Whispers at Court
It’s always a pleasure to read a historical that truly feels, well…historical. Whispers at Court is such a book. Set during the Hundred Years’ War, this tale of English nobility and their French captives was sweetly romantic, and the historical backdrop fascinated me.
Cecily, Countess of Losford, has little sympathy for the French hostages held at Court. She lost her beloved father to war with the French and then her mother died not long after. Cecily herself serves as a lady in waiting to the Princess Isabella, while anticipating that King Edward will soon choose a husband for her. After all, Cecily has inherited valuable lands and a fortress that must be defended. In the meantime, she lives a mostly pampered existence, though she visibly chafes against the tedium of her routine and the entertainments in which the higher-born hostages are permitted to take part.
Cecily’s first encounter with Marc de Marcel is especially distasteful to her. The French knights fight a joust for the amusement of the court, and she sees Marc defeat a young English nobleman in a manner that appears particularly unchivalrous. A few prickly exchanges follow, but Cecily’s attention gets diverted by something more alarming – Princess Isabella appears quite taken with one of the hostages, Enguerrand, the French Lord de Coucy. Determined to stop Isabella from making what Cecily thinks would be a foolish mistake, she joins forces with Marc, hoping that as de Coucy’s close friend, he can assist her in preventing what could be a disastrous fling.
Along the way, Cecily’s disgust for Marc turns into a greater respect as she starts to understand more about what drives him. And since this story takes place against the backdrop of the English court’s Yuletide celebrations, the two have occasion to spend much time together. It will probably surprise no one that their bid to prevent a forbidden love affair starts spawning another one instead.
Because the author has clearly devoted so much time to developing her historical setting, the class differences, marriage customs and other barriers to happiness for Cecily and Marc feel painfully real throughout the story. I’ve enjoyed reading historical romance for years, and it seems as though there are two major types out there. There are the historical fairytales that focus more on characters and emotion and less on developing a sense of time and place, and then there are books that seem best described as historical fiction/romance hybrids. This novel is clearly one of the latter, and the author does a good job both of bringing her setting to life and of telling a story that feels sweetly romantic.
The romance between Cecily and Marc is a tad slow to get going, but given the very believable tensions between the two, it made sense that they would take quite a bit of time to make a move toward one another. The secondary romance woven into the plot was a nice touch as well, and I enjoyed the version of Edward III’s court that came to life within the pages of this story. Technically, this book is second in a series, but there is almost no reference back to the first, and this installment stands alone quite nicely.
Though a tad slow-moving at times, Whispers at Court is a wonderful book for those who like books with a rich historical background, as well as those who are in the mood for a pleasant, languid story.