18 April 2010

With a Sword in My Hand

by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem & Pat van Biers (translated by John Nieuwenhuizen)

Allen and Unwin, Young Adult, History, paperback rrp $17.99

With a Sword in My Hand tells the story of Marguerite Van Male, fourteen-year-old heiress to the County of Flanders. It is a rich historical narrative of 13th century France with Marguerite’s life dictated by the demands of church versus state, county and castle politics and the arrival of The Plague.

Marguerite’s life isn’t easy despite her privileged position in society. Her mother, suffering the mental and physical strain of failing to produce a male heir, has been sent to rest in a Convent. Marguerite is left in the castle, with her governess and a father who has little patience for the daughter whose birth he sees as the beginning of his bad luck.

Marguerite doesn’t want to be a princess, learning embroidery with her ladies. She is bold, brave and adventurous, roaming the fields playing pranks with the boys and secretly learning to use a sword. Her father becomes increasingly frustrated by his daughter’s wilful behaviour and arranges a marriage to Prince Edward of England. Marguerite refuses to do as she is told and conspires to arrange a marriage of her own choosing.

Father and daughter stand against each other, sword in hand. Ironically Marguerite and her father cannot see they are more similar than different. Flanders has no prince and needs a strong ruler. Feisty Marguerite might be the answer to her father’s prayers after all.
Regardless of how much I enjoy a book, I rarely feel the need for a sequel. But this time is different. I can’t let go of Marguerite’s story.

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