Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Crowning Mercy by Bernard Cornwell & Susannah Kells

I waited far too long to read another Bernard Cornwell novel after devouring his Arthurian trilogy in the late 90s. A Crowning Mercy (written with his wife, Judy, who used a pseudonym) was a rollicking read, filled with romance, peril and high adventure. It definitely whetted my appetite for more Cornwell!

Campion, the story's heroine, is a young woman raised in a dour family of English Puritans, who have taught her to fear a God of wrath and terrible punishment. Despite their strictures, Campion believes in her heart in a God of love and joy. Her encounter with the handsome Toby Lazender beside a stream gives her a first taste of how divine love can be, but she must face the worst of human cruelty and greed before she finds her own heaven on earth.

Campion's fate is inextricably entwined with the mysterious Covenant, symbolized by four beautiful golden seals that could unlock an inheritance of unimagined riches.

A Crowning Mercy is, at its heart, a very well written and intricately plotted adventure story, filled with despicable villains I wanted to boo and hiss and good-hearted heroes I wanted to cheer. The pages flew by as Campion faced one peril after another: a family plot to wed her to a pathetic man, a kidnapping, a siege, the death of a kind benefactor and the wounding of her true love, and a trial and near execution for witchcraft.

The novel examined deeper themes amid all the derring-do. The Cornwells explored how people sometimes use religion as a justification for fear and hatred, especially of women. The witchcraft trial scenes were harrowing and made me pity the real women and men throughout history who were falsely accused, tortured and executed. Our society may have moved beyond burning witches, but the story reminded me that such unreasoning fear and hatred, cloaked in religion's mantle, still exists today. The Cornwells also wove a thematic struggle throughout the novel between the notion of a God who delights in people's pain and a belief in a more kind, loving Creator.

The Cornwells also skillfully used the backdrop of the English Civil War to give the reader a good sense of the radical politics and religious fanaticism sweeping the country at the time.

A Crowning Mercy was my second read for the Historical Fiction Challenge and the February book of the month for the Historical Fiction forums at Paperback Swap. I thorougly enjoyed this novel and closed it with a sigh of regret that I had to leave its captivating world behind. Bravo, Mr. and Mrs. Cornwell! My grade: A.

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