(2005) Fiona Avery, Pyr, $25.00, hrdbk, 460pp, ISBN 1-591-02312-2
Although you may not know the name Fiona Avery, you will almost certainly be familiar with her work. She has penned a considerable number of comics including The Amazing Spiderman, Tomb Raider, Witchblade and X-Men, and her first graphic novel Witchblade:Obakemono reached #2 in the US graphic novel chart in July 2002. She has also contributed to television productions including the successful Babylon 5. Her short story "Luring the Tiger Out of the Mountains" received an honourable mention in 2001's The Year's Best Science Fiction published by St Martin's Press.
The Crown Rose is her first novel and revolves around Isabelle, Princess of France in the 13th century. Isabelle is the only daughter of the late King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche, and resides in the Palais with her brothers, including her oldest brother, now King Louis IX. Watching over the family are the Sisters of the Order of the Rose, who have been with the family as servants and companions since the death of the late King. The book tells the story of Isabelle's childhood and progression into womanhood. We first meet Isabelle at only nine years of age and already she is very much the modern woman, resisting the pressure to make a marriage of advantage, often the fate of Princes and Princesses in times both past and present. Instead, Isabelle is intent on making her own decisions, and mistakes, with the aim of living a productive life, contributing to her country and the people of France. At key points, Isabelle 'encounters' a mysterious man who becomes her icon and her destiny, but who is always just beyond her reach.
Fiona Avery studied as an archaeologist and has a degree in Cultural Anthropology from Indiana University at Bloomington. She is a writer with a passion for history and spent over a year researching the history of 13th century France to enable her to draw from actual historical events. The result is a charming and believable, though fantastic, novel encompassing love, romance, war, political intrigue and the legendary order of the Knights Templar. Set in a time of deep and profound faith but a time of change, conflict between devotees of the old and new ways impacts on everyone, young and old, rich and poor. Her love of history shines through the text as she expresses a true understanding and love for her characters, particularly Isabelle. Although the characters, most of whom are drawn from history, about which you are reading are royalty and noblemen, there is a reality to them which grounds each as a normal, human being, with all of the concerns and uncertainties of life that echo as strongly today as in years gone by. There is a heart-warming strength in the bond between family and friends both in times of joy and times of crisis.
Binding the story of Isabelle's life is the mystery of Isabelle's 'saviour'. The mystery man who is there for her in times of great need then disappears, not to be seen again until a need for his presence arises. Then, there are the Sisters, their seemingly fortuitous arrival and complete devotion to the Royal family. Avery has written an incredibly well paced novel, providing you with just enough information to keep you hooked but not so much as to eliminate surprises which keep you reading to the final page. The characters are real that you feel a genuine concern for their fate, joy when they are happy and despair when faced with tragedy. Avery has managed to take people whose position puts them out of reach of all but a very few and has given them a sense of reality to which anyone can relate. The Crown Rose is a wonderful, magical, entertaining, heart-warming and tragic novel. It is a breath of fresh air, a truly original work which is a great pleasure to read.
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