Twin sisters separated at birth, one cosseted in a lavish lifestyle, the other hidden away behind convent walls meet through letters. In Book 1, The Lily and the Lion, the sisters Cécile d’Armagnac and Catherine Pembroke begin to puzzle out the political reasons behind the separation. They finally are united, but soon their lives are threatened by the power-hungry William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury. Separation being safer than staying together, the sisters part ways once more, this time as fugitives.
This second installment opens with Cécile and Catherine on the run with their protectors, the knights Simon Marshall and Gillet de Bellegarde. Cécile, having sacrificed her virginity to Edward, the Black Prince, to save her sister’s life, lies in the hull of an England-bound ship, sick from pregnancy and the rough seas. When the Prince’s men commandeer the vessel, Catherine quickly returns the favor by masquerading as Cécile. She’s whisked away to the Prince, while her sister continues to England.
Lovers’ misunderstandings ensue in the two kingdoms. Cécile and Gillet spar prettily at his Kent family estate, passion and jealousy taking turns as her belly blooms and lovers both threatening and tempting appear. Catherine, on the other hand, quietly falls for Simon, who masks his affection as he keeps her safe from the Prince’s lustful eye. Catherine’s charade lasts only until Salisbury uncovers the truth, compelling Catherine and her cadre of protectors to find a way to escape.
Their route, however, carries its own agenda. Simon takes Catherine first to a monastery, and then on to the Paris seat of the Knights Templar, as he continues his quest to find the missing, mysterious Lady of Scotland. It’s a subplot that fits into the sisters’ breathtaking saga when the Earl of Salisbury appears, seeking the Lady as well as Catherine. The chase ends at her beginnings, at the convent in which she grew up. Danger quelled for the time being, relationships are allowed to blossom, both for Catherine and for Cécile, whose day of happiness is embellished by an unspoken mission Gillet must attend in the near future.
This teaser caps a string of events that carry the story forward with expert pacing, passionate entanglements, and a rich language full of clever colloquialisms and a good deal of humor. In contrast, however, the scenes of subjugation remind us of the maltreatment of women that was common and condoned by society. Early in the tale, Cécile is shocked to see Gillet’s sister-in-law routinely beaten by her husband, and then horrified to find her encased in a scold’s bridle. Cécile’s attempt to help the woman results in being subjected to harsh punishment for interfering.
If there’s one positive outcome to this horrible subjugation is that Cécile stands up against injustice–no matter what the cost. And that is the arc of Book 2: the sisters finding their power in a cruel era of patriarchal oppression. To witness this maturation shines a hopeful light on the third book of the series, The Gilded Crown. The authors have written a captivating and historically accurate story with characters that are vividly portrayed.
Historical romantics of all ages will enjoy this rollicking affair that continues the story of spirited twins who do battle with cruel relatives, nefarious noblemen, misunderstood suitors, and above all, the constraints on women’s power in 14th-century England and France.