Douglass’ latest book, a historical fantasy set in mid Twelfth Century England is a fabulously woven, intricately plotted tale of love, loss, familial relationships, courtly politics, religion and faith. Powerful, moving and surprising, it unfurls slowly, almost languidly, steeping the reader in the period and the life of the heroine, the astoundingly lovely Maeb who, when her father returns from the Crusades and dies, leaving her with nothing more than a few rags and her good name, is forced to join the household of the most powerful noble in the land, the Earl of Pengraic, Raife.
Incredibly beautiful, frank and quite feckless in many ways, Maeb is content to serve her kind mistress, Adelie, and care for her sweet children, only when a dreadful plague from Europe sweeps the country, forcing the family to flee to Pengraic castle in the Welsh borderlands, Maeb quickly discovers that someone or something else has other, much bigger plans for her and those she loves.
What follows is an adventure like no other, filled with real characters, heart-ache, beauty, humour and disaster, all against a background of an emerging London, the kingship of Edmond and deadly tensions between the aristocrats, the Church, the Old People and the sacred and profane.
Told in the first-person, this is a hard book to put down – frankly, I couldn’t bear to set it aside. It sweeps you into the past and the lives of the central characters. It’s filled with fascinating factual and imaginative recreations of life in that period (Douglass is also a renown historian), never mind being a rollicking good tale.
As a stand alone, it’s a tour de force for Douglass, as an addition to an already remarkable canon, it’s a triumph.
I know that I could be accused of bias as the book is dedicated to me – a privilege I am so humbled by I honestly cannot express how I feel – but I could not ask for or wish for a greater gift from a wonderful, loving and beloved friend.
Read The Devil’s Diadem and share the experience. You won’t regret it!
©2011 Karen Brooks, reproduced with permission. This review originally appeared on Karen Brook’s blog.