Tuesday 22 September 2015

Song at Dawn (The Troubadours Quartet Book 1) - Jean Gill

Winner of the Global Ebook Award for Best Historical Fiction

1150: Provence

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her underskirt. Her talent finds a patron in Aliénor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen's finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros.

Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne.

Set in the period following the Second Crusade, Jean Gill's spellbinding romantic thrillers evoke medieval France with breathtaking accuracy. The characters leap off the page and include amazing women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Ermengarda of Narbonne, who shaped history in battles and in bedchambers.

What did I think?

This is the first book in The Troubadours Quartet series and it certainly won't be my last - I absolutely loved it.  I do love historical fiction but I've never read anything set in the medieval period; I feel like I've learned so much along the way as all I ever knew of Eleanor of Aquitaine was that she was Richard the Lionheart's mother.  So this book was a real treat for me.

It's hard to get to grips with the medieval French names at first but it's surprising how familiar they become so quickly.  The story revolves around three very strong female characters - Estela, Aliénor and Ermengarda.  Estela is a mysterious young girl who Aliénor finds in a ditch by the roadside.  Aliénor includes Estela in her entourage as they travel to Narbonne.  Aliénor is the Queen of France and very dissatisfied with her husband, King Louis VII.  Ermengarda is the vivacious Vicomtesse of Narbonne, in whose colourful court this story is set.  Dragonetz is the man who links them as a knight, a troubadour and a lover.

There is so much going on in this fabulous book that I was so disappointed when it ended - there are Vikings, highland-style games, the first production of paper, with a sprinkling of treachery and jealousy in the court.  It's like Game of Thrones but with real places and real people from history - I felt like I was actually having a magical glimpse into the past.  I'm not going to spoil any of the story but I just have to mention an absolutely amazing scene when Estela is stuck in the bathtub - I applauded her resourcefulness although I found I was gripping my Nook a bit too tightly until she was safely out of the bathroom.

I enjoyed reading about Dragonetz and the moor, Al-Hisba.  I couldn't help but liken Al-Hisba to Morgan Freeman's character, Azeem, in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.  It must be so difficult for Al-Hisba being so far from home but bonds with Estela and Dragonetz through their music.  Dragonetz bought Al-Hisba but, in the style of Robin Hood and Azeem, treats him as a friend and equal.  There are moments in the book when I wondered whether Dragonetz was right to trust Al-Hisba and the way that this question is answered is simply magnificent.  

Jean Gill's storytelling had me engrossed from start to finish with a very cleverly timed ending that ensured the next book in the series is an absolute must read.

I received this e-book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

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