30 Jul 2020

The Lost Leiutenant by Erica Vetsch Review

Kregel, April 21st 2020
386 Pages

Serendipity and Secrets #1 
Genre: Historical Fiction/Regency 
Setting: London and the English Countryside 1813

He's doing what he can to save the Prince Regent's life . . . but can he save his new marriage as well?

Evan Eldridge never meant to be a war hero--he just wanted to fight Napoleon for the future of his country. And he certainly didn't think that saving the life of a peer would mean being made the Earl of Whitelock. But when the life you save is dear to the Prince Regent, things can change in a hurry.

Now Evan has a new title, a manor house in shambles, and a stranger for a bride, all thrust upon him by a grateful ruler. What he doesn't have are all his memories. Traumatized as a result of his wounds and bravery on the battlefield, Evan knows there's something he can't quite remember. It's important, dangerous--and if he doesn't recall it in time, will jeopardize not only his marriage but someone's very life.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Erica Vetsch is another new author for me. I understand she has a short short in another collection I have not read yet (but really need to), but this is her first full length Regency novel.

All in all, it was very good. The hero Evan is a former soldier suffering from whet we would now recognize as PTSD who gets raised to the nobility by the Prince Regent. The heroine Diana comes from an abusive and unhappy family situation. I would say this is a romance that develops by means of a marriage of convenience story, as the characters get married less than halfway though.

There are elements of intrigue (with a possible spy) and plenty of secrets on both sides, as well as a number of challenges for the characters to overcome, including the restoration of a mansion in only a few months.
Whilst The Lost Lieutenant is an enjoyable story that will certainly satisfy Regency fans, it's often been said that one of the weaknesses of this genre is the lack of communication between characters. That everything could be resolved if they simply talked more.

I do feel this was the case to a certain degree, as chapters would often end with one of the characters going off in a huff and then basically giving one another the silent treatment for days or weeks on end, because of some misunderstanding that could easily have been resolved. Although interestingly the characters to actually express this sentiment themselves at he end (things would have been easier if they had confided in each other earlier).

Despite this one minor gripe though, I like this novel and found the depiction of the Prince Regent interesting. A character who the characters had to be loyal to, but was annoying and a bit of a buffoon at the same time, which is consistent with a lot of what I've heard about him.

I look forward to the next novel which is about Marcus Haverly, Evan's best friend who seems to know everything about everyone.

Thanks to Kregel for approving my request to read an ARC of this title. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

26 Jul 2020

African Slaves in Medieval England? A History Sunday Post

Cecil in Jody Hedlund's A Loyal Heart , Little John in the upcoming adaptation of Robin Hood. 
Representing diversity in fiction has its merits, and its understandable why Christian Fiction authors want to reflect it in their works.

So when a character of African heritage is included in a Medieval novel, its often just assumed that they must have been a former slave: because of the Slave Trade, right? Well, actually, I think that's wrong on two levels. 

First of all, Britain did not become involved in the transatlantic slave trade until the sixteenth or seventeenth century: well after the Medieval period had ended. (And indeed, up until the end of the 17th century many poor people from Britain and Ireland were sent to the Americas as 'indentured servants'. Many died en route, or before they had lived in the Americas for a year.)
Second, I think find it rather offensive to assume that people of African heritage  only ever held a servile status in Europe until the modern age. 

This got me thinking: how much evidence is there for African Slaves in Medieval Europe? The
The Vikings made slave trading into an international industry:
This included selling Europeans as a slaves in North Africa &
The Near East.
answer is very little indeed. The Romans, of course, had slaves: but they did not tend to discriminate in terms of ethnic background. Slaves could be from anywhere in the Empire and beyond.
The Anglo-Saxons and the other peoples of Britain before the Conquest also had slaves: but the evidence suggests that they were generally people from neighboring regions and Kingdoms. Other Brits, or occasionally people from such far flung regions as Ireland, France or Byzantium.
The brutal truth is, if a person wanted a slave way back then, it would just have been a whole lot easier and cheaper to take one in a raid on the Picts across the border then to sail halfway across the world. 

The Vikings certainly had slaves: but one little-known fact is that they were involved in a slave trade which was almost the reverse of the one we know about. They kidnapped Europeans by the boatload and sold them in the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and the Middle East.
In fact, some of the worst offenders when it came to slavery in the Middle Ages were in fact the Islamic cultures of those very regions. From the 8th century, the Arabs began to conduct raids in Africa to take slaves, and alongside the Turks, their trade in African slaves continued until the 19th century, and even later in some cases.
Some historians estimate that as many as 112 million people from Africa were enslaved by the various Arab Empires of the Middle Ages, as well as the Turks and others, and destined for the Ottoman Empire, the North African Kingdoms and the Middle East. 1.
Most were male, and according to some sources were routinely castrated, and even had their babies killed at birth.
Back in Britain, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Normans were none too keen on slavery.
"Wulfstan (an 11th century English Bishop) made it his mission to end the practice of selling Christian slaves and spent months preaching to the people of Bristol against the practice. At first they were hesitant but he eventually won them around.
There are even reports that the townspeople attacked any slaver they came across. Eventually the example made by the people of Bristol was held up by King William and the practice of selling slaves was banned throughout the land by 1102."2

'But feudalism and serfdom!' I hear you cry. There were various important differences in legal and economic status between Medieval serfs and slaves, which is a subject for another post, but the
Although they're often characterized as such, Medieval
peasants were not 'slaves'.
simple fact is that not everyone who wasn't noble in Medieval Britain was a serf. In fact, some historians suggest that up to half of the rural population of Medieval Britain consisted of Free Peasants.
Then to add to the Norman antagonism, the Pope banned the holding of other Christians as slaves in the late 12th century. So really, slavery just became more and more untenable. 

We're used to the idea of Medieval Europe as 'Christendom': the centre of Christianity in basically the Western World, and indeed it was. But there were other Christian states in the Medieval world. One was Armenia, there were also large Christian communities in places like modern Lebanon and Syria, as well as Eygpt. One early Bishop and Church pioneer in Anglo-Saxon Britain is known to have come from North Africa: he was known as 'Hadrian the African' and might have been a Berber by birth (the Berbers were the indigenous people of North Africa: there before the Carthaginians or the Arabs, or the Romans).

And there was another problem. Medieval Europeans literally believed that the Equator was an impassable ring of fire. So hot that it could not sustain life, and any people living beyond it could not cross north, or people from the North cross over to the South. This meant that any contact Europeans had with Africans was limited to the areas North of the Equator.
This leaves two places that still needs to be mentioned. Regions often ignored or neglected in many histories and in fiction.That place? 


Remember the Ethiopian Eunuch from the Book of Acts? Did you know that many Bible teachers consider him to have been the first Gentile convert? 
So perhaps its not surprising that Christianity was evidenced in Ethiopia from a really early period, and Christianity was established as the official region by the 4th century making it one of the first official Christian states on earth. After Armenia.

Tradition has it that Christianity was bought to the country (which included much of modern Ethiopia and Eritrea), by two Syrian merchants who got washed up on the shore. Ethiopia was on a major trade route between India and the Roman Empire, so the version of Christianity which came to be adopted as the state religion was very similar to Eastern Orthodoxy. So Ethiopia developed its own version of Orthodoxy leading to the creation of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

Church of St George, Labelia, Ethiopia
There are churches in Ethiopia today that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, including some of the famous rock cut churches. Like this one, the church of St George in Lalibela. Notice that its shaped like a Greek Cross- and its also interesting that there is a Medieval Church in Ethiopia dedicated to the same Saint who would become the Patron Saint of England. Shows you something about the international nature of Medieval Christianity. 

Over the centuries, Ethiopia became isolated from the rest of the Christian world because of Islamic conquests to the North, but it still had some contact with the outside world: there's even evidence for contact in Europe. Indeed, some European travelers convinced themselves that Ethiopia was the home of the legendary King Prester John.

There was also the Kindgom of Nubia, along the banks of the Nile river which corresponded roughly
Mural from a 12th century Church in Faras,
A city on the border between Egypt and Sudan
to the modern state of Sudan. A Chronicle from the time of the Crusades make a passing reference to a Nubian King on Pilgrimage to Constantinople in the opening years of the 13th century.

..When the emperor (Byzantime Emperor) saw him coming, he rose to meet him and did great honour to him. And the emperor asked the barons: “Do you know,” said he, “who this man is?” “Not at all, sire,” said the barons. “I’faith,” said the emperor, “this is the king of Nubia, who is come on pilgrimage to this city.”3

Nubia also had a large Christian presence for many centuries, but eventually fell to the control of Bedouin tribes, the Turks and it's neighours to the North, so that by the 14th-15th century the region was no longer officially Christian.
The Christian King who made the Pilgrimage to Constantinople during the 4th Crusade was one of the last of his ilk.

There are also references to black people in art and literature: in a Medieval Arthurian legend, the leading character has a mixed race brother Sir Morien, born to a one of the Knights of the Round
Sir Morien, a character from a 13th century Romance
Table and a Moorish Princess. There is even evidence of a man from sub-Saharan Africa in a Medieval English monastery. 
Henry VIII even had a musician and trumpeter in his court who was black, given the ironic name of  'John Blanke'. Some people might consider it evidence of racism to have given a man of African descent a name which means 'White', but I think its more a case of British sense of humour, rather like how the tallest character in the Robin Hood stories is called Little John. 

What we can see is that not one of the black people who we find evidence or mention of in Medieval England was a slave. They appear as merchants, warriors, musicians, diplomats, even clerics and labourers but not as slaves taken by force from their homeland.
Contrast that with the Islamic world, in which people from Africa, particularly men were taken as slaves and usually castrated. This was going on long before Europe became involved in any kind of slave trading in Africa.

That said, is  some evidence of slaves in some Medieval European states after 1100. Most of these people seem to have been taken captive during the Crusades and sold into slavery. If this seems unjust, though, it pays to remember that the Turks were also in the habit of enslaving captured Crusaders, and even women and children who were unfortunate enough to have got caught in the proverbial crossfire.
So what Europeans were doing was essentially reciprocating the same treatment that had been meted out to them, and that the enslavement here was not based on race, but religion and circumstances.

Most of the slaves in Europe during the Crusading centuries seem to have been present in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece or the South of France. Countries which had direct contact with the near East and North Africa. Britain is obviously not a Mediterranean country, we're closer to Scandinavia than the Med, so there isn't any evidence of Muslim or pagan captives enslaved in England or Scotland.

So there's nothing inaccurate about having a person of black African heritage in a Medieval novel at all. What would be inaccurate would be to cast them as as a slave or former slave. There probably weren't any black slaves in Medieval England: or many slaves at all. 


Quotes and References:

1: See John Azumah, The Legacy of Arab Islam in Africa
2: 'Bristol's Other Slave Trades', The History Press Online, https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/bristol-s-other-slave-trades : accessed 12th July 2020
3:See The Conquest of Constantinople, Translated from the Old French of Robert de Clari trans. E.H. MacNeal. Columbia University Press, 1996.

8 Jul 2020

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson Review

May 26th 2020, Thomas Nelson, 336 Pages 
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Setting: Regency England (1815) 

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey was another great Regency from Abigail Wilson, a relative newbie author. It is essentially a marriage of convenience story, but with espionage, mystery, a murderer on the loose and plenty of twists, turns suspense and surprises. (I do feel that he highwayman part could have been followed up a bit more. One of the characters is posing as one, and we get the impression that it's central to the story, but after the first scene, no more is heard of that.)

I will say that in some ways it seemed quite similar to the author's other two books, especially with the espionage story-line and the possible French spy. I got the impression though that this was intentional, and the espionage is meant to be an underlying plot line throughout the books.
Which makes sense, as Elizabeth Cantrell, the heroine in this story actually featured quite prominently in the first book The Shadow of Croft Towers. So although the books are not formally part of the series, there are connections between them.

Things were a little confusing at the beginning with all the different characters, servants friends and family members, but the main characters were well drawn. Adrian was one of those characters who defies appearances. Or rather, when the heroine cannot see his good points or cannot bring herself to trust him, the audience can see through his actions that he is a good man. A good man with a past admittedly, but a man who was probably more sinned against than sinning. (Which is not so say he was without sin).
It was also interesting to see Elizabeth come into her own, as she had previously been cast as quite a shallow and self-centered character. Although I would have appreciated being shown her love for her child a little more, rather than just told about it.

The faith elements were a fair bit stronger in this story than they were in first book. The central theme was truthfulness and trusting others, which the characters who had both suffered betrayals found difficult. Neither came to them easily or naturally, as would be expected, but developed over time.

Recommended for Regency Fans, and fans of clean reads. Although this one sometimes pushes the boundaries of 'clean' a , it never goes too far.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Netgalley for the PDF copy to review. I also listened to the audiobook of my own volition and all opinions expressed are my own.

6 Jul 2020

A Most Singular Venture by Donna Fletcher Crow: Review

Elizabeth and Richard Literary Suspense #5
August 31st 2016, 286 Pages, 
Print and Ebook

Period: Contemporary 
Genre: Crime and Mystery 
Setting: London, England 

Richard is teaching Jane Austen as a Queen of Crime at the University of London while Elizabeth researches all the London sites Jane knew. A lovely interlude to their summer until Richard's brother Andrew shows up to bid on a set of Jane Austen first editions, a pushy student intrudes on their agenda and they become responsible for a young boy. And then one of Andrew's business associates is murdered and he is accused of the deed.
Elizabeth and Richard are exploring Jane Austen’s London, but their murderous opponent is all-too contemporary. 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Another book from my Kindle backlog that I finally got around to reading this book. I've gradually worked through the last few books in this series over the last few years. I think I enjoyed the last two best, because of their English setting.

'Literary Suspense' is a good subtitle for these novels, which are mysteries but are also saturated in a background of 19th century American Literature and English Literature from Shakespeare to Sayers. Anyone can read them, but I would say you have to have read or at least be familiar with some of the authors to get all of the references.

The story in this one was a bit slow and towards the end I was sort of able to guess one of the culprits but not the whole basis of the mystery. I'm wasn't entirely convinced by young Jack, the 11 year old student who latched onto Elizabeth and Richard. Actually, it was mostly his language. Not many 11 year olds Britain in 2016 said something was 'wizard' to mean 'good' or amazing.
Last I was aware that term was used in the 1950s.

Otherwise though, A Most Singular Venture was a good suspense novel and a good choice for lovers of Austen and the classics and mystery authors.
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