Montferrat Coin Knight-Life

Roman-esque: Novels set in the Middle Ages

Zoé Oldenbourg, The World Is Not Enough (Argile et Cendres), The Cornerstone (La Pierre Angulaire)

A family saga, set in 12C Champagne and Outremer - evocatively written, gorgeous, sensitive and violent by turns. Some of the images linger.

Conrad has a brief, splendid cameo-rôle in The World Is Not Enough:

...the man had a strange beauty compounded of authority and pride; his arms and his armour glittered with gold and precious stones, his grey fox cloaks were trimmed with golden chains, his gloves were sewn with pearls, his falcons bedecked with rubies. Yet such magnificence was so natural to the man that it went almost unremarked. His was a head which demanded a crown, and the fairest crown of all, the crown of Jerusalem.

The World is Not Enough - Zoé OldenbourgI must admit, scrumptious though that description sounds (I would cheerfully raid the wardrobe of any man who dressed like that!), I don't imagine him as that flamboyant, despite his brief stay in Byzantium. He's always seemed to me far more down-to-earth: the no-nonsense soldier who went into battle against Alexios Vranas in a stiffened linen cuirass instead of mail, without helmet or shield. Still - at least it's plain from this, as from her non-fiction narrative of the Crusades, that Zoé thinks Conrad's a hunk. Which is entirely understandable (hell, I'm Asexual, but I've had a major tendresse with h/c complex for him since 1981!), but leaves one wishing she'd given him more pages of entirely gratuitous fan-girl drooling, especially when one reads Graham Shelby's character-assassination...

In the sequel, The Cornerstone, she continues the story of her fictional House of Linnières. One harrowing but all too plausible incident leaves the reader deeply shaken: a lynch-mob subjects a mentally disturbed, sexually wanton young woman to a horrific attack, because she is thought to be a witch, and she dies of her wounds. My h/c complex kicked in heavily, wanting to rescue and tend Églantine: she is a deeply vulnerable character, and her torment is like something out of the Legenda Aurea (St Agatha).

Oldenbourg's tragic vision of the Middle Ages reaches a crescendo in Destiny of Fire (Les Brûlés), which she described as "a martyrology" of the Albigensian Crusade. She is a great writer, in that she enables the reader to enter into the world-view of her characters - a world-view very different from that of modern times. And she is compassionate.

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