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A Powerful Woman in 14th Century England - an Editorial Review of "She Serves the Realm"



Book Blurb: Coming Soon!


Book Buy Link: Coming 2023


Author Bio:



Lee Swanson is a retired soldier and teacher who is the author of the No Man is Her Master historical fiction series, including the titles "No Man’s Chattel," "Her Perilous Game," and the soon-to-be- released "A Dangerous Journey Home."


Lee has enjoyed a lifetime interest in medieval history. Living in both Germany and England for extended periods of his life, he has traveled extensively throughout Europe, seeking out-of-the-way places with little-known stories to tell. Among these are the Scottish Marches that figure prominently in "Her Perilous Game."


Holding a Master’s Degree in European History from the University of North Florida, Lee’s thesis centered on the Hansa, a confederation of merchants from primarily northern German cities in the 12th through seventeenth centuries. Many of the colorful characters who populate his novels are drawn from the lives of these resolute wayfarers who traveled the waterways of Europe in search of profit and prestige.


Lee, his wife Karine, and their dog, Banjo now split their time between coastal Maine and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. A return visit to Europe is hoped for in the near future.



Lee's website is at www.LeeSwansonAuthor.me


Editorial Review:


This was a book unlike any the reviewer has ever read before. It is set in England during the 1300s and follows the protagonist, Christina, who is a merchant and knight. We follow her journey as she tries to serve the King, spend time with her loved one and rescue a dear friend. Despite being pulled in multiple directions, she is resourceful and is able to navigate these obstacles and challenges with relative ease.


The King has many uses for Christina and does not hesitate to send her on multiple missions far from home. During this time period, King Edward II was under constant threat from rebellions and those questioning his power. He comes to rely heavily on Christina for support with various tasks, such as appointing her castellan of Berkhamsted castle and then later with the mission of safely transporting his dear friend, the Earl of Cornwall, out of England.


During these times, it goes without saying that a King would not trust these duties to a mere woman. However, he does not know that Christina is a woman. When her brother was injured and presumed dead from fighting pirates, Christina decided to take on his identity as Frederick Kohl. Not only is she assuming the identity of a man, but she is also in love with a woman.


This duplicity is a constant source of tension and worries for Christina, as is evidenced when she thinks to herself, “What if I convinced Cecily to leave England to a land far away, where I could once more live as my true self? There would be no danger of discovery as no one would know me as anything other than a woman.” Her desire to escape the pressures and norms of society is strong, and this notion of removing the burden of having to lie all the time clearly weighs heavily on her mind. This is clear based on the following thoughts, “As she ate, she daydreamed of a life unencumbered by deception.”


Christina clearly despises protocol and being forced to restrict her displays of affection. While she merely wants to grab her loved one, Lady Cecily, and adorn her with kisses, she is barred from doing so. Her inner angst is depicted with her thought process, which is as follows, “How long am I to be tortured? Stymied by courtly proprieties in my own house! My soul aches to merely hold you, my love! How can that be so wrong?”


Not only is Christina an ardent and loyal lover, but she is also a firm and fair leader. There are many moments throughout the novel where this is apparent. For instance, when she was asked by Sir Giles, a knight, and friend, “How did you get them to agree to serve, without the king calling a levy?” she responded as such, “By treating them fairly and honestly, is all I can claim.” Moreover, when she was training her squire, Jost, and he made an error, she simply remarked, “No need to apologize for your mistakes; just learn from them.” Finally, when making an offering to the church, the priest saw her doing so and remarked, “Usually, men who make large offerings wish to be recognized for them, not to give anonymously. God favors the humble and generous; it seems you are both.” Overall, I found Christina to be an extremely well-developed and likable character.


Despite living during brutal times, Christina’s inner dialogue lightened the tone of the book. If it were not for her dry humor and witty remarks, the book could have been overshadowed by the darkness and difficulties of the time. The reader can accurately imagine how she is feeling based on her humorous use of expressions, such as when she says, “Christ’s holy nails! How can he be so damnably cheerful? I’m sure he drank three bowls for every one of mine while we sat last night, plus the sweet lord knows how many before and after. Yet, he seems to suffer no effect at all, while my head feels as if it were an overstuffed woolsack!”


It ought to be noted that there is a fair amount of vulgar language in the book, as was common back then. Christina’s dear friend, Reiniken, is a perfect example of a man who spews profanities as if it is his job. One of his less vulgar statements was when he said to Christina, “Ah hears you had gotten yurself in anuther pile of steamin’ sh**.” Rather than detract from the novel, it only adds to the reader's total immersion in how it must have been like to live during those times.


Another strong suit of She Serves the Realm was the subtle use of foreshadowing. There were certain scenes that left the reader of tenterhooks, turning pages faster to find out what happened next. One such instance was when Christina was charged with the task of transporting Piers Gaveston, the Earl of Cornwall, out of England and to Flanders. During the transportation process, Christina describes how she feels as such, “Suddenly, she felt as if an icy hand had suddenly touched her heart, decidedly a premonition of ill tidings for her friend. She shook her shoulders to dispel the feeling, chiding herself for succumbing to such superstitious nonsense.”


It is easy to forget how youthful Christina is due to her maturity and capability as a leader and fighter. The reader is reminded that during these times, children were forced to grow up quickly and that there was a great deal of tragedy interwoven early on in life. This is clear based on the following passage, “Her thoughts then turned to others who had disappeared from her life, those separated from her by either death or distance. It seemed remarkable to her that, for one of only nineteen years, so many of those she had known had left her.” Christina, however, is not one to wallow in sadness. She takes action and derives the lesson from the suffering, which is made evident when she thinks to herself, “It only makes it more important that I truly treasure the time I have to spend with those I love.”


Overall, this was a truly enjoyable read. The author intertwined the barbarism of battles, subterfuge, and violence with the nuanced concepts of love and identity, making the narrative very likable. Christina’s character was powerful and significant, revealing how difficult it was to be one’s own authentic self during such rough times.


The one drawback this reviewer found when reading this book was the beginning. The author tries to pass a great deal of information to the reader in a very quick manner. While this is understandable, as there is a lot to convey with Christina’s complex character, it can leave the reader feeling somewhat overloaded and disoriented. However, once a reader gets past this initial confusion as to who the characters were, their backstories, and their identities, the rest of the novel flows smoothly.


The author is to be commended for writing such an eloquent tale of love and hardship.


*****


“She Serves the Realm” by Lee Swanson receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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