The year is 1140 and England is torn by the strife of civil war. Oliver Pascal chances upon a village raided by mercenaries and rescues the survivors: an orphaned boy, who is the illegitimate son of the old king, and his mother's maid, a young widow named Catrin. After escorting them to Bristol Castle, they are accepted into the household of Robert of Gloucester and while Catrin finds herself falling in love with Oliver she suffers a deep boredom at the frivolity of court life. Thus when the old midwife Etheldreda offers to teach her the secrets of her ancient art, Catrin agrees.
But the midwife's life is fraught with dangers, not least Oliver's own personal fears which threaten their relationship, but also in the shape of two men, both killers and both of whom threaten the couple's lives. However, Catrin is determined to pursue her career and keep Oliver and while England fights a civil war, she battles for her love and for her vocation.
England's bloody civil war in the mid-12th-century provides the setting for Chadwick's third novel. A royal feud between England's King Stephen and his cousin Empress Mathilda has left the country pillaged and plundered, and when a dispossessed and recently widowed knight, Oliver Pascal, happens upon a particularly bloody scene, he finds an old friend has been brutally raped by lawless mercenaries. The woman subsequently miscarries and dies, leaving her fierce 10-year-old son, Richard, and Catrin, her strong-willed and comely maid, to Oliver's care. Richard is taken to the house of his half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, who is allied with Mathilda and whom Oliver hopes will win the civil war, so that Oliver can reclaim his family lands. As the action of this predictable historical romance unfolds, Catrin and Oliver embark on a tumultuous romance. Bound to Oliver by a debt of gratitude, Catrin loathes the thought of reliance upon any man and tries to ignore the strong physical and emotional attraction she feels. But eventually, the pair succumb to their passion and are betrothed. Oliver's leadership qualities as he serves his sovereign and Catrin's medical knowledge earn them the nobility's esteem, but pernicious demons of the past threaten their marital bliss and political standing, and their love is put to the test. With an awkward mixture of historical vocabulary and modern idiom, Chadwick's (The Champion) formulaic tapestry features all the Middle Ages archetypes: rogue knights; lusty, coy ladies; and blood shed for honor, property and virtue.
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Gripping, entertaining, scary, great love story, wonderful characters. Loved it and couldn't put it down!