The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland
Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 320pp
(Received for an honest review from Berkeley NAL)
Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound
Cecelia Holland on the WEB: website
During the Third Crusade, deaths from fever and starvation are common, but King Richard the Lionheart has a secret ally against these impassable enemies - a mysterious healer by the name of Edythe. Of all the women in Richard's life, she is the least known... and perhaps the most powerful.
Sent to Richard by his mother, Eleanor, Edythe is first thought to be a spy. Shes does have her fair share of secrets... owing not only her station in Richard's camp, but her very life, to the enigmatic Queen Mother. But when Edythe's medical knowledge saves Richard from a grave illness, she becomes an indispensable member of this camp - even as his loyal soldiers, suspicious of her talent for warding off death, call her witch...
Historical fiction writer Cecelia Holland delivers once again with her latest book, The King's Witch. Holland's simple and authoritative style brings the Crusades to life for the reader. Picking up where The Secret of Eleanor left off and taking readers into the Holy Land, The King's Witch is full of period detail and multi-layered characters. Impeccably researched and full of political intrigue, secrets, and romance, this is a novel historical fiction fans won't want to miss!
Richard the Lionheart is about to embark on the Third Crusade to the Holy Land and has intentions to take the holy city of Jerusalem. But there are many hardships along the way including illness and starvation. Richard however, has a healer traveling with him that helps to combat the ravages of war. Edythe was sent to him by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was insistent on knowing what her children were up to. Believed to be a spy, Edythe isn't trusted by Richard or his men until her medical knowledge saves Richard's life. But there are still rumors and whispers among the men, calling Edythe a witch. Will she be able to find her place in Richard's camp, find the secrets to her heritage and maybe even love?
Cecelia Holland has written over thirty historical fiction novels and is considered by many as a master in the genre. The King's Witch was my first experience with Holland's writing and there was a lot of things I liked about it. Holland writes in a very smooth and unassuming style. She isn't too over the top or dramatic, which some historical fiction writers tend to be. Her descriptions are clear and concise and it's obvious the amount of research that went into the writing of this novel. Holland's ability to take a little known woman in the life of King Richard and make her the main character of her novel is well done and I felt as though I had a history lesson as well as read a good book when I had finished it.
That's not to say that I didn't have any issues with it. If I had one criticism it would be the sheer amount of political and historical characters that the reader is introduced to in the beginning of the book. I realize the need to set the stage for the story and that the author is only trying to bring the reader up to speed on what was going on but it was a little overwhelming. Once the book settled into a more natural groove I enjoyed it very much. I think sometimes historical fiction writers tend to overstate the obvious and I think that was what was going on with the beginning of this one.
I really liked Edythe as a character. She was resourceful and intelligent. In the 13th century there were some female healers, but they were few and far between and in most cases not very respected. I thought Holland did a great job of developing Edythe's character throughout the novel. At first she is suspected of being a spy and rightly so. It is obvious that Eleanor was using Edythe to find out what Johanna and Richard were up to, but I don't think she had sinister intentions. However, as the story continues Edythe comes into her own a little bit. She is able to show her knowledge of herbs and medicines and ends up saving Richard's life, which earns her the respect she is so deserving of. I thought Holland's portrayal of Edythe was well written and showed her growth throughout.
The romance between Edythe and Rouquin is both interesting and believable. Rouquin is a knight. He has sworn his allegiance to Richard and is very loyal to him, but he has some secrets of his own. I thought he was a good counterpart to Edythe and made a very good love interest for her. He was a bastard prince who didn't have a lot of options as to what he did with his life, but he made the most of it and ended up coming across as a confident and resourceful man. Edythe's reactions to him are simplistic and came across as very real and heartfelt. I think this was one of the most interesting aspects of the novel.
My favorite part though, would have to be Holland's masterful descriptions of the political climate and the Holy Land itself. I have always had a great interest in the Crusades and I felt that this book really hit the spot with that. It gave the reader a real sense of the devastation of Acre and Jaffa and transported them directly to the sandy streets. It brought the history of this time period to life in a way that I thought was uncommon and unconventional. Richard the Lionheart is a very prominent Plantagenet and he is very well known, but I still felt as if I were learning more about him in this novel.
Overall it was a very well written and researched novel and the author did an amazing job of bring the Crusades to the forefront. I would recommend this one to all of my historical fiction readers, especially those interested in this time period or Richard the Lionheart. A very well written novel, with a complex main character and tons of rich period detail. Not one you want to pass up!
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I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
Cecelia Holland is one of the world's most highly acclaimed and respected historical novelists. She is the author of thirty previous historical novels in a career that spans over thirty years. She lives in Eureka, California.