Friday, April 3

Book Review: An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

I've been obsessed with the medieval period since I was a kid (I went from being a three-year-old who only wanted to draw castles to a twenty-year-old who only wanted to read Chaucer), so when I read the description of Uncertain Choice, he first book in a new YA historical fiction series, I bumped it to the top of my TBR pile.

An Uncertain Choice is set in the fictional English village of Ashby in 1390, and Rosemarie, the lady of Montfort Castle following her parents' death to plague, is about to come of age. Rosemarie's most prominent quality in the story is her compassion for others, particularly the poor and sick peasants of Ashby, which she attributes to her parents' example; she gives her meals to beggar children and cannot tolerate the torturous methods of punishment favored by Ashby's sheriff and bailiff. Her mentor, Abbot Francis Michael, cautions her not to overextend the manor's financial resources in her charitable giving as he plans a new cathedral and abbey for the parish.

Against this fairly realistic background, Hedlund introduces a fairytale element: at her birth, Lady Rosemarie's parents made a sacred vow that she would enter a convent upon her birthday - or die. Since learning of their promise, she has prepared, with the abbot's help, to become a nun. Unexpectedly, her godfather, the Duke of Rivenshire, comes to visit and explains that he has found a loophole - if Rosemarie finds true love and marries by midnight on her birthday, she will be exempt from the ancient vow. He brings with him three handsome young knights who fought alongside him in the border wars. At first, Rosemarie is reluctant to veer off the course she has finally accepted as her destiny, but when the duke makes her question whether the sheriff and her people will respect her rule from behind the abbey walls, she agrees to accept his challenge. While the romance is predictable (two of the knights are charming and ebullient and shower her with extravagant gifts, the other is brooding and difficult to read but shares her sense of justice and compassion for the poor), Rosemarie's choice isn't the story's real conflict - it becomes clear that someone in Ashby doesn't want the lady's suitors to succeed in winning her hand and will resort to murder to control her destiny.

Overall, I enjoyed reading An Uncertain Choice - as a wannabe medievalist, I appreciated the detail Jody Hedlund put into Rosemarie's village - from the arched doorway of Ashby's guildhall to the smell of roasted boar turning on spits, Hedlund has a gift for description. The amount of appropriate medieval vocabulary used in the book is just right - enough to be realistic, but not confusing or distracting. The tension created by Rosemarie's choice to rule as the lady of the manor or as a member of a religious order is also interesting and apt for the time period - the church was just as powerful as the nobility and often more so, and many intellectual, upper-class women were consigned to convents in the middle ages. 

However, there were a few factors that kept me from completely loving the book. Rosemarie constantly reminds the reader how important her people are to her, but doesn't mention them by name unless they are her personal servants, making supporting characters, even those like the sheriff with whom she interacts often, seem more like extras. Most of the book is told from Rosemarie's viewpoint, but a few scenes narrated by one of her suitors, and I found the sudden shift at the beginning of the seventh chapter confusing and unnecessary. I also saw shades of Bella and Edward from Twilight in Rosemarie and her chosen knight - she's described as stunningly beautiful, intelligent, and gracious, yet has a very hard time making her own decisions, and is convinced that the moody knight hates her even though he acts like Westley from The Princess Bride every time they are alone together.  I still enjoyed their banter and eventual honesty with one another. While the outcome of Rosemarie's "love square" is fairly predictable, I think YA readers will still enjoy reading about the various ways in which the three knights attempt to woo her, and get caught up in the mystery of who is trying to sabotage Rosemarie along the way. The story's overall theme - that there are different kinds of strength and leadership - is one I think many readers can relate to.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1 comment:

  1. As a Medievalist, I had a number of issues with the descriptions of torture in this story. It was not nearly as common as is depicted here, and not normally used except for the most serious of offences- and I had never even heard of some of the methods that were mentioned in this story. I felt it was OTT rather than realistic.

    Also, I thought the peasants seeming to be totally reliant on daily 'food drops' seemed rather silly. Medieval people. to my knowledge, were quite tough and resiliant. They were usually able to grow their own crops and produce thier own food quite effectively. I find it hard to believe that four years after an outbreak of plaugue, they were stilll totally incapable of supporting themselves.....just my two cents