Set in the Frankish Empire during the reign of Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, Song of Isabel stands out simply for being set in an unusual time period and location for historical romance. The ninth century is viewed as being the Dark Ages by many people, but in France and Germany at the time was a thriving and sophisticated medieval society.
The author’s bio states “Based on a handbook written by a ninth-century widow of a wealthy landowner to educate her sons, Song of Isabel captures what life was like for a young noblewoman of that period.”
Frankly, that’s where things go a bit wrong, because that sounds like a really intriguing piece of women’s fiction, whereas the actual book is pretty much your standard medieval romance. Lots of crises where the heroine needs rescuing, a Superior Warrior hero, a feisty heroine who is Not Like Other Girls - Isabel’s only saving grace is that she does have female friends who are portrayed well, though not as her equals.
The factual aspects of the book are well researched and include real historical events, such as the (temporary) banishing of Queen Judith from Louis’ court and the determination of Louis’ older sons (Lothar in particular) to cut Judith’s son Charles out of the line of succession. The romance itself is quite well written too, with a believable progression of emotions between Chetwynd and Isabel, and Isabel was a pretty good self-rescuing princess most of the time.
The issue I have with the book is that it’s ‘not what it says on the tin’. The only real part where ‘daily life’ is detailed is a short episode at Chetwynd’s manor where grapes are harvested and crushed for winemaking. I was honestly looking forward to learning more about the minutiae of life in the ninth century and less of the fabricated crises and drama which made this read pretty much like every other medieval romance on the market. I enjoyed the read, but finished it feeling a little disappointed; I’d probably give it 3 ½ stars, rounded up to 4 for those sites which don’t allow half stars.
Song of Isabel is available now.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley