Book Review | “Almodis: The Peaceweaver” by Tracey Warr My first EPIC historical novel from Impress Books!

Posted Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a new reviewer for Impress Books (from the UK), as I found Impress Books at the conclusion of [2015] and have been blessed to start reviewing for them. I crossed paths with one of their publicists on Twitter and started a convo about the historical novels of Tracey Warr. This led me to ask if they would consider a book blogger stateside to review her stories and thankfully my enquiry was well-timed as Warr has a new series launching in 2016! I look forward to hosting their authors (either for review or guest features) and finding well-researched stories of convicting historical story-lines in the process.

I received a complimentary copy of “Almodis: The Peaceweaver” direct from the publisher Impress Books in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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What initially drew my eye to read Almodis:

I love EPIC Historical dramas – especially the ones where your being treated to an unknown chapter of history you’ve yet to visit properly! The 11th Century is one of my under-read centuries of interest and when it comes to the locale for this novel (Languedoc) I’ve visited this setting previously in the war drama that crushed my soul: Citadel. I entreated inside the Early Middle Ages previously when I read Illuminations, wherein I was so distraught for Hildegard’s plight, I was thankful her story had a bit of restitution at it’s conclusion. By the time I re-visited this part of the Middle Ages in Camelot’s Queen, I had noted how guttingly difficult the Medieval Ages were overall.

I am drawn to fiercely strong female protagonists in historical fiction narratives – this has been true throughout my wanderings in literature for the past three years I’ve been blogging my bookish life. Inasmuch as it held true as a reader who sought out one wicked good read after another that would bring the gravity of historical perspectives through a living spirit of a character you felt you could emphatically respond too outright.

When I first read the synopsis for this novel, I was struck by several things all at once: the centreing of the timescape by Warr, the determined grit of her lead character Almodis and the conviction of proving to everyone that you can carve out your own destiny, even if others around you are not as easily convinced your living in an era where a woman can choose her own path to walk. The backdrop of war felt fitting for the era, as most of the early centuries were torn by war and by power re-alignments to such a madding level of frequency, it’s curious how anyone felt any measure of peace to simply ‘live their lives’ without a cloud of fear looming over them; especially to see if war would touch them directly.

Going into my readings, I was wicked happy to be reading a well-researched and well-thought out portion of the historical past, as evidenced by Warr’s approach to conceive this story but also, how she aligned her vision by the way her story is laid out inside the novel itself. I also had in the back of mind the notion that before I could address her newest novels (the Conquest series), I wanted to pull back time and retreat inside the debut novel that set the tone and score of everything that would come lateron.

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Book Review | “Almodis: The Peaceweaver” by Tracey Warr My first EPIC historical novel from Impress Books!Almodis
Subtitle: The Peaceweaver

"Some say Almodis was a serpent, a scandal, a whore. They say wrong."

After generations of fighting amongst the ruling families of eleventh-century Occitania, the marriage of Almodis de la Marche to Hugh of Lusignan is intended to bring peace and harmony to the region. But at a time when a noblewoman's purpose is to produce heirs, Almodis resolves to create her own dynasty.

Almodis' path to power and happiness is fraught with drama. Having escaped her marriage blanc to God-fearing Hugh, she weds the lascivious Pons of Toulouse and takes over the administration of the great city. However, his distrust leaves him plotting to imprison her at a nunnery. Fearing for her life, Almodis flees in the dead of night - the young, gallant Count of Barcelona might be her one chance, if only he wasn't betrothed to another...

Intrigue, forbidden love and murder underpin this extraordinary story based upon the life of a real medieval countess, whose children went on to rule southern France and northern Spain.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781907605093

on 12th October, 2011

Pages: 345

Published by: Impress Books (@ImpressBooks1)

Formats Available: Hardcover & Ebook

Warr’s second novel was The Viking Hostage (Book Synopsis) | Pub Date: 1st September, 2014

Warr’s upcoming NEW RELEASE is the 1st novel of the Conquest series:

Daughter of the Last King (Book Synopsis) | #PubDay is 1st September, 2016

Converse via: #HistFic or #HistRom

About Tracey Warr

Tracey Warr

Tracey Warr is a writer based in Wales and France, and has published novels and books on contemporary art. She was Senior Lecturer, teaching and researching on art history and theory of the 20th and 21st centuries, at Oxford Brookes University, Bauhaus University and Dartington College of Arts.

Her first novel, Almodis: The Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011), is set in 11th century France and Spain, and was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative and received a Santander Research Award. Her second historical novel, The Viking Hostage (Impress, 2014), is set in 10th century France and Wales.

She received a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary for work on her new trilogy, Conquest , set in 12th century Wales, England and Normandy. She received an Authors Foundation Award from the Society of Authors for work on a biography of three medieval sisters, entitled Three Female Lords. She is also working on a new historical novel featuring a 12th century female troubadour in Toulouse, and on a future fiction novel set in the debatable territory of a river estuary, between water and land, in the 22nd century.

Her writing on contemporary artists has been published by Phaidon, Merrell, Black Dog, Palgrave, Manchester University Press. Her latest art publication is Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Ashgate, 2015). She reviews for Times Higher Education, Historical Novels Review and New Welsh Review.

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By the time of her (second) grand-father’s death, Almodis has risen inside her being to start her life as a woman of confidence (whether or not she fully felt it) in order to gain a bit of traction on a path that is slowly receding away from her control. She forms a bridge of trust with her Aunt (Eustachie) in order to secure the release of her Uncle, but it’s what occurred whilst he was taken that upturnt everything out of the small fraction of peace she once entertained. A credit to taking liberty with timing, there was a power coup in the making where the young man who lost his mother at the stake burning was burnt out of his heart and will to lead a life of good; his spirit could not allow him to live peacefully, and thus, his actions precipitated the unrest of power besieging Almodis’s Aunt. By paying the ransom to free her Uncle, it was only a faint hope towards restoration of the lost hours of health her Uncle endured whilst imprisoned rather than to recover the control his absence erased.

I hadn’t suspected she might have played the role of observant spy, however, I knew something was afoot as there was something just ‘out of sight’ of the beginning chapters, almost as if I had walked into a story already in-progress and I was missing a few details or something quite obvious that was keenly needed to be known. I could not put my finger on it directly until Almodis was speaking with her father so quickly after their reunion – the final pieces drew together and I must admit, it made plausible sense! Why else would a father be so quick to part with his five year old daughter and leave her to be raised in a home not of his choosing but rather amongst people who came to resent her presence? Everyone else except the grand-fathers, as for whichever reason, I felt the grand-fathers played a special role in her life; it was here that I realised they were her surrogate fathers.

My Review of Almodis: The Peaceweaver:

Almodis is wondrously well-conceived and alive against the pages of this novel, where even at a tender age of insight to arrive on her young shoulders, circumstance has changed her opines about the oppressive state which blights out the security for women to live long lives of their own choosing. Hers is a time where men not only ruled the house, but they controlled everything tied to their land and home; including being able to take a second lover if it suited them but if their wives were to do the same? A harsher reality would befell those who dared to live outside of their marriage, and it is at such an event (a stake burning) that seared a living truth of how women are viewed as ‘less than men’ that formulated a thought process inside young Almodis to live against the tides of convention. To such a level of clarity, she cross-examined in her mind her love and appreciation for her loved ones (both living and dead) realising that some alliances might be tested but she would have to find a fortitude of strength to continue onward if such a treaty amongst family were severed.

Intellectually intuitive and graced with a grand-father (her second, her first died tragically at the hand of her current grand-father; such a brutal age!) who respected her wanton appreciations for literature and learning, granted her freedom to read from books housed in his library. Some of which were annexed to her through the death of her grand-mother bequeathed to her outright. We quickly learn the lay of the land, how honour and decree are paramount to futures not yet lived and how easily one has to assume the role their given if they have any hope at all to live a life of substantial years.

Almodis is being raised in her grand-father’s house as a treaty of sorts with her father to grant licence of power and control of lands that would otherwise still be in dispute. It’s a bit more complicated than this (of course) as partially the reason for Almodis to have a betrothed by the age of five is to unite three regions that were previously in direct offense of each other and whose power of control was never quite easy to understand. In this state of normalcy, Almodis is wary of her grand-father’s wife (Agnes) whose demeanor of chastising Almodis grows thin but mostly, she’s a smart girl to recognise Agnes is acting out of spite.

Her desire to know what is happening with her twin sister, Raingarde overtakes her thoughts which is why she takes heed to curate a gathering of lettered conversations she is not able to send forward for fear of their confiscation. It’s not a life for the faint of heart nor weak of strength, as more times than naught, Almodis is sanctioned off from a properly rounded life of being in connection with others; her age or otherwise. Her sole purpose is become the ‘peacemaker’ of her family and to unite warring factions who would otherwise seek to perpetually disunite the lands in her region.

Almodis’s reunion with her father, sister Raingarde and her brother are so emotionally connective of how long the heart can hope for the disappearance of distance from loved ones. It became one of my favourite touching scenes in a historical story to observe. Especially as Warr first shows Almodis arriving at her father’s rooms prior to uniting with him or her sister directly, that small wave of anguish that is flowing through her veins and the resolute hope binding her to believing her sister Raingarde will embrace her with love rather than scorn for the hours they lost between them. You shift forward finding all is quite well with her family, and her reunion with them couldn’t have been sweeter if you had attended the scene yourself.

I love how Dia re-enters the story-line as her first appearance is inter-linked with the timeline of Almodis’s return to her family. She was a gift from a young man (Ramon) who appreciated the curious mind of Almodis and her passion for literature and poetry. It was such a kind gesture of friendship and such a treat for Almodis to find someone who understood her on equal grounds. I felt this might become a luxury she would not always be at the freedom to entertain.

As Almodis takes on her new role as Hugh’s wife, she soon learns how being strong in conviction and of having a mind of one’s own is not as easy to illicit respect when everyone is used to the traditions of how things were run before she was wed. I applauded her tenacious moxie to overtake tradition and re-establish her right to choose how to run her own household, but I knew she would be distraught a bit by the lack of appreciation at her attempts to do what truly was in her full right to do. Almodis had such a clarity of purpose within her, and it was her knowledge of the world that helped her gain traction of strength to counteract the fears of those who felt all was already lost (there was a lot of fear about the ‘end of the world’ in the Medieval Ages). Almodis saw rites of passage and of transition through growth of station, power and the potential of expansion once confidence was restored through the peace her union to Hugh had brought the three families of the region.

If you take a step back and contemplate it from Almodis’s point of perspective, it doesn’t sound like something that would be hard to ascertain in her generation but it’s due to her gender and the traditions of those before her that warranted her the most obstinate of objective reactions. This is one reason I saw how her heart grew in the splendor of joy bursting out of an unexpected borrowed gift of Dia, the story-teller to her and Hugh’s residence. Dia eventually moved to towne, but it was her steadfast friendship and her uncanny way of singing songs (how she spun her stories to life) which reverberated through Almodis’s emotional state that what left a mark on Almodis the most. Dia simply knew how to draw out the emotions Almodis tried hard to keep out of sight.

Warr has constructed such an intricate plot around Almodis, as her fate is mirror to Guinevere in some ways, as neither woman could fully believe they were being deceived at every turn. Almodis had a servant working against her and a second marriage optioned to her to increase her brother’s steed of wealth and power. She was being used and taken by men, without any consideration for how this might affect her psychological well-being or her very spirit as a woman who had always believed in the purpose of her role as a wife and mother. She had a sharpened mind which caught her a few breaks along the way, without which she might not have fared as well as she did. Except to say, it was not without it’s hurdles.

The fact Almodis’s story is living history is a testament to the imagination of Tracey Warr who presented her life in such a fashion as to encourage us to draw closer to her journey towards ruling land, home and her mind with such an intricate understanding for order. I agree with Warr, this is definitely a story that played out well in a historical narrative, as there are such far reaching scenarios to understand what happened between her marriages, the births of her children and how everything knitted together in the end where different children took over the original three regions which were always succumbing to war. She wasn’t just the weaver of peace for her generation but for multi-generations down through her descendants as the works she accomplished whilst she was alive remained a living memory of who she was whilst she dared to entrust herself to live authentically towards the honour she felt she was always bestowed to upheld.

Bernadette’s perspective:

Bernadette was the young girl who grew to become the lady’s maid of Almodis, taken just as young as her mistress and set-up in a life far from her home. Bernadette was not the most gracious of girls nor was she one who had tact or any sense of what is proper in company, but what she did have (of which Almodis credited her with as well) is a willingness to heed Almodis’s wishes and consent to the life she was conscripted inside. It isn’t until we are on the brink of understanding the fuller implications behind Almodis’s nuptials to Hugh that we start to retreat inside Bernadette’s perspective.

Although she was taken at a young age and put into service, she was not absent from the ways of the world or the knowledge of what certain actions can lead too if a girl isn’t careful. Her mother prepared her for everything she felt her daughter should know, except for one lesson she was re-missive in teaching her: sometimes the sweet talk of a bloke isn’t to cull your heart into love but to gain something he needs out of you whilst your emotions bewitch your senses. Her path is tied to Piers, the boy who grew to care for Almodis’s horse and falcon; as we watched him grow, I did wonder what he could be hiding, as Warr leaves spaces of curious thought inside her passages. It is almost as though there are small gestures of omission that let your mind ponder ‘why was this not expanded’ only to realise it would have given away a bit too much too early-on!

Bernadette’s interludes start to shift the story from her observations and interpretations of what is happening to the direct view of knowing how Almodis feels as her life moves forward through seasons of living that are not entirely reminiscent of joy. I felt this shifting perspective worked well for the pacing and for the revelations that stepped outside of Bernadette’s views directly. It was nice way of seeing how each of the women in Almodis’s life observed her actions as next to her lady’s maid, Dia was the closest confidante Almodis could hope to have in close quarters.

Fly in the Ointment:

I was a bit surprised by a bit of crude humour included in the context of the story, although seeing a stronger word here or there was not as surprising as I’m finding that sometimes this can become the norm in certain eras where historical fiction weaves it’s course through history. It is not my preference to find either, but blessedly it was not too repetitive to where it detracted from the beauty of the narrative Warr left behind, as I felt in some ways, these inclusions almost cheapened the joy of reading a story so well lit by the narrative prose.

On the historical writing style of Tracey Warr:

Warr take you through the needle edge glimpse of where Almodis was living her life in the here and now, and where her story is being recollected for her daughter’s earnest ear to learn more of her hours; a clever approach for a Prologue but a well-tuned plan to entice a reader’s interest to proceed forward into the heart of the story! I loved how we are both swept backwards into Almodis’s era but also, cross-juxapositioned to the story-teller (Dia) speaking to Melisende (Almodis’s daughter). The art here is how the ‘tale’ being told did not reflect itself as a ‘story’ but fused itself whole inside of a living memory.

The selection of the names of her characters happily help your mind alight itself backwards in time, as the names alone hint towards an era a firm step outside the modern realms. There were moments where I felt myself akin to the feelings I had whilst reading Marissa Campbell’s Avelynn, of whom would be Almodis’s best friend I think if they were not separated by centuries (she lived in the 9th Century; Saxons vs Vikings). Some writers have this wicked way of knowing how to gather their writerly muse so entrenched inside the historical past their featuring inside their stories as to allow us the ability to be so wholly transported, we step out of the pages feeling as if we’ve physically left where we were reading the book and lived a portion of their character’s lives!

Warr also does something a bit more rare and describes the wear and tear of battlefield on the face of Almodis’s father; it’s not oft spoken about in other stories, but even I had to think the wounds would surely start to affect a person at some point? All those close quarter fights and the fact they used swords or axes? I could well imagine the injuries without having to dig inside a historical account of battle! I thought it was a tender glimpse into how battle can forestall aging at a more natural rate, and how the afflicted portions of skin and the injuries therein can distort one’s features but never their personality. Warr was still able to give us the strong impression of how beloved Almodis and her sister Raingarde were to their father, including the soft touch of fatherly love he freely gave them despite the hardened life he had lived.

I love how the tone and the guiding thoughts of Almodis lead you through her life’s story – at the back of my mind, I know there is a story-teller re-telling her tale, but as you read the story, your drinking everything in from Almodis’s perspective in such an up close and personal vantage point! It’s beyond wicked clever!

Warr does highlight the difficulties facing women who marry for peace levies or for producing heirs as a woman’s duties were never truly cut and dry. Almodis is conflicted by what she knows is expected of her and these musings are part of the anguished thoughts coursing through Almodis as she tries to navigate her path without a clear direction in mind. Warr does honour Almodis by presenting all facets of her life, from the hard choices (to become withchild even without her husband’s will to see it happen) and to the smaller details of how to keep her house running with accountability. Erstwhile giving the reader a bit of an open door towards a possible outcome for Almodis that is not yet fully fleshed out but could lend a happier existence to a woman who simply wanted to live fully alive, bolstered by the knowledge she gained as a child and a purpose in which to direct everything she could give to family and country alike.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!

Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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