Judith Arnopp’s historical fiction novel Peaceweaver commences in the troubled years leading up to 1066, a pivotal year in English history.
Eadgyth’s childhood is a happy one, with memories of family, warm luxurious homes, obedient servants and plentiful food. This all comes to an abrupt end when her father offends King Edward by expressing his opinions regarding the infiltration of Normans into Edward’s Court and is exiled to Ireland.
Eadgyth, her servant, Anwen, and family flee to King Diarmaid’s Court. Ireland is a dreary place, weather and accommodations in particular, and Eadgyth has difficulties adjusting. Her father bonds with his old enemy, the Welsh, against Edward. The price for this alliance? Eadgyth.
Eadgyth is swiftly married to Gruffydd ap Llewelyn and dropped on the shores of Wales, along with her faithful servant Anwen, never to see her father or mother again. She is 13 and her husband 50. The Welsh language is foreign, as are their customs.
Gruffydd is a tyrant, disliked by his wife, servants and subjects alike. A once congenial man, he is embittered by the death of his first wife in childbirth. He shuns his youngest son. Gruffydd spends the majority of his time in field campaigning, for which his wife and household is grateful.
Eadgyth gradually learns the native tongue and makes the best of her situation, integrating herself into the Welsh way of life. She bears Gruffydd two sons, who become the focus of her life.
She is grieved to discover her husband’s infidelities. A illicit love of her own grows, one which torments her soul but proves irresistible. An affair doomed to end in tragedy and Eadyth’s confinement, her life granted only due to Gruffydd’s need of her father’s support. Upon her father’s death, Gruffydd derives great joy in detailing her forthcoming death.
Deliverance from Gruffydd comes via Harold of Wessex who attacks Gruffydd’s stronghold. Eadyth is brought to Harold’s palace, but she yearns for her Welsh friends and country she came to love.
Much lies ahead for Eadyth: uncertainty, love, terror, grief, loss and survival post-Battle of Hastings. More than most women experience in a lifetime, yet alone a decade.
Arnopp’s novel Peaceweaver is set in a time in history when very little is known about the lives of women. Few extant records remain and women, seldom more than chattels, rarely merit inclusion.
Arnopp had the challenge, as well as the freedom, of working from few facts to create the possible world of Eadgyth. She has done an admirable job of creating a woman who sought what was almost impossible: the basic needs of safety, shelter, food, the ability to nurture children and reciprocal love. In many ways, Peaceweaver mirrors a lack of these necessities still present in today’s world.
Peaceweaver is a richly written historical fiction novel where the reader steps into a strange, but faintly familiar world. Characters are realistic and draw you into their stories.
Peaceweaver is a historical fiction novel I recommend for its authentic feel, excellent writing and well-paced plot.
MY RATING: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)
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