Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Historical Novel Society Review February 2015

The Swan Daughter

It’s 1075. Eighteen-year-old Gunnhild, King Harold’s daughter, is living in a nunnery. She has no wish to be a nun: she is a princess and would rather wed a knight and have the life a princess should. So when Count Alan offers to elope with her, she accepts. But does he love her, or does he just want the lands that she will inherit?
Carol McGrath follows the story of Gunnhild’s marriage. Alan, it seems, does not really love Gunnhild. Both Alan and Gunnhild seek romantic love elsewhere: Alan with the wife of one of his servants, Gunnhild with Alan’s brother.
McGrath’s research is thorough, and her account of castle life is convincing. However, things are seen through the filter of 14th-century notions of chivalric life. While McGrath is generally careful about the reality of the 11th century, Gunnhild’s attitudes often seem rather more what a 14th-century author might have attributed to her. The knights have glistening armour, and the occasional breastplate slips through.
None of this is to take away from McGrath’s substantial achievement. She brings the 11th century alive, packing in a wealth of well-researched detail. Her style is easy to read, and her Gunnhild is a rounded and sympathetic character. If the story sometimes slips into a more romantic interpretation of the past, it has been in good company for seven hundred years. In the end, can we ever know how an 11th-century woman thought? McGrath’s heroine is believable to a modern reader, and her environment should satisfy a historical fiction enthusiast. That makes this a thoroughly worthwhile read.

Even Better than The Handfasted Wife

By Deborah Swift VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Swan-Daughter is even better than the Handfasted Wife, which is in itself an excellent read. It follows the adventures of Gunnhild, daughter of Elditha and King Harold. The period of the Norman Conquests is brought vibrantly to life by Carol McGrath, with all the rich detail of the period woven skilfully into the narrative.

Gunnhild is a sympathetic and believable heroine. She was brought up in the local Abbey, and as a noble lady the church has a vested interest in her lands and inheritance. Gunnhild has other ideas, feeling no desire for a life of seclusion. There appears to be a solution in the form of a suitor, Alan of Richmond, who at first appears to be all a woman of her status could desire. An elopement ensues, and Gunnhild imagines her future will be rosy. But as she uncovers more about her new husband, a controlling man who is more at home in battle than in the bedchamber, she begins to doubt his reasons for marrying her, and the love she so desperately needs seems to become even more elusive.

However, when her husband's duty takes him away from home, Gunnhild develops strengths she did not know she possessed.This is one of the pleasures of this book - watching Gunnhild mature and become the agent of her own destiny, no mean feat in this period of history. And of course there is a satisfying ending, which I wont reveal, because if you have any sense you'll click 'buy' and read it for yourself.

Although this is the second in a trilogy it stands well in its own right. However, you'll want to read the others in the series, they are so well-written and researched.

The Swan-Daughter

Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Couldn't wait for this second book from Carol McGrath. It continues the story of 'The Handfasted Wife, the daughters of Hastings'. It tells the story of Gunnhild one of the daughters of King Harold and Edith Swan-Neck. What a difficult but fascinating life Gunnhild must have had in a time when women were of no importance. The descriptions of Wilton Abbey were particularly fascinating as Wilton is near to where I live!
It is a beautifully written story, the sentences rolled like 'honey' on the page and any story that has me in tears for most of it warrants a second and even third re-read. Just can't wait for the third book now!!

A Lovely Story-Is Fact Stranger than Fiction?

Format:Kindle Edition
Another stunner from Ms McGrath takes us further in the story of the family of King Harold after he fell at the Battle of Hastings. This time we follow the life of his daughter, Gunnhild, which seems to belong to the realms of Hollywood sensationalism but is actually entirely true. Avoiding spoilers, we are taken from England to Brittany and back again, meeting new characters, some of whom are warm and friendly, others not so, yet all are perfectly rounded and believable.

What Ms McGrath excels at is bringing you into a Medieval household and making it feel as real and vital as one's own. The detail is extraordinary and vivid and so recognisable - people were no different to us, they still ate, drank and coveted clothes and sparkly things. Gunnhild's near obsession with a gown belonging to her aunt is touching and so very human, taking her from childhood to womanhood.

This novel can be read as a stand alone story and works well as such, but to fully appreciate the impact of the events that over-take the characters one really should read 'The Handfasted Wife' first. And why wouldn't you? It is just as brilliant as this novel.

Is The Swan-Daughter as Enjoyable a Read as The Handfasted Wife?

Can't make up my mind if I enjoyed it even more than the brilliant 'The Handfasted Wife', 5 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Swan-Daughter (Daughters of Hastings 2) (The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy) (Paperback)
Well, I've just finished Carol McGrath's second book 'The Swan-Daughter', in her 'Daughters of Hastings' trilogy, ' It's a real stunner. Can't make up my mind if I enjoyed it even more than the brilliant 'The Handfasted Wife'. I won't write more, as I feel some of the reviews give away too much of the story - but will say I was drawn into the medieval world from the first page. I rooted for Gunnhild's independence, and wholeheartedly believed in the characters who surrounded her, and the various plots as they unravelled (even though I know it's fiction based on historical facts).

Carol McGrath has converted me to enjoy this period which I was never really that much interested - a feat in itself!

Very much looking forward to 'The Betrothed Sister', and hope the trilogy will turn into a 'series'!

The Swan-Daughter Review

Another Great read on a Chaotic Period, 29 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Swan-Daughter (The Daughters of Hastings Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
This is the second of Carol McGrath's books on the daughters of King Harold (of arrow in the eye fame).

As in the Handfasted Wife, her first book in the series, this is a meticulously researched book. fortunately Carol has the gift of not letting this get in the way of telling a rollicking good story. Its a fascinating era to write about, and in Carol's capable hands, to read about as well.

Alternating between England and Brittany, in a time when the Doomsday Book was causing all of England to re-evalueate their lives, and with a cracking love story at its heart, this was a really good read.

Now I'm looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

A Lovely Story , Five Stars by Lizzie James

The Swan-Daughter is a lovely story. It tells the tale of Gunnhild, one of the daughters of King Harold of 1066 fame, and his first wife, Edith, known for her beauty as Edith Swanneck. Edith Swanneck’s story is told in 'The Handfasted Wife’. The Swan-Daughter is the second in the trilogy of The Daughters of Hastings.

Once again, the reader is taken back to the period of the early Normans, which is exquisitely conveyed through the attention to detail that Carol McGrath, a highly skilled researcher, has paid to the period.

The political events of the times are brought alive for the reader, and are a backdrop for a vivid depiction of the lives of the people at that time, of the castles and houses in which they lived, rich and poor, of their food, their clothes, of childbirth and medical care, of the role that religion plays in society and especially of the position of women in the Middle Ages. The constraints and obligations placed upon women at that time, particularly those born to the nobility, are graphically captured in the pages of the novel, and will be of great interest, I'm sure, to women of today.

Gunnhild was brought up in Wilton Abbey, and not surprisingly since she is an heiress of importance, the church is keen for her to stay in the nunnery. Gunnhild, however, has no desire for a religious life, nor for any sort of life within the precincts of a nunnery. She longs to escape, and she longs for love. The possibility of escape comes in the attractive form of the slightly older Count Alan of Richmond and Brittany, the red-headed knight who had once been a suitor for her mother’s hand.

Count Alan’s path crosses Gunnhild's on more than one occasion, and each time they exchange friendly banter. He then proposes that they elope. Gunnhild, feeling an attraction to him, and hearing his profession of love, sees this as her chance to escape the confines of Wilton and the unfairness of the malicious assistant prioress, Christina, and she jumps at the opportunity. Soon after, in a simple ceremony held late at night, conducted by an aged priest, Gunnhild and Alan are handfasted, and then flee to France and to Alan’s estates.

Alan proves a disappointment as a husband in many ways. But he has a brother, Niall. However, I won’t spoil the novel for you by going further into what happens in the story. Suffice it to say that beneath the vivid period detail, and the political intrigue in the background, this is a very human love story.