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A Woman in Disguise - an Editorial Review of "She Serves the Realm"



Book Blurb:


London, 1311: Sir Frederick Kohl, a Hanseatic master merchant and English knight, is really Christina Kohl, a woman in disguise. She returns to London to discover her beloved Lady Cecily’s abusive husband is dead.  They now only need the king’s permission to marry. But in the turbulent times of Edward II’s reign, he is much more concerned with making use of Christina’s considerable talents than in bringing happiness to her life.

In She Serves the Realm, Christina is torn from her merchant trade and the woman she loves to become an officer of the king. She is placed in ever-growing danger as civil war seems all but inevitable; the rebellious barons demanding the banishment of the Earl of Cornwall, King Edward just as adamant to retain him by his side. Complicating matters further is the always present peril of her disguise being discovered.

Can Christina succeed in the tasks King Edward sets before her, winning the right to claim Lady Cecily as her bride? And what of Piers Gaveston; can Christina somehow save him from his enemies, and even himself? Rein your palfrey beside Christina’s Pearl and join her as She Serves the Realm.



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 "A Dangerous Journey Home." A fourth novel in the series "She Serves the Realm," is anticipated to be published in June, 2024.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.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 twelfth 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 is also the author of "The Calling of Alex Tate." This is a departure from his usual historical fiction, as it is a crime drama set in Seattle, Washington in 2015.

Lee, his wife Karine, and their dog Banjo now split their time between Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah Valley and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

(The trip to England and Northern Ireland did occur in September 2022, by the way - Germany and England in 2024!)


Editorial Review:


Set in London in the 1300s, She Serves the Realm tells the story of Christina Kohl, a bold and charismatic woman posing as a Hanseatic master merchant and English knight. Christina has thrown herself into her work but her heart lies at home with Lady Cecily, the love of her life who is married to an abusive man. When Christina finds out that Lady Cecily’s husband has died, she sees her opportunity to finally be with Cecily. King Edward II, however, has other plans for Christina and she soon finds herself thrust into a new life as an office of the king. The country is slowly coming closer to the breakout of a civil war and Christina finds herself in more danger each day. Readers will find themselves enthralled with Christina’s story and on the edge of their seats as they follow Christina’s perilous experiences in medieval England.

 

Judging from the position of the half-moon’s milky pallor against the darkness of the ebony night sky she estimated the hour to be near midnight. To awaken thusly was not a normal habit for her. She had never been a proponent of apportioning her slumbers into a first and second sleep, although she knew it to be a common practice for many. When she was a child, her parents had slept the night through, so she had simply followed their example.”

 

She Serves the Realm is the fourth book in the No Man is Her Master series by Lee Swanson. While She Serves the Realm can be read alone, most readers would probably get the most enjoyment from it after reading the first three books of the series.

 

As three weeks passed since Sir Robert’s abortive attempt to take the castle, the edge of anticipation of imminent combat dulled into the drudgery of maintaining readiness despite no apparent reason to do so. The morale of the garrison began to drop, as evidenced by surliness in some and growing aggression in others. More than once, altercations broke out over petty arguments and had to be broken up. Thankfully, these had involved merely fisticuffs and no harm was done beyond the bloodying of a few noses, but Christina feared it was only a matter of time until someone was seriously maimed or even killed outright.”

 

The author includes a brief note and chart at the beginning of the book detailing the use of canonical hours throughout the book. This is incredibly helpful for readers unfamiliar with this religious-based time system. Another thing that the author includes that readers will find helpful is an alphabetical list of characters and a note on historical events at the end of the book. She Serves the Realm contains a lot of characters so the extensive character list is incredibly helpful. The historical notes section also provides a lot of insight into the events in the story and helps readers understand the book on a deeper level.

 

As they neared their destination, the people became ever more tightly packed and some looked toward them angrily as they sought to work their way past. Christina had almost given up hope of finding a suitable vantage point when a tall redhaired man in Gaveston’s livery approached them, picking at Christina’s sleeve to gain her attention. Turning in his direction, she recognized him as Eochaid, the servant who had accompanied the earl on der Greif. They followed him as he led them through the crowd, which parted before him like the sea around a ship’s prow.”

 

The writing in She Serves the Realm is straightforward and easy to read and understand. The author does a thorough job of incorporating good imagery to engage the reader and make the story feel more realistic. Another strength of the author is that he is able to seamlessly integrate history into his tale without making the reader feel as if he or she is trudging through a nonfiction history book. It is clear that Commodore understands the time period that he is writing about and has done extensive research. It takes talent to incorporate that research into a text without making it feel like drudgery for the reader. It is nicely done and helps to set She Serves the Realm apart from other books in teh same genre.

 

She herself had strongly opposed Volker’s drastic changes to the governance of the London kontor since he had assumed his position a little over a year prior. She had agreed with Hagen that the new rules primarily benefited the older men who no longer actively voyaged, much to the detriment of those younger merchants who still risked their lives at sea. Had Katharine not manipulated her to be absent from London at the end of the past year, it would have been her as much as Hagen who fomented the current discontent.”

 

One of the biggest strengths of Commodore’s book is that he develops and creates strong female characters. Many readers often find female characters written by male authors to come across as unrealistic or weak at times but Commodore overcomes that beautifully. Christina, in particular, is a strong and impressive character who overcomes so many obstacles. She clearly transcends the standard gender roles of the time period. She is believable, strong, and inspiring. Commodore also tackles the topic of same-sex relationships during this time period as Christina is romantically involved with Lady Cecily. Readers will genuinely love the characters that Commodore has created and the positive way that he portrays same-sex relationships in She Serves the Realm.

 

On May 11th, she was supervising a group of men bringing hurling stones to the upper parapets using a makeshift crane. The day was warm and the men had stripped off their shirts to work. Christina would have enjoyed the exercise in assisting them, but realized it would be thought peculiar to be the only one to be fully clothed.”

 

The intended audience for She Serves the Realm is those who enjoy historical fiction. Readers who love strong female leads will also find that She Serves the Realm to be an enjoyable experience. It is incredibly easy to read and follow and comes in at under four hundred pages making it a really great option for readers looking to try out historical fiction for the first time. It is also a great choice for those who love medieval history.

 

The look of happiness that spread across Osbert’s face as he discovered the identity of the bell ringer was but a harbinger of the household’s joy as they gathered in the yard to welcome the tired travelers’ unexpected return. Trudi pushed to the fore to plant a loud kiss on Christina’s cheek before rendering an awkward curtsey to Cecily, who hauled her upright and hugged her fiercely.”

 

A well-researched story that was well written and features an impressive female main character earns She Serves the Realm a five out of five rating. Readers will love the dose of positive feminism they will find in the character of Christina and enjoy the story. She Serves the Realm is a fantastic representation of life in the medieval time period and readers who enjoy this era will find it to be one of the better books available in this niche. It is worth picking up and jumping into the story.

 

*****


“She Serves the Realm” by Lee Swanson receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


Award:



 

To have your historical novel editorially reviewed and/or enter the HFC Book of the Year contest, please visit www.thehistoricalfictioncompany.com/book-awards/award-submission



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