this book. However, much time is given over to Hereward's and Torfrida's life together. HUGE SPOILER: There is one of the most distressing scenes I've ever read toward the end of the book in which Torfrida comes upon the love of her life in bed with another woman. Although I knew from the outset, Torfrida and Hereward had been separated for a few years due to Hereward supposedly having taken up with another noblewoman, I wasn't prepared for this scene.
At this point, I don't think I'm sorry I read the book, but since I have some empath tendencies, it will be awhile before I can get this scene out of my mind. So, I would advise readers who don't like any adulterous liaisons to carefully consider this part before reading this book.
It's a first person, very personal view of a Flemish woman, Torfrida, who later marries Hereward, in a time that was turbulent in British History. Lancaster has an easy voice, quickly pulling you into the saga. She strongly evokes the senses, to make you "see" the story as it unfolds. After the opening of Hereward's death, we move with a flashback to when Hereward and she were much younger. Sent as a 12-year-old child bride to Robert de Ghent, she is a shock to his family. Her parents set the betrothal by misrepresenting Torfrida's youth. Robert is in love with Lucy, Hereward's sister, and slowly Torfrida comes to love Hereward, though at time he exasperates her, even makes her hate him for his unbending rebellious streak.
It's richly researched, with a strong eye to historical details, the sort of historical saga you see so rarely today. You still see smaller presses putting out these sort of strong dramas in Britain, but US seems to think these are not popular. Well, the rise of e-books sales is telling a different story. The readers are there, just they have a hard time finding the sort of books they want. E-book publishers are cleaning up on NYC publishers' shortsightedness. And that Lancaster is not in print is most definitely shortsighted!
Lancaster gives an amazing tale, that totally fascinated me, spellbound me. The young Hereward and Torfrida were amazing; they were so vivid, alive. Lancaster proves a marvellous talent bring to life these complex characters. Torfrida is first angry with the brash young man. Her emotions morph slowly into friendship, admiration, empathy, even protectiveness of first love - though still at times is furious with his brashness. All these emotions are so well portrayed. Her jealousy is felt as she comes to understand Hereward is carrying on with the married beauty, Edith.
The story is fascinating, thrilling, brilliant, weaving between Torfrida's life upon Hereward's death and the flashbacks to their stormy love. Simply, Lancaster is a talent to behold, the tale amazing.
Reviewers International Organization Award of Excellent Finalists 2005