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Jun 28, 2011

The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland

The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland
Berkley Trade June 7, 2011
Paperback 320 pages
Review copy from publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Of the women in King Richard’s life, she is the least known—and the most powerful.

During the Third Crusade, deaths from fever and starvation are common, but King Richard the Lion-Hearted has a secret ally against these impassable enemies—a mysterious healer by the name of Edythe. She was sent to him by his mother Eleanor, and Richard first assumes that Edythe is a spy. But when her medical knowledge saves his life, she becomes an indispensable member of his camp—even as his loyal soldiers, suspicious of her talent for warding off death, call her a witch.

I read this novel on the Third Crusade in a weekend. It is a perfect summer read, sitting by the pool and losing yourself in a tumultuous era without getting bogged down with the details and facts of the times. The author uses the storyline of Richard of Lionhearted's quest for Jerusalem and brings us the story of the fictional doctor, Edythe, who travels along with Richard's Crusader Army and his sister Johanna as they progress through Acre and Jaffa in efforts to defeat Saladin.

The Third Crusade features notables such as King Conrad of Montferrat and King Philip of France who add to the religious and political strife, but the story focuses on Edythe and her relationships. Edythe serves Johanna, who also has a significant storyline as she is caught up in personal tangles, and Edythe becomes well-known as a doctor of sorts which tags her with the witch insult among the other Crusaders. Edythe helps King Richard during his illnesses and fevers throughout the Crusade, and along the way meets Rouquin who acts as a military commander for Richard. Edythe is attempting to discover the meaning of her own life, as she was rescued by Queen Eleanor many years ago during the persecution of the Jews. That was a different life for Edythe, though, and she had felt like she had acclimated herself to the Christian ways. When she goes along on the Crusade, she begins to doubt herself and her faith, becoming very afraid of the secret she harbors. The secret threatens to harm the only true thing she has come across, which is the love she bears for Rouquin.

Author Cecelia Holland has become quite prolific, as her back list includes over thirty historical novels. I reviewed her last release The Second Eleanor last year and found that I was intrigued by Holland's easy writing style. The King's Witch is no different: the writing was fluent and fast paced and I was entertained by this story set during an important time for King Richard. I was particularly engaged within the story during the battle scenes, and I felt like I raced through those pages. As a fan of historical fiction, I have recently read stories that solely focused on real characters, but this novel reminds me of what is so wonderful about the genre. The setting of the time and place was an educational backdrop to the two fictional characters at the heart of the story, and their story helped me appreciate and understand the turmoil that the Crusaders experienced. This was not just a love story, but The King's Witch incorporated the pressures of the Crusaders versus Saladin with intriguing side stories such as the succession of the crown of Jerusalem. I think it's time I peruse Holland's back list for more of her entertaining reads.