A Tapestry of Dreams
Imagine you’re watching the History Channel. They’ve got a lovely six-part miniseries about 12th century Northumbria just before the Battle of the Standard, and you decide, “Hey! I don’t know anything about that historical period, let’s check it out!” You’re enjoying the diverse cast of historical figures, and love the in-depth look into Scottish and English border lords, then all of a sudden – bam! Your cable provider freaks out on you, and switches to hard-core pornography. And you’re like, where in flipping fins did that come from?
That’s how I felt reading A Tapestry of Dreams, a reissue of Ms. Gellis’ 1985 Medieval. Mostly, it’s an enjoyable example of grand old storytelling, with battles and sieges, separations and heartfelt yearnings, political machinations, a wee bit of mysticism, and lots and lots of internal cogitation. The latter gets a bit tiresome (telling vs. showing, doncha know?), but still, for a 500-page thicko, the plot flows along swimmingly.
Our central characters are Hugh Licorne, a foundling raised by a bishop and fostered by a knight, and Lady Audris of Jernaeve, the lady of an impregnable fortress south of Hadrian’s Wall. Jernaeve has stood firm against wind, stone, and human invaders for centuries, but King David and the Scots are now pounding heavily at the door. To that end, King Stephen of England travels to Jernaeve to demand Audris’ allegiance.
Amongst Stephen’s entourage is Hugh Licorne, the squire of Jernaeve’s neighbor Sir Walter. Hugh and Audris first see each other from afar, she in a tower window, he bearing a unicorn shield and hair as red as flame. There are heavy barriers to their romance: Hugh has neither land nor status to make him worthy of Audris, and he’s considered a very ugly man. And Audris, a weaver whose tapestries predict future possibilities, sees in Hugh the destruction of Jernaeve.
All things considering, they overcome their difficulties remarkably easily. Despite the sumptuous setting, the book is rather thin in other ways. Audris and Hugh experience very little personal conflict, although there is plenty of potential, what with the social and physical differences. But it’s all a bit lovey-dovey (despite a Scottish invasion, two sieges, and other incidents), and man, they never stop having sex. The purple prose, replete with the mounds of Venus and mounting galore, is particularly out of place in a narrative that is otherwise lovely in its simplicity and straightforwardness.
I didn’t feel the romance nearly as much as the historical setting, which is disconcerting considering the book is actually a historical romance (emphasis on the last). However, my reaction is still positive all round. As a lengthy, meaty Medieval that draws you into the period, A Tapestry of Dreams was a fine read.