Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, I treated myself to read Volume II of Amy Mantravadi’s Chronicles of Maud series, The Forsaken Monarch. At first, I couldn’t decide whether to read it on Kindle or in print, as I didn’t know if I could comfortably hold a 657-page book the way you’d want to curl up and read a novel. I’m glad I went with the print version, as the book had just the right dimensions for holding well, didn’t have too stiff a spine to be able to keep it open to my page, and the font size was large enough to lend to the page-turner excitement that this historical fiction offered.
Since it had been a long while since I read the first volume, I was wondering if I would need to go back for a quick refresher before starting Volume II. But Amy Mantravadi does a great job filling in the reader so that everything fell right back into place. I comfortably slid right back into the drama of the twelfth century. And, while I enjoyed and recommend the first book, I was all the more delighted in Mantravadi’s ability to weave together all the known details of Maud’s history with her own storytelling talents as she continues to grow as a writer. The character development, especially in Maud, is not the flattened, expected type, but nuanced and complicated. In Maud we see privilege mixed with vulnerability, honor mixed with disgust, ambition with resignation. And in this, readers must ponder deeper life-questions about loyalty, legacy, and submission to something higher than our own desires and even rights. Not only that, I just love Maud’s wit, her bravery, and her personality in general.
In Maud, the only legitimate heir to King Henry I’s throne, we see feminine strength. I don’t want to give any of the plot away with the details, but she has to wield strategic foresight, a meek intelligence (in the best sense of the word: knowing when to be direct with it and when to humbly hold back), and proper intimacy to build relationships and influence men who hold the power—whether ecclesial or secular (and that is a question and a battle of its own in the book). She’s Abagail, who has to mediate for her worthless husband. She’s Ruth, who reveals the story behind the story to all around her as she exercises discernment, bravery, and resolve to provide an heir for the royal throne. She’s Achsah, who, as Barry Webb says, “ceases to be an object acted upon by two men. She seizes the opportunity to get something which neither her father nor her husband has considered” (The Book of Judges, 104). And she’s Deborah, a mother for her country and protector of her people.
I’m not exaggerating when I call this book a page-turner, which is significant considering all of the names, geography, castles, and dates there are to keep straight. I mean, why do these people insist on continuing to name their kids Matilda and Henry and William? Somehow, Mantravadi eases this for the reader so that you are not bogged down trying to keep track, but rather can continue reading even if you aren’t sure of a detail at first. She works out any wrinkle you may have had as you continue on. It one of those books that makes you sad to finish because you want to keep spending time with Maud. Thankfully, there will be another volume to look forward to.
*Originally published on January 8, 2020.