Saturday, August 20, 2011
The Spanish Pearl by Catherine Friend
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
If you like historical fiction, this book by Goldie Award winning author Catherine Friend is for you.
Kate Vincent and her partner have traveled to Spain to adopt a child named Arturo. Kate isn't sure that she wants a child, but Anna does and Kate usually does what Anna wants. Besides, Arturo captures her heart immediately and she is determined to give him a good life. The process is delayed when Arturo catches a cold and, to pass the time, one afternoon Kate decides to visit a cave. While there she becomes dizzy, passes out and wakes up nine hundred years in the past. A woman who is used to cars, television, women's rights and who has an addiction to Diet Coke and chocolate finds herself in the Spain of the Moorish occupation in the days of El Cid. Moorish women have no rights at all, a fact that gets tart tongued Kate in trouble immediately.
Kate is taken prisoner by a group of soldiers, thrown into a harem and forced to live in a world where women are barely third class citizens. She is determined to escape in order to find the cave and return to the future, but is thwarted at every turn by Luis Navarro, a dashing captain of the guard. As Kate blunders her way through the life of the 11th century, Luis is there to save her, stop her and basically try to keep her alive. Kate continues to plot her return, but finds herself being drawn more to Luis, who has a secret to share, and Kate begins to question her relationship with Anna and whether or not returning to her own time is what she truly wants to do. After a daring dash across Spain, time spent in dungeons and being tortured, plus mingling in the intrigues of both the Moorish and Spanish royal courts, Kate has to face a final decision, which century is the one where her heart belongs.
Catherine Friend manags to tell an exciting story that draws the reader in without violating the constraints of history. Kate isn't a 21st century woman running around living that lifestyle in the 11th century. She has to follow the customs of the time, wear the appropriate clothing and respond as a woman from that time would. She doesn't lose any of her fire, but she also isn't accepted as an equal who can stand toe-to-toe with men and look them in the eye.
Friend doesn't use the trick of saying this is fantasy, so forget the reality of the period because it's fiction. She makes her heroine conform to the time and still keeps her interesting. The details in the book show the depth of her research. Little items like Kate, who is an artist, getting in trouble for putting perspective in her pictures (which won't be done for another four hundred years) or making a reference to how women dealt with menstrual periods in those days, help the reader to feel like she is in Spain in 1085 and makes the book seem almost true history. In fact, the reader will have to keep remembering that this IS fiction because the characters seem so real and true to the time.
Don't dismiss this as dry history however. There is humor, lust and danger enough to interest anyone. The Spanish Pearl is an exciting work to read and it might teach the reader something at the same time. Who could ask for more?