Read as part of cbr11 bingo: Travel.
I can’t remember on what suggested list I first heard of Cecilia Holland’s The Firedrake. It was probably when I was searching for stuff related to William the Conqueror. There are oceans of works that cover the Tudor Kings and the Wars of the Roses, but very few touch upon the birth of the English monarchy.
The story of William’s rise is told from the perspective of Laeghaire, a wandering Irish mercenary knight. Holland does a great job of making the reader care about his plight. Her prose is fantastic and despite the slimness of the volume, she takes her time in building the story. It’s not a slow burn; there’s plenty of action. But I also got a sense of time and place and person. I found Laeghaire to be boorish at times but I was captured by his story up through the final page. And that’s mostly a credit to the writer.
While there is some political maneuvering discussed as Laeghaire gets close to the eventual King William (sorry for spoilers but again, this is historical fiction), the focus of the book is his journey to different places. It’s not as much of a quest, rather a story about a person who has a specific duty to do one thing and carries it out to the best of his abilities, not worried what will come of tomorrow. In this regard, it made for a more engaging read as I truly did not know what was happening next on Laeghaire’s journey, even as I knew how the history itself would unfold.
The gender part is tough at times. Holland is honest about the book’s 11th century era sexual politics. She doesn’t wallow in them, per se but some scenes are uncomfortable to read. I guess it helps this was written by a woman but there are still some pretty awful dynamics so be forewarned. Otherwise, if you want a well-written historical fiction read, check this out.