A Silver Medalist in Historical Fiction for the 2011 (IPPY) Independent Publisher Book Awards, N. Gemini Sasson’s Isabeau opens with Isabeau, daughter of Philip IV of France, marrying Edward II of England, who is quite obviously bored by the whole affair and disinterested in his 13 year-old bride. Within a few short weeks, Isabeau (Isabella) discovers her groom is enamoured of a certain Piers de Gaveston, although in her naivety, she does not understand the true ramifications.
It takes Edward 4 years to consummate the marriage and Isabeau quickly becomes pregnant. It is clear the King is doing his duty, nothing more. He is in deep mourning for Gaveston, who has met his death at the hands of the King’s cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. The barons, after Gaveston mocked authority repeatedly, summarily tried and executed him when he returned to England during his third exile. It is at this time, Isabeau meets Sir Roger Mortimer, a married father of 8 children, for the first time.
With the introduction of Roger Mortimer, Isabeau is told in first-person narrative from two points of views: Isabeau and Mortimer’s. Sasson clearly indicates in chapter headings which is the narrator. A veteran of war in Ireland and Gascony, Mortimer is recalled by Edward to relieve a siege in Scotland and the battle of Bannockburn is fought. The English suffer a massacre and Mortimer is captured. He is released upon his oath to deliver the body of Edward’s young nephew to the King.
Sasson’s descriptive narrative is blunt, bringing the brutality of life and death in the 14th century sharply into focus:
“I (Roger Mortimer) shifted in my saddle, my arms and legs flaming sore. The ride to Berwick had been long and hard. The sun so searing hot it felt as though my flesh might melt from my bones….Flies swarmed around the canvas-wrapped lump draped over its back. The corpse was beginning to stink. Perhaps it would have been better had I not survived the battle. Or had been ransomed instead. Anything but this.
Bloody Christ, I had not asked to do this. It would earn me no favors.”
Sasson skillfully skips interluding periods of time to target key occurrences. Mortimer discovers the King’s new sycophant is Hugh Despenser the Younger. who has ensnared the King’s affections and gains great influence. Despenser’s sway eventually becomes corrupt power, tearing apart the marriage of Isabeau, who supported her husband despite miserable neglect, and Edward. An authority over a weak King that will see Isabeau’s children, income and lands taken from her.
Mortimer, in the meantime, is incarcerated in the Tower for rebelling against his King; Isabeau manages to facilitate his escape surreptitiously. Edward II is an ineffectual ruler and conflicts churn in England. Finally, Isabeau is given permission to travel to her brother, Charles, King of France, to negotiate a peace settlement. She meets up once again with Mortimer. A daring plan forms and an intimate relationship blooms. Isabeau and Mortimer have a long road ahead of them to regain what they each value most and neither are willing to compromise on their objectives.
Sasson has spun a gritty, yet personal, saga. As mentioned earlier, she doesn’t gloss over the more distasteful aspects of 14th century life, but she simultaneously imbues her characters with believable emotions, desires, goals and passions. This makes for a novel that truly pulls you into the era.
Isabeau – A Novel of Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer is the first of two novels. The tale commenced in Isabeau continues with The King Must Die (which I’ve already purchased).
N. Gemini Sasson is an Independent Author. Her novels are available on Amazon. Another Indie gem, I’m pleased to say.
MY RATING: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)
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