I liked this book. Could the reason for my reaction be the fact that I
learned Bobbie Burns' Scots Wha Hae at my father's knee? Or that
a plaque with the words Frae Scotland hung on our family room
wall? Or because William Wallace and Robert the Bruce were my heroes
before Mel Gibson made Braveheart?
Or could I have enjoyed this book because it is the closest thing I have
come across in recent months that is, in my mind, a real
historical romance? I have always believed that historical fiction (of
which I count historical romance as a sub genre, differing only in its
assured happy ending) is the most enjoyable way to learn history. I
blush to admit how much of the interpretation of 12th and 13th century
England that I present to my students is rooted in the novels of Roberta
Well, if you want to learn a good deal about the history of
English-Scottish relations in the early 14th century, about the
personalities of the old Edward I and the young Robert the Bruce, about
the political machinations of the Scottish nobility when faced with a
popular rising led by a commoner, about the ugly realities of medieval
warfare, then read Virginia Henley's recent novel, A Year and a
Day. By the way, you will also experience a compelling love story
and some really steamy love scenes.
The hero of A Year and a Day is Lynx de Warenne, nephew and heir
of Robert de Warenne, Edward I's trusted military leader. He has
accompanied his king to Scotland to (once again) take the necessary
steps to convince the Scots that Edward is their overlord. He is given
control of the important royal castle of Dumfries, in part to forge an
English presence in the area, in part to keep an eye on the local Scots
noble, Robert Bruce. Robert and Lynx have been friends since childhood,
but Lynx is not blind to the fact that Bruce's loyalty to Edward is
rooted in his own self-interest and ambitions.
The heroine is Jane Leslie, daughter of the steward of Dumfries Castle.
I often wonder why every second Scot heroine has to have mystical
powers. Still, Jane's healing powers do play a significant role in the
story. Jane had hoped never to marry, but rather to use her skills and
knowledge to heal both humans and animals. She certainly never planned
to become handfasted to an arrogant English lord, however much he may
resemble the mighty lynx she has dreamed about.
Henley manages to create a scenario whereby the handfasting of a
powerful English lord and a young Scots girl makes sense. De Warenne
had been married but his wife had never conceived nor had his long time
mistress ever borne a child. He desperately wants a son, and the
fertility of Jane's family (nine brothers and sisters, thirty nieces and
nephews) suggests this young woman might prove the answer to his
prayers. He agrees that should she become pregnant, he will marry her
and make the child his heir.
Thus, we have a fairly standard romance plot: King Copheta and the
beggar maid. Of course, Jane comes to love her Lynx (even his unusual
name is accounted for by the canny Henley; his name is really Lincoln),
but realizes that he sees her only as a brood mare. She has the
cooperation of her husband's sister in turning her from a naive maiden
into an alluring lady so that her husband will come to love her for
herself, not merely her childbearing capacity.
Add to this mix a jealous mistress and a rival bent on destroying Lynx,
a romance between his sister, Marjory, and Robert Bruce, and the
dramatic political and military events that were chronicled in a
different fashion in Braveheart, and the result is an exciting
tale that kept my interest throughout.
I will admit that Henley's writing style tends toward the pedestrian and
she occasionally uses language that is anachronistic. (I doubt a 13th
century nobleman would ask that his sister "cut to the chase" or speak
of returning to the front, and I found the frequent use of the phrase,
"you are so bad" annoyingly inappropriate; but maybe these were excised
in the final version.) Yet, Henley did keep the story moving, and, for
the most part, got the history right.
One listmember, commenting on A Year and a Day, sang the book's
praises, but remarked that she ignored "that political stuff." What a
shame! The "political stuff" is one of the real strengths of this book.
The love story, the plot, even the characters, are all quite familiar to
readers of medieval romance. Henley's interweaving of "that political
stuff" into her story is what moves this book beyond the average
Another listmember noted that, unlike other romance authors who have
moved into hardback, Henley did not tone down her love scenes. She sure
didn't! The love scenes are hot enough to warm up even the cold Scot
climate. So A Year and a Day has a little bit of everything for
every reader. Enjoy.