Merrimon Book Reviews

John Gower and the world as depicted in Medieval times (from the Vox Clamantis)
John Gower and the world as depicted in Medieval times (from the Vox Clamantis)

The Order of the Garter was formed by Edward III, perhaps in imitation of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.

King Edward III

From Medieval Book Reviews
The Harlot's Daughter
The Harlot's Daughter by Blythe Gifford
by Blythe Gifford

What is truth? Power, Law or Love?

King Edward III called Lady Solay daughter. Today, the whispering and mocking court of King Richard calls her the harlot’s daughter. Once banished from court, Lady Solay now returns to court in an attempt to curry and money. Her mother Alys, the former mistress of the late King, coaxes her daughter in the ways of seduction and how to win favors from kings. The disgraced Alys knows her daughter's success at court remains the only hope for her family's economic survival. Despite the murmurs, Solay holds her head high. She must focus on the king, the supreme power and law of the land. Her family depends on her.

Lord Justin Lamont, a lawyer, works with the Council and the Duke of Gloucester in an attempt to reign in the power of the king and prevent the misuse of Treasury money for extravagant favors. For him, Solay represents all the extravagance, corruption and debauchery rampant in the court and yet her beauty and spirit attract him. Can she protect King Richard by spying on Lord Justin’s plans while showering him with her attentions? Has she learned her mother’s lessons well enough to please both Lord Justin and King Richard? In an effort to control the treasury from the King’s decadence, Lord Justin must keep a careful eye on all those seeking the King’s favor. Threatened by each other’s political roles, they are forced together by the King, promised oaths and bargains. Justin and Solay find much more is at risk as they are drawn together in a risky dance of secrets, politics and law --- their hearts. When King and Council war with one another for ultimate power, can Justin and Solay’s growing love for one another protect them from all the conflicts or will they be forced to turn against each other in a bid for personal safety and ideals?

In The Harlot’s Daughter, Blythe Gifford’s imagination opens a window into the details of medieval history, blending details from historical and literary records with fictional characters whose romance makes history come alive for the modern reader. Based on Joan the daughter of Alice Perrers the infamous mistress of King Edward III, Lady Solay’s encounters and conversations with Lord Justin reveal riveting philosophical questions underlying the Parliament’s action to place the King under the control of the Council of Lords Appellant. What is truth? Is truth based on power or law? Can absolute power ever achieve justice? How does justice apply to those motivated by need as compared to an ideal? Does compassion supercede the law? Can an individual medieval woman receive justice or compassion from king, the law or love? Pitted against each other by their opposing ideals and needs, yet drawn to each other by love growing more passionate, can Solay and Justin reveal their ideals and secret vulnerabilities? If so, what are the ramifications for them and the court?

Blythe Gifford’s medieval historical romance is grounded in both medieval history and literary traditions from the larger plot elements to the finest details. Medieval enthusiasts will find a special delight in the marriage conditions such as the one Justin places on Lady Solay with the reminiscences of medieval tales (see The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell as well as the versions of the "Tale of Florent" told by John Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Chaucer’s "Wife of Bath’s Tale."), yet transformed by setting this convention within the context of a concrete historical event and the romance genre. True to history and literature, John Gower makes an appearance at Richard’s court. Even more fine in detail than the time setting of the liturgical calendar, a minor character is mentioned as reading a book to create a contrast to Lady Solay‘s temperament and interest in astrology. Medieval enthusiasts will remember that William Caxton brought the printing press to England at a date later than the time frame encompassed by this book and therefore books, as we think of them, were rare, expensive and likely to have originated from the court. To the reader’s delight, even this most minute detail echoes the suspense and literary themes of the romance! Blythe Gifford‘s The Harlot’s Daughter romance easily transports the reader into the time and the romance and yet this is a romance that Medieval enthusiasts might choose to keep on their shelves and reread ---- this is a romance that continues to give and delight after the first reading!

Publisher: Harlequin Historical (October 2007)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Medieval Book Reviews
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