Meg Mathers, the headstrong youngest sibling of a reiving family on the English-Scottish border, is determined to remain at her childhood home, caring for the land and village she’s grown up with. When an accident brings her a broken ankle and six weeks in the resentful company of ambitious and angry young reiver Will, attraction starts to build. Both begin to realise they might have met their match and the love of their lives, but 15th-century border living is not that simple, as Meg soon finds herself betrothed to the weakling son of a tyrannical neighbour, Alexander Gray. When tragedy strikes, can Meg and Will find their way back to each other, and can Will finally take his own personal revenge on Gray?
I confess I am an unlikely reader of The Raided Heart. Romance rarely crosses my radar, as I spend my days immersed to the elbows in grimdark fiction. Reading this novel as a newbie to the his-fic romance genre came as a sweet yet salty respite from all that torment.
I’m not the most romantic of souls, but I couldn’t fail to be enchanted by the slow burn of Meg and Will’s passion, thrown to the wolves of Gray’s ambition and dastardly manoeuvres. Jennifer writes with a deft touch, and brings a sweetness to the main characters, while also managing to depict them as people of their time, bound by social and financial conventions that dictate their freedom (or lack of) to be together.
Meg is the daughter of a small steading, living with two unwed brothers. Her role is broader than most women of the time, reflecting the lack of married mistress of the village. She knows that this must change at some point, even as the thought of leaving Longridge fills her with dread. Into this village of reivers come Will Hetherington.
Will has a tragic past and a whole lot of grudge to go around when it comes to Gray. Desperate times call for scruples to be put to one side, and even as he and Meg grow close, he knows that he will lose her to a profitable marriage. Jennifer captures that sense that women have hard lives tending to hearth and home, but that men in their own way are just as constrained, as chattels to those with greater strength in arms or wealth. They are free in name only.
The salt is added by the wonderful period detail that this novel pours from the page. You are transported to the 15th century, to the uncertainty and hardship that life brings. The borderlands of Northumberland may be beautiful, but they are dangerous and hostile in equal measure. Thus those that make their lives there must learn to compromise, to forge alliances with others who they fear may betray them in the most brutal manner possible.
Meg’s marriage to a man unworthy of her, while one that brings greater security and wealth to her family and their wider village, may come as a shock to the modern reader. Meg’s sense of duty even as her heart is ripped apart is well observed, as is Will’s impotence at being able to wed the woman he loves.
This is a beautifully researched book, but it wears that research lightly. Time and place are impeccably observed. You feel the fear of the women, sitting by the windows waiting for their men to return from raids. The hardships of winter and poverty, and the lack of justice or protection for victims of crime, or worse, are well-drawn.
The romance is sweet and believable, and never cloying. There is always a sense of foreboding and danger on the horizon, which must have been commonplace for both men and women of the times. Hunger and poverty are always nearby.
The Raided Heart is a most enjoyable read on a cosy winter’s night, tucked away from the inhospitable weather. If you are looking to step into the his-fic genre, I found this a great starting point as a stand-alone read to dip a toe in the water. Recommended.
About Jennifer C. Wilson
Jennifer C. Wilson is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history and historical fiction whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east of England for work reignited her pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition and has been working on a number of projects since, including co-hosting the North Tyneside Writers’ Circle. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and her time-slip novella, The Last Plantagenet?, by Ocelot Press. She lives in North Tyneside and is very proud of her approximately 2-inch sea view.
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Disclaimer: This review reflects my enjoyment of The Raided Heart, but in the interests of transparency please note that Jennifer C. Wilson is my friend and writing buddy. Many thanks to Jennifer, and Rachel’s Random Resources for the ARC of The Raided Heart, and for including WGN in the book tour.
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