Winter Siege – Ariana Franklin
Gwil, a battle-hardened mercenary, is horrified to stumble across a little girl close to death. She has been attacked, just one more victim in a winter of atrocities. Clutching a sliver of parchment, she is terrified – but Gwil knows what he must do. He will bring her back to life. He will train her to fight. And together, they will hunt down the man who did this to her.
But danger looms wherever they turn. As castle after castle falls victim to siege, the icy Fens ring with rumours of a madman, of murder – and of a small piece of parchment with a terrible secret to tell, the cost of which none of them could have imagined…
I tend not to read too many historical novels, however, if they were all as good as Winter Siege then it could easily become my favourite genre. I loved this book and became totally caught up within the story as I was transported back to the 12th Century and the days of knights and castles.
We follow the story of Gwil, a mercenary who is an accomplished archer. He has been abandoned by his paymasters but he was already wearying of their company as their actions had not been in line with Gwil’s own moral code.
Gwil finds the shattered body of a young girl, she has been savagely attacked and left for dead yet her will to survive drags her back to life. With no memory of her attack nor of her life before the incident she travels with Gwil as he avows to himself (and his God) that he will avenge her attack.
At heart Winter Siege is a story of the friendship between Gwil and Penda (Gwil renames her after her attack). Yet the story plays against the backdrop of King Stephen’s attempts to repel his cousin (the Empress Matilda) as she tries to wrest control of the English Throne from him.
The siege in the title takes place at Kenniford Castle in Oxfordshire. The castle is a strategic stronghold and the home of Maud who, when we first meet her, is being married against her will to a prominent knight. This rushed and unwelcome marriage is to secure a political alliance that will protect both her and Kenniford from King Stephen and show allegiance to Matilda.
As the events in Winter Siege unfold we find Gwil and Penda arrive at Kenniford and the stories of our key players become entwined. This is very much a tale of people, friendships, politics and war. Ariana Franklin tells the story with an easy readable style. The characters are jumping from the page as they are expertly realised and it is impossible not to get caught up in Gwil’s quest to avenge Penda’s attack.
I tend to avoid historical novels as they become too caught up in the politics or the period at the cost of keeping the story flowing. Winter Siege stuck the perfect balance between background and story. There are not too many earls, dukes, knights and knaves that could confuse a casual reader – just a focus on telling a tale which will entertain and enjoy.
Fans of historical drama are in for a treat, fans of a good story this is for you too. Review score of 4/5 from a genre I tend not to read should reflect how much I enjoyed this story – I actually wish the book had been longer but all good things must end.