I think my love for historical romance is pretty well-known to anyone who reads my reviews by now, but I admit to a particular soft spot for historical romances that weave in actual historical personages and events into the storyline. Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh Princes trilogy is perhaps the most shining example of the type, and if you enjoyed those, you'll absolutely love this.
Rumors at Court (though it should be Rumours with a u, this is set in England) is centred around a fictional couple, Valerie of Florham and Sir Gil Wolford. Valerie is a lady-in-waiting to Constanza, rightful Queen of Castile, lately married to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a son of Edward III - and the father of the Lancastrian dynasty which included Henry IV, V and VI, AND the father of the York and Tudor dynasties, father to a Queen of Portugal AND a Queen of Castile.
(John of Gaunt was a busy kinda guy, and one of my favourite historical figures).
Constanza takes a liking to Valerie, recently widowed, and takes her into her household. Valerie's former husband was a brutish sort and she is more than happy to serve the queen rather than be ordered to marry again.
Sir Gil Wolford is one of John of Gaunt's most trusted knights, a capable warrior and commander. Ordered to marry Valerie, he is aware that neither of them have any choice, but is still determined to treat her gently and respectfully.
The story follows Valerie and Gil over the space of a year or so, from an (awkward) first meeting, through growing respect between them, to their eventual marriage and beyond. They were separated for weeks and months at a time due to the fact that they were at both at the mercy of the whims of their monarchs, and the story does not gloss over this fact.
Blythe Gifford has a deft way with words, taking a story that is in many ways rather melancholic (John of Gaunt was in love with a lady named Katherine Swynford, who was also in Constanza's household... AWKWARD) and giving it a hopeful air, making Gil and Valerie front and centre in the story. That's no easy feat considering the other extremely compelling characters in the narrative.
I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to reading Blythe Gifford's other works. She really knows her history and she weaves a compellingly realistic tale of love in the Middle Ages.
Rumors At Court is available now in paperback, and is in pre-order for ebook release on May 1.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.