THE CROWN ROSE
by Fiona Avery
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Fiona Avery's The Crown Rose draws on the author's deep knowledge of and interest in Mediaeval history. The novel tells the story of Princess Isabelle's conversion from a typical member of the royal family to the founder of a religious order, yet the novel is much more, presenting a window into the period and the beliefs held by its
Avery's protagonist, the historical Isabelle (1225-1270), is a fantastic representation of a Mediaeval princess, although some of her actions and thoughts tend to be reminiscent more of a twentieth century woman who has achieved a certain amount of independence. When this is exhibited within the confines of her own family it may be excused, however there are times when she exhibits that independence outside the family when it seems to misplaced.
The mysterious Sisters of the Rose: Norea, Sofia, and Neci, as well as the equally mysterious Jean Adaret Benariel, are made more mysterious the more Avery reveals of their natures. Although these four characters are practically omnipresent throughout the novel, Avery has chosen to sketch in only the most vague descriptors. Although Isabelle, Louis, and the rest of the royal family feels as if they know the Sisters of the Rose and Benariel, the reader is left with a profound feeling that their characters, while important, are hardly touched by the rest of Avery's characters. This stands out even more given the rapidity with which Avery describes Isabelle and her brothers and sets them apart from each other.
The antagonist of the novel, Pierre Mauclerc, is portrayed practically as a melodramatic, two dimensional villain. In love with Isabelle, or at least the idea of Isabel, Pierre's position with the Knights Templar affords him tremendous access to the royal family, despite their distaste for him. On the one hand, having to deal with Pierre demonstrates the complete lack of power the royal family has in certain circles. On the other, the family has several opportunities to get rid of Pierre, and fails to take any sort of action against him.
Perhaps the biggest strength of The Crown Rose is Avery's understanding of the period in which her characters live. In many ways, the thirteenth century France depicted in the novel is as much a character as Isabelle or her family. Furthermore, just as Avery clearly loves her characters (and shares that love with her readers), she also loves the world they inhabit and portrays it in an infectious manner.
The Crown Rose is a fantasy novel with strong elements of historical novel, or perhaps an historical novel with the intrusion of fantasy. Avery does an excellent job of presenting her characters and their world. At the same time, she builds mysteries which draw the reader in as the mysteries both deepen and move towards their conclusion.
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