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A Powerful Woman of Bayeux - an Editorial Review of "Ascent"

Book Blurb:

A brutal Viking raid heralds the dawn of a new, powerful dynasty – the House of Normandy

Neustria, Kingdom of the West Franks AD 890

Fourteen-year-old Poppa’s life changes when Northmen land near Bayeux. Count Bérengar, her father, submits to them, and she is handfasted to Hrólfr, the Northmen’s heathen leader, as part of their agreement.

To her relief, Hrólfr leaves immediately in search of further conquest, only returning to claim her years later. In the face of retaliating Franks, they flee to East Anglia, where she gives birth to their son and daughter.

When Hrólfr and Poppa return to reclaim Bayeux, his new campaign strikes at the heart of Frankish power, and King Charles of the West Franks offers him a pact he cannot refuse. In exchange for vast tracts of land in Neustria, Hrólfr must convert to Christianity and accept marriage to Gisela, the king’s illegitimate daughter.

Poppa’s world shatters. She remains in Bayeux, with her daughter, Adela. When Gisela arrives one day, demanding she hand over Adela, to be raised in Rouen, Poppa’s patience is at an end. But Gisela makes for a dangerous enemy, and only one woman will survive their confrontation high up on the cliffs.

Will Poppa live to witness the dawn of a new era?

ASCENT is the first in a new series about the early women of the House of Normandy – women whose stories have been forgotten through time.

Until now!

Readers of Viking and medieval fiction will enjoy ASCENT, a fictional account of the life of Poppa of Bayeux, handfasted wife of Rollo the Viking.

Trigger warning: Loss of a child. Some battle and fighting scenes.

Book Buy Link:

Author Bio:

Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance. The focus of her historical fiction novels is on strong women through time.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.

At the moment, Cathie is working on two novels: Treachery, #2 in the House of Normandy series, about Sprota the Breton, handfasted wife of William Longsword, the son of Poppa and Rollo; and The Alchemist's Daughter, #2 in the Affair of the Poisons series. She also continues to plot a medieval murder mystery series set in 13th century Languedoc at the height of the Cathar persecutions.

Cathie's stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.

Ascent: The fictionalised story of Poppa of Bayeux, handfasted wife of Rollo (Hrólfr) the Viking. A historical novel about a strong woman who faced many challenges head on.

The Shadows of Versailles: Seduced at Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge. A historical novel set during the infamous Affair of the Poisons.

Love Lost in Time: A paranormal dual-timeline mystery set in Carcassonne, south of France, in the present and in the time of Charlemagne. A winner of The Coffee Pot Book Club Award and Book of the Month at Discovering Diamonds Reviews, the story is ’beautifully told’ and ’compelling'. Love Lost in Time is also a Finalist in its category from The Coffee Pot Book Club.

A Highland Captive: Set during the Scottish Wars of Independence, A Highland Captive is a ’well-researched’ tale of bravery, of uncertainty, and of recognition of love. Winner of the Chill with a Book Award.

Highland Arms: A fast-paced romantic adventure set in the Scottish Highlands about smugglers, Jacobites and rebellions. A heroine with an insatiable curiosity encounters a Highland rogue. But dangers await!

Dark Deceit: An ’exciting' medieval mystery romance set in England and Normandy, Dark Deceit weaves a tale of murder, changing loyalties, betrayal and love.

Silent Deception: A ’thoroughly enjoyable’ gothic romance novella set in Victorian Cornwall. A young heiress uncovers a dark family secret with the help of a stranger. But he has secrets too. Silent Deception is free in ebook format.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors, and she organises historical fiction blog tours for The Coffee Pot Book Club.

After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in south of France with her husband, and rescued Charlie Cat and Ellie Dog. Discover more about Cathie at!

Editorial Review:

Poppa knew Father was in part fulfilling Mother's dying wish by providing her with a religious education. Mother had wanted for her to join a convent. But Poppa also knew that she – as the only daughter of Count Bérenger of Bayeux – would soon become an important marriage pawn. The notion filled her with trepidation.

Many tales have been told of some of the more famous historical figures of Normandy, Acquitaine, and the surrounding areas of Bayeux, but Ms Dunn brings to life a strong woman whose history is shrouded in mystery. One who historians know very little about apart from her being the mother of Hrólfr's children. To find such a character in history is a historical fiction author's dream, and Ms Dunn does a splendid job on breathing life into her and giving the reader a rare possible glimpse into her life.

We are introduced to Poppa as a young girl, a fiery young girl whose life is changed in an instant on Easter Sunday in Bayeux when the service is disrupted by the invasion of a Norse army headed by Hrólfr and other Norse warriors. Many of the men are slain or taken into captivity, while her father, the Count of Bérengar tries to find ways to ensure his safety while maintaining his position in the land. He does this by securing an arrangement with Hrólfr, pawning off his daughter in marriage to him, even as Poppa sneaks out to rescue the young man she has had her heart set on for many years, a miller's son named Ranulf. But things do not go as planned and Ranulf is shipped off to the North Country to serve as a thrall, and Poppa, a Christian, is forced into a sped up handfasting ceremony with this pagan man who is determined never to give up his ways or his gods.

I'm offering my daughter to you.” The words escaped in a tumble. “Poppa.” So Knud had been right. A political union. Although Hrólfr had his doubts about Bérengar's goodwill. The scheming count would break any word if he could, regardless of his daughter's fate.

However, as Hrólfr's star ascends, as he gains more and more power, land, and influence, he never expects for the love between he and Poppa to grow, even after leaving her for so many years to grow up while he is raiding villages and expanding his reach. And Poppa doesn't expect it either, but upon his return they fall easily into the roles of husband and wife, moving to Rouen, building a household, and starting a family. Later, Poppa gives birth to their son, William, and later to a daughter, Adela... but the unexpected happens. Due to political maneuverings, Hrólfr agrees to convert to Christianity and marries King Charles' illegitimate daughter, Gisella; a marriage recognized by the church. A true betrayal to Poppa, yet Poppa endures and her strength and courage grow as she builds a life for her and her children back in her hometown of Bayeux.

Later, as she lay on clean linens, her son suckling at her breast, Poppa marvelled at the little wonder in her arms – and at the way a Saxon Christian and a Danish heathen had helped a Frankish woman bring him safely into their world. Why were men attacking each other when they could all live together, in peace, supporting one another?

This story, without a doubt, is about family and the endurance of true love. Even through the tragedies that sweep through the narrative, sometimes separating Poppa and Hrólfr for long periods of time, Poppa's loyalty and trust in her love for her husband is what binds the family in the end. She faces loss, pain, betrayal, joy, friendship, love, and her character transforms from a young stubborn girl into a beautiful and courageous woman. As a reader, it is always a delight to see a character's personality and story arc in such a pleasing and well-done way. While many historical fiction novels about this period of history might focus more on the violence of battles, Ms Dunn's novel peers into the human heart, on an obscure woman's heart, and the love she has for her husband and family. It is truly heartwarming and a pleasure to read.

A sense of pride surged through Hrólfr. After all these years, Poppa was still a force to be reckoned with. He'd known it from the first moment he'd set eyes on her younger self, back in the old church on that fateful Easter Sunday. Her mind worked like his, and with a clarity he'd not felt in many winters, he realised that he had done this incredible woman the greatest disfavour. No, never should he have wed King Charles' daughter, however tempting the prize may have seemed at the time. He should have fought for the land, like his forbears had done on other shores, not sold his soul for ambition, and lust. Poppa should have been beside him, as countess. His wife. His one true love.


Ascent” by Cathie Dunn receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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