(2005) Fiona Avery, Pyr, US$25.00, hrdbk, 460pp, ISBN 1-591-02312-2
This is a historical novel with a twist. While it draws upon real figures that lived around the year of 1240 in France and draws upon events of the time as a historic backdrop, it also incorporates an element of myth and mystery. The book centres on Princess Isabelle of France, the Crown Rose of the title who is sure that three mysterious women, namely the Order of the Rose, who dwell within the palace hold some kind of mystical secret.
As the book progresses, the mysteries surrounding them are revealed, as is the story behind a man that Isabelle comes to love. Isabelle refuses to act as a typical princess would, and her mother despairs of her ever finding someone to marry, with her showing no interest in the princes she is introduced to while Isabelle embraces working with her hands as well as an interest in a religious way of life. In her childhood, she meets a man who saves her from an attack using methods she does not understand. The memory stays with her and years later she is sure she encounters the same man - an encounter which will shape her life...
The book also draws upon the politics at the time and the role that religion played in that era, with a great source of concern for the palace being the recovery of religious artefacts that have been either stolen or sold on. Isabelle's brother, King Louis, is charged with seeing to it that these matters are attended to with the aid of his brothers and palace aides, but there are people within his company that are not to be trusted. The book benefits from distinctive characters and situations, and the mystery surrounding the Order of the Rose gives the reader an incentive to read on as piece by piece, their history and heritage is fleshed out.
The historical element of the book provides a strong backdrop for the reader to relate to, as does the politics of the time and how they come to affect the characters in question. What sets the book apart from many a historical work of fiction is the balance of intrigue, mysticism and romance. Another interesting addition to the book is the author's notes at the end, explaining where she received the inspiration for her characters, who the real historical figures were and how the author researched events of the period of history her book is set in.
The author's interpretation of what life was like in that era is well pieced together, and while the mysticism in the book is a welcome change from a straightforward historical drama, it is also to the writer's credit that it is not something that is overplayed, and therefore does not detract from other characters or the events in the story.
I'm not all that familiar with the sword and sorcery genre so the fact that the story takes place in a non-fictional setting was useful in giving me a starting point to relate to. As this is a fairly long book, I was pleased that it provided me with the motivation to read on because of the way the cast of characters was introduced - it was clear that there was more to each character than just their role at the palace or their connections with the royal family.
One of my concerns when the magical element was first hinted at was quite how well it would work and how it was going to fit in with the nature of the story in hand. As I mentioned previously it wasn't overused and another welcome aspect was that it wasn't the answer to everything. In my opinion, I feel this book would appeal to anyone who is interested in historical and romantic fiction, and perhaps would like to introduce themselves to the sword and sorcery genre.
See also Julia Haves' review of The Crown Rose.
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