Between Two Fires by Mark Noce
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Published: August 2016
Genre: historical fiction
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.
Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.
Branwen is a pawn in a king’s game, the target for marriage, bearing children, assassinations, and kingdom destruction by Saxons. She’s more than aware that her life isn’t entirely in her own hands, so she plays like a chess master, navigating the numerous courts throughout Wales to unite the country, be with the one she truly loves, and defeat the Saxons.
I’m always eager to read books similar to Hild or Shadow on the Crown, stories that are set in medieval or ancient Britain / Europe, when countries were still torn apart in tiny little kingdoms. Bonus points for those women navigating and influencing this incredibly patriarchal and sexist time.
Noce’s writing style forced me to slow down and take in every single scene word for word. I fell in love with Branwen slowly but surely, beginning as a naive yet frightened young woman and growing into the “Fairy Queen” she became to Wales by the end of the novel. I savored each moment with Artagan, and worried for his safety each time he rode off to battle. And, speaking of battles, I was *gasp* totally invested in all those battle scenes. The Welsh castles and fortresses I could picture in my head and it still blows my mind how people were able to defend themselves in those spaces. There were also a few twists here and there that I was able to predict, but the twists within the twists left such an intriguing trail of deceit that I was impressed.
I enjoyed this enough that I’m eager to see what Dark Winds Rising has in store!
This qualifies as book 4 of 16 in my TBR challenge.