Top critical review
Really didn't do it for me, and I really can't call it 'Historical' Fiction.
Reviewed in the United States on August 10, 2019
I really could not get on with this book. I understand its Young Adult, so aimed at teenagers, but even then. It was so annoyingly repetitive, constantly telling instead of showing. We don't need to be told 5 or 6 times how pretty and kind Izzy is, how sacrificial, how hardworking and decent Cole is. How much his family suffered. We got it. Just really, stop telling us.
Even the characterization isn't great. Isabel is almost sickly sweet: she supposedly hates violence so much it makes her sick, and yet does not even bat an eyelid when her manservant attacks guards in front of her to get their horses.
The villain is basically a caricature. Most of his actions were inexplicable, or just so exaggeratedly evil it was almost cartoonish: he also felt very generic and similar to a lot of other villains in this series. Complete with his own personal torture dungeon, cos' he really loves torturing people. There does seem to be this ever-present and slightly disturbing fixation with torture in every novel in this series.
As Historical Fiction, this story was, I'm sorry to say, atrocious. It described as a work of 'Historical Recreation but the only way it resembles actual history is that there was an event called the Peasant's Revolt that took place in 1382. That's where the parallels end.
Worse still though, the story was with sloppy historical inaccuracies, inconsistencies and lazy misconceptions. That all peasants were dirt poor, wore rags and were starving. In fact, there were considerable variations in wealth among the Medieval English peasantry, because 'peasant' really just meant someone who lived in the country and wasn't gentry. There were basically two types of peasants: the villeins who were tied to the land and had to pay certain fines and dues for marriage, could not leave etc.
Then there were Free peasants, who held their lands by rent, could buy and sell land, did not have to pay fines and could move around. They could be pretty well off. In this novel though they're all lumped together into one stereotypical and homogeneous mass. They pay rent, yet apparently haven’t the rights of Free Tenants.
We're continually told they're poor as dirt: and yet they all have beds (pretty expensive) and some even their own weaving equipment. We're told that they struggle to feed themselves yet have baskets full of vegetables in their homes.
We're told they'll starve over winter because they can't hunt: why not just slaughter their nice fattened pigs like actual Medieval peasants did? They throw peat on their fires: when they live right next to a flippin' great forest. Also, one of the villager's wives has the name Wilfred. Which is a male name, and I'm pretty sure always has been.
Oh, and the peasant workforce living on Isabel's land were so incompetent that they don't even know about crop rotation- a system which commonly used by European farmers for nearly 1000 years- and literally relied on her to buy food for them for the winter.
I mean honestly: what kind of farmer sucks so badly at farming that he has to have his landlord give HIM money to buy basic necessities?
No. Just no. Medieval peasants only tended to starve if there was a crop failure or natural disaster or something, but for some unknown reason in this novel they're totally dependent on the heroine like- everything.
The most egregious historical inaccuracy though was the claim that it was considered to be a 'mortal sin' and 'heresy' for peasants to try and better themselves and rise through the ranks. NO. IT. WAS. NOT. There are actual historical examples of peasants who did just that: rising to gentry within a generation or two through advantageous marriages or buying land.
It’s a total misunderstanding and oversimplification of Medieval religion and social attitudes: and honestly, I think Catholics would take issue at such an interpretation of what constitutes Mortal Sin.
I think authors ought to make some effort to acquaint themselves with these things before writing novels set in the Middle Ages.
Also: if you're going to write battle scenes, please acquaint yourselves with weaponry and tactics from the period. I'll grant that most of the details were right: but there were a couple of silly errors that really let the side down.
Like expensive and heavy weapons breaking after a single use (as if they were made of plastic or something), and just being left. Two minutes research on Google tells me that Pikes, a weapon mentioned in this novel, were spears on poles that could be up to twenty feet long. Common sense would suggest they couldn't be used on horseback, like the soldiers do here.
I do commend Mrs Hedlund's desire to write clean and wholesome stories for teens, but this really didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm not the right age group, but the whole story just felt rushed. I'd like to see a more historical research as well if the stories are going to be set in a real historical time and place or incorporate actual historical events.
I say this because so many people are likely to take these as an accurate representation of the past or as 'fact'.