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Review: The Lute Player, Norah Lofts

luteYoung lute player Blondel recognizes his luck when he is conscripted to play for the princess Berengaria, even when he longs to get away.  Soon, however, he falls in love with Berengaria, and his disabled rescuer Anna, duchess of Apieta, falls in love with him.  But Berengaria loves Richard of England, and has longed for his hand in marriage ever since she saw him play in a tournament.  She’s determined to marry him, and all the players in this novel must bow to her whims, and eventually to the whims of Richard the Lionhearted as he attempts to fulfill his life goal of crusading.

This book definitely fell victim to my recent avoidance of historical fiction.  I still love medieval history, but it’s gotten to the point where I’ve read so much that I’ve really heard it all before, particularly with regard to the most popular periods in history.  As I was reading this book, for example, I could hear my undergraduate professor telling me all about the crusades, about Saladin and Richard, and about Berengaria and how Eleanor of Aquitaine brought her across various countries just to get Richard to marry her.  When I’m seeking something fresh and new, I don’t particularly want to read something where I know what’s going to happen.  Of course I didn’t know all the details, but I’m just trying to express my own frustration so it doesn’t put others off reading these books.

And as medieval historical fiction goes, this isn’t a bad choice at all.  Told through alternating viewpoints, the reader gets a full picture of a twelfth century crusade, as well as life in Spain and eventually England.  The history is a little dated since the book came out in the 50’s, but I don’t think anyone else would really notice since most of the ideas are still the same, and her account of the crusade is surprisingly accurate.  I was pretty sure that Richard had an illegitimate son, and Wikipedia agreed with me (with reliable sources), so perhaps no one had investigated that yet.  The writing, however, doesn’t feel at all dated, and I could easily imagine this book coming out today as new.  As ever, the crusade is the most interesting part of the book for its sheer oddity.

I found some of the characters defied belief somewhat; it’s impossible to imagine Berengaria actually attempting some of the things she does for a man she hadn’t ever spoken to, who was barely aware of her existence, for example.  My favorite was Anna Apieta, typically the most fictional of them all, but she was a fascinating character.  She is crippled from birth, but she’s been given advantages because she’s the illegitimate daughter of a king, and so she’s much more aware of the plight of the poorest people than any of the others, and she has a great deal of sympathy.  I could never blame her for her bitterness and frustration towards Berengaria, because who wouldn’t struggle to be constantly in the presence of a beautiful half-sister?  Her ability to stay with that half-sister through many trials is admirable and makes her by far the strongest character in the book.

Overall, if you do enjoy historical fiction set in the medieval period, I think you could hardly go wrong with The Lute Player.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.

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