Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Burning Candle by Lisa J. Yarde

Love is for women who have choices. She has none. 

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert's secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie. Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal. 

After Lisa J. Yarde's stunning success with her novels, Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy, comes a powerful story set in 11th century France. Isabel de Vermandois is a very young girl whose cruel, abusive, parents betroth her to the Comte de Meulan, a 50 year old man she has never met. She fights the union and is beaten and starved until she cooperates and the betrothal is formalized. Thereafter, she is sent to Paris to live with her uncle the King until the marriage can take place. It is there she encounters her future husband and another man, William de Warenne, the earl of Surrey. 

When the Comte suffers a serious injury and it is possible he may die, she is rushed to his side where he seeks to marry Isabel right away. Despite her prior reluctance to wed him, he promises her love and security in exchange for bearing him sons and not to bed her until she menstruates. Believing him to be kind, she warms to him and they soon wed in a small ceremony, despite the fact they have not received papal dispensation. 

When Isabel’s parents learn of the marriage, they withhold her dower lands and urge Isabel to remain a virgin until the papal blessing is received. Despite all this, she is drawn to her husband and soon finds herself in his bed. For a while, they are content, but their happiness erodes when she learns of her husband’s numerous illegitimate sons and his unusually close relationship with his clerk, Thorold, who is her nemesis. 

While Robert is often absent from home for long periods, William de Warrenne reappears and she is obliged to nurse him to health. Although the relationship is tense, there is no mistaking the attraction William and Isabel feel for each other. Isabel’s life becomes more entrenched in turmoil - kidnapping, forbidden love, betrayal, long buried secrets, and the harsh realities of everyday life during the medieval period grace the pages of this story about a long-forgotten countess and woman of history. 

Author Lisa Yarde has penned an authentic, compelling story without sugar-coating the realities and hardships women endured in medieval times. What I liked was that despite Isabel’s husband’s secrets and lies, which are revealed bit by bit, and all the hurt and humiliation she faced, she remained a dutiful wife, a woman to be admired and respected by readers. 

It is evident that a great deal of time went into researching the countess’s life and that of those around her. As the characters’ lives intertwine and their problems seem insurmountable, I found myself becoming engrossed in the many plot twists and unpredictability of the story. The prose is beautiful, flowing, easy to enjoy. Lisa J. Yarde knows how to extract time and place, people and situations with great skill. Part historical fiction, part biographical, this novel was a joy to read. The story is compelling and well crafted, written in an effortless, easy to enjoy manner. I was hard-pressed to put it down.

From History and Women

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