Monday 19 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath

The Betrothed SisterThe Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Betrothed Sister is the third novel in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy. Each is a standalone book, but part of the larger tale of the women of King Harold’s family.

This story follows Thea, daughter of Harold, as she leaves England after her father’s defeat at Hastings. She flees into exile in Denmark and then Russia. McGrath imbues the main characters (Thea, her grandmother, her maid, Gudrun, and the trusty skald, Padar) with a charm and depth that makes it easy to love them. Thea is a stranger in strange lands and this gives McGrath the perfect opportunity to have her ask questions and to marvel at the unusual customs and things she witnesses. The reader learns of the ways of the Rus through Thea’s eyes and we root for her to finally marry the prince to whom she is betrothed for such a long time. And to find the happiness that she craves and deserves.

What McGrath does best is to bring humanity to the situations in which Thea finds herself. From the nasty sisters who plague her time at the court of King Sweyn of Denmark, to the bitter Lady Olga, who makes the English princess’s life miserable in the land of the Rus, the interactions between these noble women are what really make the book shine. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the interplay between characters and less of the sweeping battle of thousands-strong armies of the novel’s finale.

McGrath states in the author’s note that she read Russian Studies at university. It shows. She is clearly at home with the subject matter and her research stands out in glittering details, like jewels embroidered into one of Thea’s many-layered gowns. But like those bejewelled dresses, everything is in its place, nothing stands out to spoil the overall effect.

Carol McGrath has woven a story of early medieval royalty as rich and poignant as a princess’s wedding rushnyk.

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