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26 July 2011

Three Graces

Sometimes, if done correctly, it's actually more difficult to write fiction than non-fiction, especially if the genre is historical.  The author must be meticulous in wording, so that characters in the 15th century do not speak like they do today or even like Shakespeare (which was turn of the 17th century England).  The dates and events must be in tune.  What happens in the novel must be possible in the reader's mind.  One of the differences between historical fiction of twenty to fifty years ago and those written today is the sex.  Jean Plaidy, Grace Ingram and Georgette Heyer managed to write historically accurate, riveting and fun stories about royals, nobles and peasants, lovers and frenemies without much more than heavy breathing and cutting repartee.  Because readers today expect it, there are certainly more explicit, although maybe romanticized, sex scenes. And, the bawdiness of the times can now be more revealed, although sometimes response to it is written with a 21st century sensibility.

All of this is evident in Jennifer Blake's new series Three Graces, with a mid-15th century England timeframe when the "War of Roses" was settling to an end and Henry II was upon the throne.  The first in the series is By His Majesty's Grace and the first of Blake's published works which I recall ever reading.  The narrative is absorbing.  Without being mired in too many historical references, I can feel the sense of place and time.  Most writers have a word which they cannot help but use often.  Blake's is "divers."  I have seen it before, but still needed to figure out (which one could from context -- another sign of a confidently good writer) that it means something like "various," "plentiful" or "all kinds of."

Authors put characters in all sorts of situations to set up the romance of two strangers marrying each other, but nothing beats royal mandate, which is quite interesting if historically accurate (Henry II claiming guardianship of orphaned daughters of landed nobles and then, presenting them as brides to loyal comrades-in-arms).  I say, " if historically accurate," only because I cannot prove or disprove it.  I in fact have never heard of this royal prerogative before.  It's difficult to believe, though, that Blake would base an entirely wonderfully written novel on a false premise.  So, I am taking on faith that piece of information as historically true, which readers must do all the time.  And, mistresses of the king, bastards, resentful half-brothers, court intrigue and traitors add to good storytelling.

The name of the series "Three Graces" refers to the three Milton sisters, Isabel, Catherine and Marguerite, to whom a curse had been attached, through the invention of Isabel, to protect the three in a world that does not look upon high-born women as anything but bargaining chips and stepping bridges to inherited wealth and family networks.  And the curse is: Death and disaster would befall any man who attempts to join in loveless union with one of the Three Graces of Graydon.  This works well, because back in the 15th century, who married for love?  Not anyone who knew what was good for him (or her)?

And, just as readers suspect and hope, Sir Randall Braesford, bastard son and a nobody, might just be the answer to that curse for Isabel.  I look forward to Cate's and Marguerite's stories.

(It's too bad Grace Ingram's Red Adam's Lady is out of print.  I could have hand-sold that book.  That too had an arranged marriage and a lot of historical colour before winding up with a satisfyingly romantic ending.)

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