Cécile d’Armagnac and Catherine Pembroke first found each other through letters. The sisters then battled complications while on the run— Cécile, pregnant with a baby from Edward, the Black Prince, a relationship consummated to save her sister, fled with Gillet de Bellegarde, a disgraced knight she grew to love. Meanwhile, Catherine fell for the ever-shy Lord Simon Marshall of Wexford, and together, they managed to escape the Earl of Salisbury and his deadly schemes.
Now, in The Gilded Crown, both sisters are happily married to their respective suitors. The mission that Gillet was presented in The Order of the Lily must now come to fruition while he resides in an English-occupied France. Meanwhile, Cécile strives to ensure the world, especially a mysterious woman named Adéle, does not find out baby Jean Petit is actually the rightful heir of Edward. Catherine, meanwhile, in Edinburgh after the safe return of Lady Scotland, is still fostering baby Gabriel, the son of her former maid, Anaïs. However, Catherine discovers a surprise of her own: she’s pregnant with Simon’s child.
Like the other books in the series, the two sisters and their journeys, though taken separately, intertwine in unexpected ways. The Duc Jean de Berri, Cécile’s former suitor, hopes to convince Gillet to entice the Albrets of Bordeaux back to a French throne. Unfortunately, he also assaults Cécile as soon as Gillet leaves. Cécile’s misfortune continues on the way to Bordeaux–she nearly loses her cousin Armand-Amanieu d’Albret to the Black Plague, is captured by no other than the mysterious Adéle, who in turn, kidnaps Jean Petit and takes him to Scotland. In Scotland, meanwhile, Catherine has gotten to know Lady Agnes Dunbar (also known as Black Agnes) and discovers they share a common enemy. The question is whether this foe can be stopped—and if Jean Petit can be kept from danger.
Catherine and Cécile are forced to further develop the maturity they sharpened in the previous books—but this time, with unexpected losses. Their paths remain uncertain, and it’s unclear where the next book in the series, The Traitor’s Noose, will take them.
The authors are very skilled at weaving in authentic historical texture to an engaging plot with a lot of unexpected twists. The historical realities, including the treatment of women, like in the previous installments, is very brutal—particularly Cécile’s assault and capture. These parts of the plot can, at times, weigh the story down; however, they also add a visceral element of suspense. The book is not without its light-hearted moments either, particularly in the playful banter between brothers Roderick and Simon, and the very Scottish maid, dubbed, ‘English Mary.’ Readers will also delight in seeing pet antics between Cécile’s cats and an unprepared papillon—indicating that the authors’ authenticity stretches beyond historical accuracy.
This series is suited to a historical fiction audience looking for an authentic dip into Medieval European life. However, to get the full impact of the overall story arc, readers will do well to start with the first two books in the series before getting their hands on this one.