If there was ever a book that illustrated the old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" it's The Holding. The cover is the kind that you hold towards your body when you carry it so no one else will see what you're reading. Thankfully, the story inside is the complete antithesis of the cover; it was wonderful.
William has been a loyal knight. As a reward for his service, the newly crowned King Henry has given him the holding of Greneforde. Along with the holding comes Cathryn of Greneforde, who is to become William's wife. A wife, in William's mind, is simply part of the deal, what he is really interested in is having a home and land of his own.
When William arrives at Greneforde, he finds war and brigands have ravaged the lands. He also finds a tower full of unwashed, silent servants and a coolly beautiful Cathryn. Both the servants and Cathryn accept the arrangement of the King without argument, and that's what worries William. The residents of Greneforde are almost too acquiescent and he is not sure he can trust his new wife.
Cathryn of Greneforde most assuredly welcomes a new lord to Greneforde. She is fiercely protective of her home and knows that William and his knights can offer the protection and strength it needs. What she doesn't welcome is the intimacy required of a marriage. She harbors a secret that she is only willing to share with William's priest Godfrey and is determined her new husband never find out.
Though it's pretty obvious what part of the secret is from very early on, the story is nonetheless riveting. This is mostly due to the strong characters, both primary and secondary. Cathryn is a strong and practical woman. When she could have resisted the match arranged by the King, she instead realizes that it can work to her advantage. At no time does she suffer from the feisty streak or foolish independence that breaks many a historical heroine. Cathryn is no doormat though; she does what she has to do to survive without ever giving up her spirit. She's appealing from the very moment she makes the decision to accept the King's command and her character holds the readers empathy throughout.
William is not such a bad character himself. In early scenes he can come across as a bit of an alpha male, but he gentles nicely. He cemented his place as a great hero by saying that his wife's well being was more important than his revenge. Huzzah, a Medieval hero who puts the heroine before his macho needs! His kindness extends beyond Cathryn to other characters such as his squire Ulrich. His patience with the young man is endearing without ringing false.
Of the secondary characters, the best were Ulrich and the knight Rowland. Ulrich is all youthful exuberance, at times barely contained. Rowland, a deep and quiet man recovering from personal loss, is a perfect foil to Ulrich. His strength and wisdom guides both the young squire and his master. I hope to see both of these characters in future books.
There are just a few flaws that keep this book from being truly excellent. The biggest being that the point of view changes several times during each chapter. While it is not confusing, the reader always knows who is thinking, it was distracting. Every time the point of view changes, the reader is thrown out of the narrative flow. Also, the wedding night scene may be distasteful to some readers. Taken in the context of the historical period and after further reading explains some things, it is not much of an issue.
The cover blurbs on the book describe the story as "sizzling" and having an "erotic touch," but the love scenes were not that steamy. Not to say they weren't very good reading, but readers who aren't comfortable with explicit sex shouldn't have a problem with them.
According to Claudia Dain's author information, her next book is loosely connected to The Holding and I'll definitely be watching for it.