Alison Morton was kind enough to host me for a Q&A on her blog when LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY came out – now that Alison’s latest book in her ROMA NOVA series has been released, I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today!
Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre–regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF–all over the globe.
So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now.
But something else fuels her writing. Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.
Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.
Delighted to have you on my blog, Alison! I know from past conversations that you and I are both huge fans of Robert Harris’s brilliant FATHERLAND (hair-raising thriller that leaps off the premise “What if Hitler won?”) What provided the spark for your “What if” moment, the “What if the Roman Empire survived?” question which drives your ROMA NOVA series?
Thank you for inviting me, Kate! Well, the start of Roma Nova goes back to my own ancient history. Picture an eleven-year-old girl, curly hair, sun hat fallen off her head because she is crouching down on a vast Roman mosaic, and too fascinated by the patterns to pay attention to her mother’s warnings about sunstroke. This was me in Ampurias, north-east Spain. I tipped my head up and asked my father–numismatist and senior Roman nut–who the people were who had made such floors. Who were the children who had played there? Who were the families? He explained about senators and soldiers, traders, merchants, slaves and scribes, how the Romans had come there, what they believed in, how powerful and ingenious they were. When I asked what the ladies and children did, he said they did what the men told them to do. “What would it be like if the women were in charge?” I piped up. He smiled, and said “What do you think it would be like?” And the seed of the idea grew.
I really enjoyed the cultural details from ancient Rome which made their way into your version of modern Rome: elite military forces that still carry the name Praetorian, the noble patrician families and the honored images of their ancestors, the Latin terminology and the references to the gods. But I’m a history geek who has already read a lot of these details in my own research–how did you go about making these historical touches accessible for a reader less familiar with Rome’s ancient history?
It’s a mixture of familiarity and strangeness. First and foremost, the story must be strong and connect with concerns that everybody can identify with: in AURELIA, it’s mother and daughter relationships; a woman balancing career, duty and love; good guys versus bad guys. These anchor the thread of the story for the reader.
The second is context. Readers don’t want to be hit over the head with a big lump of information, so I feed in detail or explanation via a character’s reaction to something or conversation, more often argument, with somebody. And putting a character in an environment they’re uncomfortable with lets them compare it with what is usual for them–a great opportunity to slip in some detail. As you yourself know, tiny touches of detail here and there can go a lot way!
As an example, on the first page, Aurelia walks by the imagines–statues and busts of ancestors–in the hallway in her house and the reader sees how significant and precious they are:
I left my side-arm in the safe box in the vestibule and walked on past the marble and plaster imagines, the painted statues and busts of dead Mitelae from the gods knew how many hundreds of years. Only the under-steward was allowed to dust them; I’d never been allowed to touch them as a child.
And later, Aurelia is asked to translate an incriminating note from Latin–another chance introduce a little more background about when that kind of note would be written.
And the Latin/German expressions and names? As with any historical fiction, the reader needs to feel the strangeness, to be a little off balance, to experience the unique flavour of the world and time they are entering; dropping in foreign language words is one of the most effective ways of doing this. However, no vital plot point should ever be obscured by these expressions. I’ll confess, I was a professional translator before I started writing novels and love playing with words in this way!
I loved the twist you gave on the role of ancient Roman women as guardians of the family hearth and family honor: allowing that role to expand so that the women of Roma Nova act as family heads and even Empresses in their own right. How did you envision that change overcoming the more traditional role of women in ancient Rome?
Ancient Roman attitudes to women were repressive to our eyes, but towards the later Imperial period women gained much more freedom to act, trade and own property and to run businesses of all types. Divorce was easy and step and adopted families were commonplace.
Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders in AD 395, had met Julia, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum. She left her native Virunum, travelled to Rome, found Apulius and married him the day of her arrival. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Novan pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.
Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s roles. And they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions. So I don’t think that it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next fifteen centuries.
Photo courtesy of Britannia www.durolitum.co.uk
AURELIA is a bit of a shift for you your previous ROMA NOVA books concentrate on Aurelia’s granddaughter Carina, and her adventures in a modern-day Rome. What made you realize that Carina’s forceful grandmother Aurelia and her adventures in the tumultuous 60s deserved their own story?
Well, in a way, it was a natural choice. As I was writing the first three books, Aurelia fascinated me more and more. She’s not only Carina’s grandmother but also acts as her “wise councillor”, drawing on a long life of service to the state. What had she done as a young Praetorian officer? And what part had she played in the Great Rebellion twenty-three years before we met her, a seasoned politician and imperial advisor in INCEPTIO? How was she connected with Conrad, Carina’s love interest, whose family was ruined as a consequence of the rebellion? Glimpses of Aurelia’s past life in the first three books were as tantalising for me as well as for readers; several demanded to know her backstory. So did I. As soon as SUCCESSIO, the third book, went to my structural editor, I attacked the keyboard.
Finally, the question you posed to me: do you think historical or alternate fiction does anything to help us understand the past, or is it purely entertainment?
We only have glimpses of what people said or felt in the past based on diaries, accounts and official and unofficial histories written at the time or later and, for the ancient Roman period at least, none of them is complete or unbiased.
Our ancestors lived in different, sometimes (to us) very strange conditions but I firmly believe they worried, celebrated, loved, laughed and wept in ways we would immediately understand. In alternate history, writers and readers can also explore different possible outcomes to historical events: what if Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Or if Washington hadn’t crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776? Delicious fun!
If it’s well-researched and intelligently written, historical fiction, including alternate, stretches out a hand to us and guides us into a world that might have been. It fleshes out the gaps that the historical record leaves yawning. I’m a life-long learner–I went back thirty years after my first degree to study for my history masters–but I’ve found that I remember something best if I’ve been entertained at the same time.
So, in a nutshell: what is AURELIA about?
Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone–her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead–and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.
But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver–Roma Nova’s lifeblood–on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklas, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.
Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…
And now, my thoughts!
AURELIA is something of a prequel in the ROMA NOVA series, detailing the adventures of Aurelia Mitela who is grandmother and adviser to the heroine of the earlier novels–but it stands alone with ease, and will be enjoyed by those new to the series and those who have been reading along. Aurelia is as steadfast as a Roman column, brave and capable, newly head of her illustrious patrician clan and struggling with the age-old balance of work, family, children, love, and the demands of her country. Roma Nova is practically a character in itself; the Roman Empire surviving through the centuries to become a tough little city state that values its women as well as its men, and still prizes Roman virtues like gravitas and service to the Imperium. Fans of ancient Rome will delight in the clever historical details woven throughout: elite guards still called Praetorians, the full pantheon of gods still worshipped, the Roman villas that might have come intact from the age of Augustus, but which are now decked out in 60s technology!
A mysterious industrial smuggling scam sends Aurelia on the hunt, only to find that she is the hunted. The pace never lets up as Aurelia tracks an old enemy from Roma Nova to Germany and even further–and what an enemy he is. He reminded me of my own smug golden-boy villain Pedanius Fuscus from LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY, with the result that I was grinding my teeth in rage as I flipped pages faster and faster to see if he’d get his come-uppance. A racing climax and a fully satisfying ending–recommended for fans of alternate history and fans of ancient Rome!
More about the ROMA NOVA series:
INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series
– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award
– B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
PERFIDITAS, second in series
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
SUCCESSIO, third in series
– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014
More about Alison:
Beta readers: to use, or not to use? I’m a fan, and I’ve found that it’s good to have different beta-readers who you look to for different things. Such as:
1. The Expert. This reader might change from book to book, depending on what you need fact-checked, because this reader doesn’t care about your characters or your pacing, but is reading simply to fact-check you. I had some Roman Army re-enactor types who were good for this. “Make your hero older, it was against Roman regs for a legionary to make centurion before 30.”
2. The Nit-Picker. The person who can be counted on to catch eeeeeeverything little minor mistake. “He can’t wave from the doorway because you already said she saw him *come in.*” I have a goddess named Christi who did this for my last two books.
3. The Language Reader. The reader who hears language like music and will instinctively “hear” where your prose is clunky, where your pacing on a scene is lagging, and hand you the list of verbs you are over-using. For me this is the Dowager Librarian: “Run a word check on `shrug,’ `wink,’ `saunter,’ `shriek,’ and `whisper,’ and cut at least 50% of them.” Yes, Mom.
4. The Big Picture Person. The one with the big-picture eye for story and character development, who can tell you where your story is slowing down or where it needs to be paced up, and who can tell you that your heroine’s turnaround needs to be better set up. Also the Dowager Librarian, for me, as well as Stephanie Dray. (And yes, if you are lucky you will get a Two For One or even Three For One special with some of these beta readers.)
5. The Ideal Demographic. The reader who might not give you much in the way of concrete feedback, but who represents the exact demographic you are trying to hit. For me that’s dear friend Kristen: a voracious bookworm with a solid grounding in history and an enthusiasm for my genre. If she raves about a book of mine, I knowI’ve hit the target. If she’s “It didn’t quite resonate like your last one” I know I’ve got work to do.
6. And finally, The Dark Side. The reader who pushes you to think about going further, whether with your characters or your plot. You’re thinking of writing about an arsonist? This reader suggests a murderer. You want your hero to get beaten up? This reader wants your hero lose a hand. You want your heroine to cheat on her fiance with his friend? This person will suggest she cheat in a threesome with TWO of his friends. Sure, maybe you won’t end up taking the advice. But you’ll consider going further than you ever did before, and it will lead you interesting places. For me, that’s the hubby.
Do you use beta readers?
The historical genre can sometimes abound with wafty heroines – moody princesses and soulful courtesans and sighing queens. If you’re tired of reading about these virginal ninnies, then Stephanie Thornton is the author for you, because her historical heroines rock. I loved her Theodora in “The Secret History,” a tough-as-nails girl who rose from street urchin to courtesan to Empress – and I couldn’t wait for Stephanie’s second book on Hatshepsut, the badass of ancient Egypt who took the Pharoah’s double crown for herself.
Wait no longer – Hatshepsut in “Daughter of the Gods” is here, and she’s a gem: whip-quick, smart-mouthed, unabashedly sensual, driving a chariot like a hellion and dreaming a man’s dreams of power. Have you ordered “Daughter of the Gods” yet? You should.
Stephanie Thornton was nice enough to drop by the blog today to answer some questions! Ok, some one-sentence answers to give some context . . .
1. First project?
My first finished novel was actually “Daughter of the Gods,” but in a strange twist, “The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” was the first published.
2. Current project?
Up now is “Daughter of the Gods,” the story of Pharaoh Hatshepsut and her tumultuous path to Egypt’s throne.
3. Next project?
My next book to hit the shelves will be “The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan,” followed by a novel about the sister, wives, and assorted lovers of Alexander the Great. (Let’s just say he was a busy guy…)
4. I’m seeing a pattern here. Publishers talk a lot about an author’s “brand,” and a lot of the time it seems like BS – most of us don’t have an over-arching thematic arc for all the books we’re going to write in our lives! But with successive novels on actress/courtesan/empress Theodora, Pharoah Hatshepsut, the wives and daughters of Genghis Khan, and a current work in progress on the women of Alexander the Great, you really do seem to have a clear brand of “Badass Unexplored Women of the Past.” Was that deliberate?
Heck yes! I’m a high school history teacher by day, and I get so tired of the lives of ancient women being summed up as their being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. There are a number of mostly ignored, but incredibly badass women in history that should be household names along with Cleopatra and Elizabeth I. (Okay, I realize most households probably don’t spend a lot of time talking about historical women… That might just be my house.)
5. What was your favorite scene to write out of Hatshepsut’s extraordinary life? Most difficult scene?
The battle scene where Hatshepsut is out collecting hands from the dead Nubians is my all-time favorite. I could visualize that scene before I ever wrote the book’s first page. Not only that, but there’s historical evidence that Hatshepsut might have done exactly that in real life, which goes to show that she’s a true badass.
The most difficult scene was definitely the one where Hatshepsut breaks the news to Aset that she’s going to be pharaoh [not Aset’s son]. Depending on who was reading, I was told to make her meaner, have her cry more, or find a really good excuse for why she felt she had to be pharaoh. In the end, there was a good reason for her to seize power, but I also didn’t want her falling all over herself in apology for taking the crown. After all, she deserved it!
6. She sure did! I loved that about her; that she didn’t apologize for being ambitious. Ok, what was the weirdest, whackiest thing you learned in the course of your research?
First, that ancient Egyptian women used a pessary of crocodile dung as a type of birth control. I’m sure it was highly effective at keeping the men away, simply because that’s pretty foul. Second, I am now an expert on stampeding hippos and how best to sacrifice a bull. (Always make sure you have their back legs secured.) Thank the gods for YouTube, because their videos were my go-to for research!
7. Hatshepsut carries her story all on her own, but she’s got a great surrounding cast: her icky-but-sympathetic brother/husband Thut, fellow wife Aset with whom she strikes up a surprising friendship – and of course, charismatic common-born architect Senenmut who alone out of pretty much all of Egypt has the guts to flirt with an all-powerful female Pharoah. Who plays your ideal cast in the multi-million-dollar HBO mini-series? (Because surely Alan Ball and David Benioff are leaving you messages, right?)
So many messages–that’s why I’ve had to hire secretaries! (See Question #9.) I would dearly love to see Hatshepsut played by a dark-haired Emilia Clarke and Senenmut MUST be played by a pre-Voldemort, English Patent-era Ralph Fiennes. *swoon* I’ve always seen Aset as looking like Penelope Cruz and although I’m not sure about Thut, I’m thinking someone like Alfie Allen… someone you could possibly like, but prefer to hate.
8. All your heroines come to dinner–Empress Theodora, Hatshepsut, the wives and daughters of Genghis Khan. How does that evening progress?
First, I hope Theodora’s cooks are in charge of the meal because no one wants to eat food from ancient Mongolia. (Boiled mutton, raw horsemeat, and lots of fermented mare’s milk… Far from a culinary paradise.) I’d daresay there would be some serious gossip on their men’s idiosyncrasies, followed by a rowdy shouting match over who had the greatest obstacles to overcome in order to rule their kingdoms. “I ordered 30,000 people killed after the Nika riots!” v. “I had to marry my brother and then steal the throne from my stepson-nephew!” v. “Dude, my dad is Genghis Khan and he threatened to pour molten silver down my throat if I didn’t clean the ger!”
9. We all know a writer’s life is exactly like you see it on “Castle,” so take us through a typical day for you: the red carpet premieres, the private jet to the 19-city book tour, the weekly lunches with Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, the publisher-funded research trips where they rent out the Valley of Kings so you can walk in Hatshepsut’s footsteps all by yourself . . .
Actually, I’m writing this in a vintage Chanel suit while on board my private yacht while my army of secretaries sort through the details of my book tour and fend off offers from HBO to turn all my books into mini-series. All in a day’s work…
A girl can dream, right?
Actually, my terribly glamorous day starts at 6AM as I stumble out of bed and head off to teach an assortment of history classes. Then I pick up my daughter, rush home for a flurry of afternoon activities, and throw dinner on the table. Only after my daughter is in bed do I get to change into my yoga pants (the required writer uniform, right?), and sit down to scribble a few pages before falling asleep on my laptop.
However, I did get to travel to Egypt a few years ago in order to research Hatshepsut’s story, although that involved traipsing through her mortuary temple and the Valley of the Kings with all the other throngs of gawking tourists. In August, at mid-day. ‘Cause I’m insane like that.
10. What sets your books apart from other historical fiction out there on the shelf?
My whole goal in writing historical fiction is to bring to light these kick-ass, forgotten women and to tell their stories in a way that makes modern readers appreciate all the nasty, gnarly obstacles they had to overcome. I also revel in all the cringe-worthy details that reveal how brutal life in the ancient world could be. Consider yourself warned.
And finally, a fun bonus question: everybody asks writers “Where do you get your ideas?” We both know there’s no meaningful answer to that, so here’s your chance for a snarky response. Where do you get your ideas (and I don’t care where you say as long as it’s not true!)
I drink a lot of wine, study my cats for hours on end, and indulge in marathons of Doctor Who in order to find my inspiration. There’s nothing better than a Syrah-induced haze and the idea of a time-traveling cat to stir the imagination about ancient Byzantium, Egypt, Mongolia, or Greece.
Oh wait… drinking, staring at my cats in a comatose state, and mega-Doctor Who marathons are what I do after my writing deadlines…
Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at www.stephanie-thornton.com.
Sherry Jones is perhaps best known for her controversial novels, The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, international best sellers about the life of A’isha, who married the Muslim prophet Muhammad at age nine and went on to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam. Her new book, Four Sisters, All Queens, a tale of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Italy, comes out in just a few short days.
I’ve been a fan of Sherry’s since reading A’isha’s story–and not just the story of the Prophet’s extraordinary wife, but the story of how her tale came to be published! (Two words: death threats. So much for my belief that a writer’s life is uneventful.) I was delighted when Sherry agreed to a Q&A here on my blog –my very first author interview! Enjoy her entertaining answers.
1. What drew you to write historical fiction and not, say, chick-lit or young adult or sci-fi?
A’isha, the protagonist of my first two novels, The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina. I’ve always tended toward literary fiction in my reading tastes, but she called to me to write her story. In doing so, I discovered the satisfaction of discovering inspiring women in history and getting to know them deeply, and of bringing them to life on the page. Now I’m hooked!
2. You’ve written two novels about Prophet Muhammad’s wife A’isha, and now you’re on to medieval France and four sisters who all became queens. That’s quite a jump! What drew you to write about such widely disparate time periods?
I had intended The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina to be part of a trilogy. After all the controversy around these books, however, I felt a bit beleaguered — burned out on 7th century Arabia. I’d paid several thousand dollars for an English translation of an Arabic biography that I needed for the third book, but I couldn’t get myself motivated to write. In the meantime, I found Nancy Goldstone’s Four Queens in a Seattle bookstore which specializes in biographies and histories. After reading it, I yearned to know more about Marguerite, Eleonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence, these 13th century Kardashians, haha! I wanted to know their emotions, their relationships with one another, their lives with their husbands, their ambitions and frustrations. For me, the way to know them was to imagine them — to write a novel about them.
3. Tell us a little about your research process.
I immerse myself as completely as possible in the time and place while I’m researching. I read everything I can find about the era and the people in my books. I take classes, write to historians, visit the locales where my stories take place, when I can. I go to museums, listen to the music of the time, read the literature. I consult primary sources when they’ve been translated into English, cursing my decision not to study Latin in college. I fill myself up with facts until I feel as if I’ll burst if I don’t start writing — and, even then, I continue researching.
4. Do you have a set routine when working on a book?
I roll out of bed and start writing. Once I get into the “dream state” of writing I lose all track of time — but I’m not one of those marathon writers who goes and goes for days on end. My brain gets tired, my writing gets sloppy. So I stop, usually after about 6 hours. I take lots of long walks to process and dream, after which I may write some more.
5. Four Sisters, All Queens has not just one but four very powerful women–and your recent e-release White Heart has yet another powerful queen. If you could be any one of your characters, which would you pick and why?
I already am my characters, and they are me! And yet — if I had to choose one, I’d be Eleonore. She had a husband who respected her — dare I say loved, in a 13th century marriage? — as well as true queenly power, a close relationship with her children, and a knockout wardrobe. She was also, it’s rumored, a writer.
6. You’ve had to face considerable controversy and uproar when you chose to write about Prophet Mohammed’s life. What did you learn in dealing with that? How has your experience differed with Four Sisters, All Queens?
I learned that I’d rather focus on how to live — in love, courage, wisdom, and peace — than live in fear of death. I learned that people believe what they want to believe. I learned that I have all the strength I need within myself. I learned that, contrary to popular belief, bad publicity is not the same as good publicity. The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina are about the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad who, according to the Islamic traditions, was 9 when she married him, and he was 52. A history professor read an advance copy and freaked out because, she said, of the book’s sexual content (it is PG-13). She scared Random House into dropping publication of my books 3 months before The Jewel of Medina‘s pub date, and told a Wall Street Journal reporter that I had written softcore porn about Muhammad, Understandably, the Muslim world went nuts, especially radicals in the Middle East and, surprising to me, the UK. My British publisher’s home office was set on fire, causing him to cancel publication, too. I had death threats. It was a very frightening time. Four Sisters, All Queens doesn’t have that kind of controversy attached. Well, I DO portray Saint Louis as a religious nut, which he was, having himself flogged every day, wearing hair shirts, ordering the lips cut off a man for blasphemy. So the French may taunt me. But I’m not afraid.
7. Are you currently reading a book, and if so what?
I’m reading a master’s thesis on Abelard and Heloise and a French biography about them. I’m also reading C.W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.
8. Favorite vice that gets you through the stressful times?
Wine, chocolate, and good lovin’. 😉
9. From ancient Arabia to medieval France–where will your next book take you?
I’m staying in medieval France for a novel under contract with Simon and Schuster about the storied French lovers Abelard and Heloise. It will be the first novel about them since the discovery of letters they wrote to each other during their courtship. It will also, like all my books, be a feminist novel exploring women’s power, or lack of it.
10. What other question if any do you think I should have asked you in this interview, and what would be the answer?
“Every writer, it is said, writes about one thing. What is that one thing for you?”
Women’s power in patriarchal society. Girls mature faster than boys and, judging from patriarchy’s sorry history of war, exploitation, and oppression, we stay that way. When women run the world — and we will — will things be different? You bet!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Sherry! And I cannot wait to read Four Sisters, All Queens–just a few days to go.
“Four Sisters, All Queens”
Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eleonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother–and to abide by the countess’s motto: “Family comes first.”
With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eleonore–independent and daring–is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.
Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers–Provence itself.
From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.