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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga Book 1) by Anna Belfrage takes us back in time to the mid-1200s and the time of the Plantagenet kings of England, notably Edward I, or Edward Longshanks, in recognition of his uncommon height. Robert FitzStephan, the bastard son of an English lord, has fought with his loyal band of men alongside Edward I through all of his campaigns, including his crusade to the Holy Land. In recognition of his service, Robert was granted a marriage to the heiress Eleanor d’Outremer and her lands. What Eleanor, a descendant of Castilian royalty, was initially unaware of, however, was that she was only an heiress by virtue of Robert having killed her father and brother when it appeared that they were making an attack on the king. Faced with rebellion by the Welsh princes, Edward was determined to crush Wales once and forever and bring it under the protection and control of the English monarchy. The newly married Robert was to spend little time at his new residence and with his new bride as he joined the king in scouring the Welsh countryside for remnants of the Welsh rebellion that must be crushed mercilessly. Confounding the young couple’s attempts to discover love and affection in this arranged marriage were Eleanor’s obscure and little-known origins and familial relationship to Edward I’s beloved queen, a Castilian princess as well as the Queen of England. Can the couple find true love and trust when so much is hidden from each other, including Robert’s long-term relationship with the bitter but beautiful camp-girl, Edith?
As a lover of historical fiction, especially that rooted in fact and real events, I found His Castilian Hawk enthralling and captivating. Author Anna Belfrage drags the reader into the socially unjust and violent world of medieval England, where the king’s power is almost absolute and the aristocracy rules the ordinary people with an iron fist. Belfrage’s style is compelling and despite this being a full-size novel, I zipped through it with barely a break. I know it is a cliché but this really is one read that is impossible to put down. I loved the two main characters, Robert and Noor. Both were flawed, yes, but each had a heart for their enemy and indeed the common man. Their love was always destined to be troublesome, especially given the complicated mix of their backgrounds and hidden secrets, yet they strive to achieve something meaningful from their forced marriage. The battle and fight scenes are frequent and detailed enough to keep the most fervent action-junkie satisfied while the love scenes are tender, sweet, and almost the perfect foil to the violence and filth that surrounded people of this time and place. I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie and roughness of Robert’s men juxtaposed against the new emerging, caring husband he was becoming. The idea of a bastard child being able to rise through the social strata to knighthood and landholder at that time was a testament to Robert’s tenacity, character, and loyalty. This gave the story added layers of interest and meaning. I am totally entranced by this tale and look forward excitedly to book two in the Castilian adventure, having become completely invested in these two characters.