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REVIEW: Innocence Unveiled by Blythe Gifford

Dear Ms. Gifford,

book review Your name was on my list of authors to try so when I spotted your latest release and realized it was about weavers in Flanders during the middle ages, I decided to try it. Hey, no knights, different setting, middle class, little used historical incident – I’m there. True it has a bastard hero but at least he’s not hooking up with a Saxon maiden after Hastings.

I like that you sprinkle information about women, weaving and the battle brewing between Edward III and Philip of France throughout the novel. No massive info dumps that bring the action to a dead halt is always a plus. I felt I got a good idea about the daily life of an unmarried woman in 1337 Ghent – very restricted – and how this contrasts with the greater freedoms that Katrine has as an agent for her absent father.

Weaving is her life. She takes great pride in it and how good she is at it. She’s managed their shop since her father was interned during his trip to England to try and obtain the English wool that is their lifeblood. This helps me to understand the lengths to which she’s willing to go to get wool from any source she can find and how quickly she agrees to Renard’s proposals.

Renard lives up to his name and all medieval people knew the legend of the wily fox who promises everything but who rarely delivers. Renard knows he’s got Katrine backed into a corner. She’s desperate for the wool needed to keep her weavers busy and willing to allow him into her shop. It’s a perfect place for him to lay low as he scouts the local feelings about the wool embargo imposed by his cousin King Edward III and whether or not this will lead the Flemish merchant class to force their Count to side with England rather than France.

Renard sense Katrine is hiding secrets from him but still feels he can control her. What he’s having trouble with is controlling himself. But as a bastard who’s lived on the outside, subject to the whims of others, knowing he has no land or home to offer anyone, he’s determined to obtain the promised Bishopric dangled in front of him by his cousin. Once he has that, he’ll answer to no man. I like that he’s determined never to father an illegitimate child. He knows the stigma of being a princesses’ love child and won’t do that to any innocent baby.

You did a good job explaining the politics of the plot and showing the wretchedness of a city caught in the cross hairs of two rulers thinking only of their own desires for land and power. What do they care about the people who starve? Even though this is the land of his beloved Queen, Edward is more than willing to cut them off at the knees to defeat France.

I like that Katrine is shown as a smart, capable woman but also one well aware of how her red hair is seen by others – as the sign of the devil and loose women. Religion was so much a part of daily medieval life and you nicely incorporate it so matter of factly into the thoughts, actions and feelings of the characters. Lust and desire aren’t just feelings but also signs of the fall of man and original sin – for which women are held responsible. I enjoyed Katrine’s theological debates with herself and her ultimate answer to Eve’s actions.

What didn’t work so well for me were the repeated misunderstandings between Katrine and Renard. And by repeated I mean the same misunderstandings are reheated and served to us time and time again. Plus Renard’s anger that Katrine withheld the truth pissed me off. He lied to her from the beginning, knew she was not being completely honest with him, has this pointed out by others and yet he’s still in a snit about it. The one note villain who conveniently tells the truth just when it’s needed to save the day was a disappointment as well.

I liked a lot of things in the book and as usual am delighted whenever an author utilizes a different setting. Middle class characters are a boon – we can’t all be lords and ladies. I just wish the conflicts hadn’t been rehashed and the villain’s motivation obvious from his first appearance. B-

Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

5 Comments

  1. Kimber An
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 08:00:27

    Great review! I’ve been up to my gills in cowboys and Scottish kilts in the Historical Romance aisle lately. This is a welcome change.

    ReplyReply

  2. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 09:10:50

    If you’re not too sick of kilts, I noticed that the first historical Blaze novel will be released by Harlequin next month.

    I just started another medieval today and so far…so good.

    ReplyReply

  3. Susan/DC
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 12:14:55

    A very good medieval with a middle class heroine engaged in the wool trade is Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Marsh King’s Daughter. It may be OOP (it’s from 1999) but it should be easy to find. As with the book reviewed here, it shows how a woman of the time could create a world with a measure of self-control, but in the end men rule society and she is subject to them whims. Chadwick is one of my favorites for medievals, as she writes detailed, believable characters of their time — she engages in neither infodump nor disneyfied medieval-lite.

    ReplyReply

  4. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 18:23:31

    I don’t know why I don’t pull out some of the Elizabeth Chadwick books I own – and I know I have this one tucked away somewhere. Maybe it’s because each month Jane sends me 10-15 new books, plus all the ones I buy plus all the other ones I already have plus….but thanks for bringing her back to mind.

    ReplyReply

  5. Keishon
    Jun 17, 2008 @ 13:44:13

    I don't know why I don't pull out some of the Elizabeth Chadwick books I own

    I own all of her books too and really should read her. I did plunk down some bucks for another historical fiction writer, can’t recall the name but those books are nice and big and will take a month to read.

    ReplyReply

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