Lady of Hay

Written by Barbara Erskine
Review by Nancy J. Attwell

In 1970, when Jo Clifford is a university student in Edinburgh, she is hypnotized as part of a study on regression to past lives. Jo is such a good subject that her hands begin to bleed and she cries out, “William!” and dies. Fortunately, Sam Franklyn, the professor’s assistant, is able to resuscitate her.

Fifteen years later, Jo allows herself to be regressed again. In the hypnotized state, she is Lady Matilda de Braose, young, pregnant, married to the boorish William, and in love with Richard, the handsome Earl of Clare. When Jo wakes she remembers everything, including the horror of a massacre she witnessed but could not prevent. Confused, and doubting the veracity of her experience, she heads to the library where research reveals that in 1210, by order of King John of England, Matilda de Braose and her eldest son, William, were starved to death in a dungeon. Sam Franklyn and his brother, Nick, fear for Jo as she becomes more and more enmeshed in her 13th-century life, but the present holds more dangers for Jo than the past. William, Richard, and John have also been awakened to knowledge of their previous lives, and the more Jo is drawn to re-experience her life as Matilda, the more they threaten her life as Jo.

Erskine is a master storyteller. Even though the manner of Matilda’s death is revealed early in the novel, I raced through this book, desperate to learn more of the connection between the past and present and the fate of Jo and her friends. The plethora of modern characters seemed a slight flaw, but it was more than amply compensated for by the gothic tension as Jo searched the Welsh borderlands in her quest for Matilda. Kudos to Sourcebooks for reprinting this very entertaining novel.