The Battle for England: Women at War in Medieval England, by Austin Hernon

Seven stars

I was asked by the publisher if I might be interested in reading and reviewing this series debut by Austin Hernon. With little foreknowledge of the topic, though a strong passion for all things political, I thought that it would be a wonderful experience to expand my horizons. The Magna Carta is surely one of the foundational documents in all of history, exploring the codification of laws, thereby making them easier to enforce. The signing of the Magna Carta was to have brought peace to the land, though England is in total disarray in the early thirteenth century. King John is on the Throne, but has lost large swaths of land, both in England and France. He has been excommunicated by a pope who seeks to control all under a Catholic Church that remains a force the world over. The English themselves have seen the country turn on itself and they seek a leader; one who will not shirk responsibility. Throughout all this, there are two women holding down their respective fortresses for the King: Nicholaa of Lincoln and Matilda of Laxton. Their hereditary holding of the position adds not only pride of country, but respectability of lineage to their position. Will they be able to hold firm, or will these women be pushed aside as England deteriorates more each day? An interesting premise and start to a series by Hernon. While I cannot say I was completely enthralled, I cannot fault him for his efforts.

I will be the first to admit that I am not always drawn by historical novels. I have my niches and usually stick to them, though I am willing to try something a little different to explore new and exciting periods in time. While some may say this makes me ineligible to properly review such a book, I feel I might be the perfect candidate, as the author’s responsibility to lure me in is even stronger. Hernon did not do so, though I do not feel it was because of poor writing or faulty character development. I simply am not interested in some of the goings-on during this time. As the reader learns a little more about Nicholaa and Matilda, they will discover that these women are by no means dainty and swooning. They are ready to kill a man if it means protecting their ancestral land and do so for the King. Hernon depicts them as strong-willed and powerful in their own ways, refusing to back down from a challenge. For those who read through the series, this will surely be an interesting development aspect and one that will be key as the narrative develops. Many of the others who surround these women have their own perspectives—as depicted in different chapters, when characters offer their bird’s eye view—and things come out in the narrative to help shape these men and women. Their presence here is not simply to move the story along, but to enrich the characters of Nicholaa and Matilda. The story seemed decent, though I was less than enthralled from the outset. Much on battle and little on politics, which left me wanting more. That said, this is not my area and so I entered this read looking for something that was not there. My fault, perhaps. Still, Hernon does well with his descriptions, narrative, and great banter in well-paced dialogue. I am sure there will be many who enjoy this piece, which will make it a gem for them. I am not one and will let the ‘experts’ continue on with the series!

Kudos, Mr. Hernon, for this enlightening piece, even if it fell short for me. I hope you find a large collection of fans for it, as it seems to be well constructed.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: