Nectar from a Stone
Medieval Wales is one era I know well, and so I approached this novel with a critical eye. Set in 1351, when the Black Death was still snatching victims, Nectar from a Stone is a tale of dislocation and assumed identities, murder and revenge, love and new beginnings. After losing her family to the plague, Elise marries Maelgwyn. But when her new husband proves to be as abusive as he is well-off, she fights back, believes that she has killed him, and bolts, with only her servant for company. On the road, they encounter Gwydion, who is on a quest to reclaim his family estate and avenge his father’s death. What ensues is a series of adventures—many of them violent—that leaves the reader wondering if love truly will triumph.
I think Jane Guill has captured the time and the place in her writing. Some of the unlikely, off-beat characters can only be Welsh, and the details of life at that time—Welsh people forbidden to enter English towns freely, for example—ring true. It is clear that she has spent considerable time doing on-the-ground research. However, her characters lack depth and uniqueness. The villains are all extraordinarily evil, with no redeeming qualities, and Elise seems as ethereal as the visions to which she is occasionally prone. Gwydion came across to me as the stereotypical medieval nobleman. As a result, I found it hard to take this novel seriously.