Gabriella Brooke’s THE WORDS OF BERNFRIEDA: A CHRONICLE OF HAUTEVILLE

I loved the frame of this story. Bernfrieda, an illegitimate daughter of aristocrat Mauger de Granville, sits down in her old age to write a biography of her half-sister Senda. Thus the beginning is imaginatively cast as a medieval chronicle.

As one reads, one gradually realizes that Senda is Fredesenda, the second wife of Tancred de Hauteville and mother to such luminaries as Robert Guiscard and Roger I of Sicily.

Unfortunately, the novel continues throughout to be too much like a medieval chronicle, replete with tells. The consequence is that the characters remain remote and shadowy. So we learn that Senda’s mother Mathilda is cold, and her sister Adeliza spiteful, but there is nothing that motivates these attributes. We learn that Senda is in love with the man who will later become her stepson. But this all-too-common tragedy typical of the 1100s – when young women, especially second or third wives were closer in age to their stepchildren than the elderly men they were forced to marry – is muted, because we haven’t been given the opportunity to come to know Senda or her beau Guillaume.

And so it continues. I was going to say that it never fails to amaze me that legacy publishers could publish books that are not likely to sell, when I checked the back of the book and discovered its provenance to be murky. It was published by EWU Press, but I cannot see who published the current edition. Strangely, Amazon also doesn’t know. Whoever produced the book did a wonderful job, because it is beautifully done. And I can see that this book was a labor of love on the part of the author, who must have spent hours poring over medieval chronicles in order to render this tale. What a pity that she didn’t use some dramatic flair to bring it to life. Two stars.

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