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About the Author
- ASIN : B00KX9X3ZW
- Publication date : June 10, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 688 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 222 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 1386556467
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,953,572 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Strongbow’s Wife by Frank Parker is a tale of life in the Twelfth Century milieu of the British Isles (most significantly, Ireland), and Northern France. It’s a century after the Norman Conquest, and the controversy between King Henry II and Thomas à Becket rages in the background for part of the story. Our protagonist is Aoife, the daughter of the King of Leinster in Ireland, and the story is told through her eyes.
I found it quite lively, and the choice to tell it from Aoife’s point of view is a smart one. It was a brutal time when men were constantly fighting each other over fiefdoms, seeking vengeance over land, game, atrocities, and slights. The lot of women in those days, while not to be envied, was not as bleak as has often been portrayed. Aoife, being high born, has many advantages a woman of peasant stock wasn’t afforded. As was the custom in those days, she’s betrothed to a man (a Welsh King, known as Strongbow) for her father’s political advantage at the age of fifteen. Her marriage is delayed for several years and is finally consummated during a period of war and atrocity.
One of the things that readers will find interesting is how important the counsel of women was to men in those days. The judgment of a wife, a mother, and a sister, being family members, was highly valued over that of even close allies, and they assumed important administrative positions while the men were off fighting wars. It was expected that men would die, and so, the running of the estates became the purview of women.
While there is political intrigue and battles galore, they mostly happen offstage, so to speak, because men did their best to shield women from the vagaries of battle. Fierce family loyalties quicken the hearts of all, and Aoife finds herself praying for revenge against a family foe. When it finally comes, she finds herself surprised at her regret for what happened to the man she so despised.
Her life becomes her children, and her hopes for a prosperous future. Along the way, she demonstrates a propensity for strategic thinking and the economic well being of her subjects.
If you’re interested in the roots of what became the Irish-English conflict, the various players: English, Welsh, Norman, Norsemen, you’ll find Strongbow’s Wife a painstakingly well-researched recreation of a time gone by.
Very highly recommended
By and large, I think historical novels tend to revolve around romantic storylines or some type of key event. As far as romance goes, there’s not much of it in Strongbow’s Wife. Truth be told, I don’t think that’s a great loss as I have never been one much for love triangles and literary courtships can be a bit formulaic. Nonetheless, a romance angle might have been a good way to spice up the story as it lacks a big event. Technically, the story has many notable events. The decision of the king to annex Ireland, the battles to take control of Ireland, and the pacification process are all alluded to in this story. Unfortunately, they all get short shrift. Sure, they get mentioned by the protagonist but the protagonist isn’t personally involved in any of these events so they are all tangential to her own story arc.
I suspect the reason the author did not insert Strongbow’s wife into these situations is that it would have been ahistorical for him to do so. I respect his commitment to the historical accounts, but historical fiction does leave room for imagination. Had the novel included more than just one POV, I think it may have been possible to depict some of the important events in more depth and give readers a bit more to latch on to.
To be fair, there are plenty of great historical novels that are told exclusively from one perspective. The Moor’s Account and The Kingmaker’s Daughter are good examples of this. I think the reason these novels work well from a reading standpoint deals with the narrative decisions of the author. In the Moor’s Account, Lalami uses the first-person narrative to add more depth to the protagonist’s world view and give him more agency than he is credited with in primary sources. Sure, her telling diverges from the official account given to court authorities but never in ways that are unrealistic. In some respects, the account that Lalami offers is more trustworthy than the one passed down to posterity.
For the most part, the protagonist of Strongbow’s Wife is a mystery. Yes, she reflects on some of the changes wrought by the foreigners in Ireland, but this mostly happens in the form of a few rhetorical questions. Even death gets short shrift in the story. Characters die or disappear, but we don’t learn much about how that makes the protagonist feel. The climax of the book is the death of a character we hardly knew and lacks much-needed oomph because we lack a strong connection to that character and the protagonist.
Ultimately, Strongbow’s Wife fails for me because it’s not fleshed out enough. To be truly compelling, the story needed to either go deeper with the first-person POV or it needed to offer more POVs. Parker has created a good skeleton for a story, but it needs more heft. To be fair, readers who want a quick rundown of the colonization of Ireland will probably enjoy this read. There’s pretty much no bloat with this read and we cover a pretty large expanse of time in just a few pages. Personally, I like having something to sink my teeth into and I think the story would have been stronger had we not rushed through so many important events. Parker is a prolific writer and I suspect he will put out more work soon. If he can resist the urge to skim over the important happenings, I think his other novels will be much stronger.
Top reviews from other countries
Many male authors might struggle to adopt the voice and emotions of a woman, but not Frank Parker. He joins the likes of the formidable Ian McEwan and the the great classical writer D.H. Lawrence, in telling a great story, authentically, from a female viewpoint. This super novel is set in the tumultuous times of 12th century Ireland, and Aoife's life is full and eventful. I liked and admired her for her strength under severe duress, and I wanted to identify with her spirited and unswerving commitment to what was important to her in her life. Aoife is majestically driven and I cannot quite believe she is not real!
I want to read more from Frank Parker.
In an era where history is so often that - "his story" - it is a refreshing change to read an interpretation of the documented facts seen through the eyes of a young woman growing to maturity in a dangerous and polictically unstable world. Parker is to be congratulated on having the courage to tackle writing a novel from the perspective of a 12th century teenaged girl - this cannot have been anything less than challenging - particularly when approaching an issue such as the rigours of mediaeval pregnancy and childbirth.
An interesting and thought-provoking take on a tumlutous episode in Anglo-Irish history - congratulations to the author on a job well done.