Review: Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman

EBOOK; 359 P.
BANTAM PRESS, 2015/2014

It’s 12 Century England and the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Stephen is raging. But life in the fens carries on as usual. Until the mercenaries ride through. And a small red-haired girl named Em is snatched and carried off. After the soldiers have finished with her they leave her for dead. But fenland girls are not easy to kill. Although she has lost all memory of her past life including her name, Em survives and teams up with Gwyl – a Breton archer who has almost completely lost faith in humanity. Together Gwyl and his new protege–now crop-headed and disguised as a boy–travel through the countryside giving archery exhibitions. But there is one man who hasn’t forgotten the little red-haired girl. He has some unfinished business with her and he is determined to finish it. And one freezing winter in a castle completely besieged, he might well get his chance…

Winter Siege is a stand-alone historical novel started by the late Diana Norman under her pseudonym Ariana Franklin. It has been completed by her daughter Samantha Norman.

My 2015 began with a small historical fiction kick and in the first few months I read more historical fiction than anything else. So when the lovely people at Bantam approached me with a copy of Winter Siege, I naturally said yes. The book was published as paperback in the beginning of February, but due to a hectic schedule and the length of the novel, I only managed to read it by the end of February.

Winter Siege is set in England in the 1141 against the backdrop of civil war between Matilda,King Henry’s daughter, and Stephen, his nephew. The story follows too separate characters: Em, a young red-headed country girl and the young Lady Maud of Kenniford. The story moves between the two very different lives in the country torn by war. Em is hunted down by soldiers and raped, but survives thanks to Gwyl, a mercenary with a heart. Lady Maud is the daughter of a Master of Kenniford who is married off to a distant Lord in order to save the castle. The two have their own struggles and it surprisingly the war that brings these two together.

I must begin by stating that while I enjoyed reading about these characters and about their struggles in 12th century England, Winter Siege is not my favourite historical fiction of the year. I guess the story suffered a bit from the imminent comparison to Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose that I read recently. The two books have a similar structure in that Franklin’s book is also narrated by an old monk on his death bed. The story is on occasion interrupted by a meta commentary of either the scribe jotting the story down or the monk, which I didn’t really deem necessary. Winter Siege is well-researched and appears very accurate, but the story also had some elements that I found very confusing and/or unrelatable. Nothing compares to Eco, but I was still left hoping for more depth. I enjoyed the character development in the book, and was able to picture the main characters well. I’d recommend Winter Siege to readers of historical fiction and to those who are interested in the political power play of 12th century England.

Winter Siege is set in Cambridgeshire and is one of my “Modern” Detour stops in Reading England 2015.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.


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