Wednesday, 27 December 2017

THE FOREST AND THE FLAMES by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD Stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Gemma Lawrence is absolutely my favourite writer of historical fiction, so I buy all her books as soon as they come out, and start reading them as soon as possible.

Genre: historical fiction, 11th century.

This is the second of two books about Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, and picks up the story just after the Battle of Hastings.  

I didn't know much about this period of history before; everyone knows of this most famous of historical dates, but I knew nothing about the problems that followed.  In this second book, Gemma Lawrence softens Matilda as she grows older and wiser, but does not attempt to glorify the harshness and brutality of the time, nor the terrible brutality that William forced upon the north of England; it was odd, in a way, to be reading a book in which one is rooting for the adversaries of the protagonists.  Of course the Anglo-Saxons rebelled.  That William had been promised the crown by Edward the Confessor meant little to them.  Matilda was partly English, and made many bold steps to calm the waters and bring about peace in the land.

What I loved about this book was not just the story, but how much I learned about the history of the time; this is no watery piece of fanciful fiction.  Gemma Lawrence shows what the towns, villages and landscape were like, how the people of the 11th century ate, travelled, dressed, cured their ills and lived their day to day lives, which were ruled by the ever-controlling church and its tales of the wrath of its ruler.  I thought, several times, how much more effective a ruler Matilda could have been had she been able to give her time and wealth to the people who needed it, instead of spending so much of both on appeasing this allegedly omnipotent being.

Matilda was an unusual woman of her time, the first to be recognised as a queen of England, and her marriage to William was unusual, too, in that the marriage was a happy one and William was faithful to her; indeed, after her death, he went into a terrible decline and returned to his brutal ways.  Also well documented in this book is his lifelong feud with his eldest son, Robert 'Curt-hose' (love that!).

At the end of the book there are notes about truth versus fiction and what happened to the graves of Matilda and William, and the continuing stories of their children... Gemma Lawrence talks of Matilda's granddaughter, also named Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England and the first woman to be named as heir to the English throne.  She says she hopes to write her story one day, too; I hope she does.

I loved this book; if you liked the first one, you're in for an even bigger treat.


  1. I'd be fascinated in a book about Matilda 1 because I was told of a family rumour that relatives lived (until very recently) in a hunting lodge of Matilda's, but it is very hard to confirm.

    1. Sadly, I would imagine this is unlikely; there are only a handful of buildings left from Saxon times in the country, and they're mostly listed, protected buildings or parts of churches (Earls Barton, the village my dad lived in, has a 10th century tower; it's one of only a few in the country). Maybe it's on the site of it, or has some parts of it remaining, rather than being the actual building? But this is a fascinating book, yes! Best if you read the first one first. They're very long, just thought I'd mention that - and I think the 2nd book is the better one.

  2. On my Kindle, hope to read it soon!

    1. It's great, and the best news is that the next book is number 4 of the Anne Boleyn series!