Ann Lawrence does not romanticize medieval times. It was a world ruled by powerful men who could be influenced by the women behind them. It was a world of harsh, illogical punishments and death was always one small misstep or illness away. Durand de Marle is our dark, haunted lord, left to mourn an unfaithful wife and raise the child that was not his. He is drawn to Christina, wife of a merchant and the newborn's wet nurse. Her life has not been an easy one after losing two daughters of her own. Her husband, Simon, typical of the times, does not respect her in any way but only uses her to advance himself. Christina makes soaps, potpourri and herbal concoctions for the inhabitants of the keep, and the author portrays the gathering of herbs and the fragrance of the items so effectively that you can smell the pungency yourself!
The storyline contains intrigue, thievery, battle, contests, conquests and sacrifice for our hero and heroine. Although there are amusing parts about love potions and hair tonics, the mood is very gloomy and disturbing. I had trouble following the royal plots but mostly due to my own disinterest in King John. Although I can recommend this book, it does not have a typical "happy ever after" despite the fact that our hero and heroine find the love they desire and deserve. This book is not for the faint hearted or anyone wishing light reading.