Fans of this widely admired and masterfully written series, Lions and Lilies, will not be disappointed with its concluding, volume, The Traitor’s Noose. The impressive scholarship, riveting dramatic scenes, and sweet romances that characterized the previous books are on full display here as well. The co-authors note, “…this is not a historic account but a ‘medieval adventure with a dash of romance, using history as its background. We have tried at all times to remain faithful and accurate to that history, but it is a fictional story.” Nonetheless, the reader need only review the lengthy bibliography included to gain a sense of the breadth of work the authors undertook to put this magnificent story on the page.
Set mainly in England and France during the 14th century, the main characters are Lady Cecile de Bellegarde, Catherine Marshall, and their husbands. Catherine and Cecile, twin sisters separated at birth, have forged a bond that no person or event can break. While they live in different nations, Catherine in England and Cecile in France, their lives have many parallels. They are both married to courageous but unjustly maligned knights. Simon Marshall and Gillet de Bellegarde love their wives deeply, seek to protect them at all costs, and avenge any harm or cruelty done to them. That does not mean that they will readily divulge their fears to their spouses or recount the horrifying episodes they have survived, however.
Catherine is aware that Simon is under suspicion for murder, she knows her husband’s melancholy and reserve are caused by deeper worries. While Gillet experiences traumas on and off the battlefields from his involvement in the campaign to reclaim Brignais and rid France of routiers (mercenary soldiers.)
The husbands have their secrets and the sisters will share their marital woes with one another via a correspondence that beautifully dovetails the major events taking place in England and France. When finally apprised of what their husbands have been facing – blackmail, extortion, incarceration, and torture – they not only stand by their spouses but play key roles in extricating them from the darkest of situations. Amongst royals and routiers, there is no end of conniving, jealousy, brutality, and treason. One must understand the game to outplay enemies, and the sisters will do whatever is necessary to have their husbands by their sides. But who is the true traitor and whose neck should be lassoed with the noose? The authors weave a rich and intricate plot, every strand shimmering with suspense and romance.
Along the way, readers will delight in the details provided of everyday medieval life. The authors’ attention to dress, food, architecture, and language bring the late Middle Ages alive as the main characters experience opulence during the heralded era of knighthood and chivalry. (Oh, to be attired in an exquisitely embroidered gown, hair held in place by a headdress and veil! Or to be lifting a goblet of wine at a sumptuous feast held in lavish quarters in Windsor Castle or Orthez Castle!)
The darker side of medieval life is also examined, however; details of incarceration and of torture via racks and pins in fingers will likely send shivers down readers’ spines. A fascinating section of the book deals with apothecary science, the wonders, and horrors that can be wrought with oils and herbs. Anyone with a love for all things medieval must read this book and, indeed, the entire series.
While the ending of the novel is most satisfying, it’s also bittersweet. It’s hard to say good-bye to these captivating characters and close the book on the 14th century. How wonderful, then, to turn the page and discover that the authors have provided a sneak peek of the first volume in their second series! Stay tuned for Roar of the Lion. The adventure continues!