‘Winter Siege/ The Siege Winter’ is Ariana Franklin’s (Diana Norman) final novel and was completed after her death by her daughter Samantha Norman.
The novel tells the story of the terrible winter of 1141 in the middle of the battles between King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Matilda for the English crown. The narrator of the story is a dying monk relating the events to his scribe in 1180.
The story begins a few years before 1141 when an 11 year old girl Emma, living in the Fens, is chased down, raped and left for dead. The monk who led the attack on her was attracted to her red hair. A mercenary named Gwil (who has a past to atone for) finds the girl barely alive and helps her recover. She has no memory of her past and a desire to dress as a boy. Gwil names her Penda, teaches her to be an expert archer like himself and they travel together as uncle and nephew.
They eventually end up in a castle with the Empress Matilda, under siege by King Stephen and his forces. The chatelaine of the castle is 15 year old Maud – a force to be reckoned with.
While initially Gwil was trying to track down the mad monk who attacked Penda, it seems that the hunter has now become the hunted. Gwil lives in fear of the monk finding Penda again.
The story was beautifully told and one of the best historical fiction novels I have read. I can’t wait to read more of Ariana Franklin’s novels and I’m hoping that Samantha Norman can continue the family tradition.
The characters were brilliant and most of them really came to life for me. The way the novel was structured was excellent as well with the periodic reminders of who was actually telling the story.
This is one of my favourite periods of history and I fell in love with it through Ellis Peters’ Cadfael novels.
The next Ariana Franklin novel on my list is ‘City of Shadows’.
Book Published 2014