His Castilian Hawk

Written by Anna Belfrage
Review by Ray Thompson

As a reward for loyal service, Robert FitzStephan is knighted by King Edward I and given the hand of an heiress in marriage. Though the estate is modest, it represents an important step up the social ladder for an illegitimate son of a lord. Eleanor (‘Noor’) has no choice but to obey the king’s command, but the marriage gets off to a rocky start when Robert spends his wedding night in the arms of another woman. Their relationship does improve, fortunately, and they eventually fall in love.

Robert is honorable and brave, Noor compassionate and unexpectedly resilient, qualities that engage our sympathy. But these put them at high risk when she gives refuge to the infant son of a Welsh prince. This is an unforgiving world where rulers expect loyalty and unquestioning obedience, and since the child’s father has rebelled against the king, his overlord, sympathy for victims, however innocent, is deemed betrayal. Reluctant to hand the child over, they try to conceal his identity, but these are dangerous times on the Welsh Marches during Edward’s ruthless campaign to suppress the Welsh in the late 13th century: enmities are bitter, vengeance is implacable, punishment vicious, tolerance suspect.

There is a stark contrast between the passionate encounters and growing affection of the wedded couple and a savage world, where women are married off to husbands who have the right to beat them, and rebel leaders are hung, drawn, and quartered, their followers and dependents hunted relentlessly. The former belong to the world of romance, the latter to realistic fiction, and the transition can be uncomfortable for readers. But perhaps it is not such a bad thing to be reminded of the dangers in a world where cherished civil rights are disregarded for some ‘higher good.’ Definitely recommended.