The Damask Rose by Carol McGrath – review

The Damask Rose, the second book in the She-Wolves trilogy, opens with a pageant of historical personages, setting the scene for this complex story of the relentless battle for control between Prince Edward, soon to be Edward I, and his power-seeking barons. Simon de Montfort and ‘Red’ Gilbert de Clare, previously featured in The Silken Rose, , return as either enemies or untrustworthy friends to the monarchy during the course of The Damask Rose.

After being held hostage during the Baron’s Rebellion, Edward’s wife, hot-tempered Eleanor of Castile, is determined never to be vulnerable again. Intent on producing a viable heir for the monarchy, many of her children die young and she becomes emotionally distanced from them until they are fully grown. Ruthlessly ambitious, Eleanor is determined to increase her wealth by amassing property and is deserving of the title of a She-Wolf queen.

Olwen, herbalist and plantswoman, provides a good foil to Eleanor. Down-to-earth, she provides medicines and oversees the planting of Eleanor’s castles and manor houses gardens. There are many descriptions of beautiful gardens full of perfumed flowers and herbs.

The Medieval era is clearly a period the author knows well and the story is told in a series of colourful vignettes bursting with fascinating details. The Court is continually on the move. The reader is swept away on a crusade to the Holy Land and partakes in a medieval Christmas, peeps into a herbalist’s stillroom, watches banquets and hunts and attends Edward’s coronation.

Despite Edward and Eleanor’s financial difficulties caused by endless battles to maintain their position and the vast cost of organising a crusade, they build special kitchens to produce the Coronation feast of sides of beef, roasted peacocks, pikes, salmon pies and rich sauces of spices and cream. During the feast, Alexander King of Scotland, rides into the banqueting hall with a hundred knights on their horses. Chaos ensued when he shouted, ‘Catch a horse and he’s yours!’

Eleanor is a faithful wife to Edward and accompanies him on his travels. On her final journey, she is supported by her trusted friend Olwen, who treats her painful illness with herbal medicines. Eleanor left behind a legacy of Paradise gardens and a thriving property empire.

The Damask Rose is perfect for lovers of medieval history, full of the sights, sounds and smells of medieval Britain.

My thanks go to Headline Accent for an ARC in exchange for a review.

To read Carol McGrath’s guest post on medieval gardens, click here.

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