The Wolf Hunt by Gillian Bradshaw
LibraryThing tags, if I had put this on LibraryThing: Historical Fiction, France, Medieval, Fantasy, Romance, Sonderbook (click here for Sondy's review), and another tag I won't actually use because it'd be a bit of a spoiler
Ware spoilers for this book, for they abound. The book's cover blurb, the Publisher's Weekly review, several of the top amazon customer reviews -- for some reason they all feel compelled to summarize the entire plot, right up to the climax of the book. I understand a certain amount of summary is customary in reviews, but the entire thing? Good grief.
In some ways I didn't mind too much myself -- the only reason I picked the book up at all is because I was browsing in the library and picked this one out of a row of books by Gillian Bradshaw based on reading the blurb. The description fit my mood at the time and sounded more interesting to me than her other books. I was chagrined as I read to realize how much the blurb had revealed, but it was still well-written enough to keep my attention, even when the details I'd picked it up for were long in coming and I found I already knew certain elements which could have made for suspense.
So, what can I tell you about the book, without spoiling anything myself? Not as much as I'd like (perhaps the reason so many tell everything...), but here goes. As you can tell from my tags, it's historical fiction, set in medieval France. There are a few fantasy elements, but they're included in what I can't tell you, although they're really not hard to guess. It's based on a poem by the twelfth-century Marie de France, and set at the end of the eleventh century, although she says in the author's note, "as befits a medieval romance, the history is not entirely exact." At the very beginning of the book (so don't read this if you want utter and complete spoiler-freedom) the main character, Marie Penthievre, is kidnapped from her priory in Normandy and taken to the court of Brittany, where she fears she'll be forced into a marriage that will give Brittany her Norman lands. Although there was a king over all of France at the time, Normandy and Brittany were basically at war much of the time, despite that. Early medieval, and all.
I didn't find the plot as melodramatic as Sondy did. Probably in part because of how much I was expecting, from reading the blurb. Partly because some of the more melodramatic elements, like her kidnapping, are entirely plausible (actually quite common) for that time and place in history. And unlike certain books in the romance genre (this book is certainly romantic, but doesn't really fit into the genre), the author's done her research, which does a great deal to make kidnappings and things seem quite level-headed rather than melodramatic. She's not just spinning a yarn set in the vague romantic past.
Quite the contrary, this is one of the best medieval novels I've read, as far as being true to the time period. She doesn't gloss over anything, she gets across a good deal of their mindset as least as it relates to the fantasy elements, and she doesn't make them seem like idiots in the process (which is good, because medievals weren't idiots). I knew she was a scholar, but not even all scholars get the medieval period right, and most of her books are set in the ancient world, so I was quite relieved.
There's also a good dose of mystery, but it isn't a who-done-it -- you know exactly who did it, the whole time. The mystery is in how in the world the culprit is ever going to be caught, how the main characters are even going to realize there is a mystery to solve. Add in some interesting thematic elements, and I highly recommend this one. Enjoy!