An Argument of Blood
Set in the earlier years of William the Conqueror’s rule over Normandy, An Argument of Blood opens with him as a young, arrogant duke, although he makes a concerted effort to become a mature leader when an assassination attempt forces him to flee in the middle of the night. The story then follows him through the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes and the nearly continuous warfare of the later 1040s to mid-1050s.
Across the Channel, readers meet Ælfgyfa, youngest daughter of Godwin, Jarl of Wessex. She is highly intelligent, her father’s favorite daughter, but her mother, Gytha, can’t stand her. Ælfgyfa is deformed, possibly from a cleft palate, though there is little historical evidence to support that. Overlooked and ignored, she learns to read people well, becoming invaluable as a pseudo-spy to her brother Harold Godwinson and his wife Edith Swanneck, and later to her other sister, Eadgyth, queen consort to Edward the Confessor. Eventually, Ælfgyfa and her younger brother Wulfnoth become political hostages to William, a common practice, in exchange for the good behavior of Godwin, who is accused of treason. The plot entwines the families nicely, as it happened in history, and establishes a solid base for the rest of the series.
The novel comes equipped with a lot of action and intrigue. Many of the characters are well developed, but I loved Ælfgyfa. She is clever, witty, and complex. When historical information is lacking, authors get to play and fill in gaps, and Willis and Ironside use the Saxon culture to make her a realistic and sympathetic though not always likeable character. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Edward the Confessor; the authors’ twist on his “pious” nature is very interesting. The depth of cultural detail, both for the Saxons and the Normans, adds a lot of color. I am looking forward to the next book. Strongly recommended!