Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review/Interview - In the Shadow of the Storm: Anna Belfrage

In the second of my monthly review/interviews, I'm going back to the reign of Edward II. February's featured novel is In the Shadow of the Storm.

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog

It's a while since I read an historical novel in which the main characters are fictional. Some authors choose to work entirely with 'real' people, some don't. In this instance, I felt the fictional characters gave the author room to manoeuvre and gave me as the reader the added bonus of not having to try to understand and get to know a host of real 14th-century people. 

This is the first of Anna's books which I've read, and I don't know if this is typical of her style, but straight away we are thrown right into the story, much as the central female character, Kit, is literally thrown into it. Immediately, I wanted to know who this woman was, and how she came to be in such a predicament. I didn't have long to wait. What could have been a complicated exposition becomes a deftly drawn, fast-paced painting of the scene. We are off and running.

Characters are introduced quickly and efficiently, and there is no slowing of the pace, yet I still felt as if I was getting to know these people. For all that they are, in a way, fully formed when we meet them, they have some distance to go with their stories and I wanted to journey with them. Sibling rivalry is introduced with minimum back-story, and yet is believable, not only in its own context, but in a universal way too. Anyone with a brother - or sister - will empathise. 

The story of Kit and Adam would have worked very well as a stand-alone adventure, and yet it is weaved into the historical framework of the turbulent reign of Edward and the rebellion of Roger Mortimer. I knew the basics of this period of history, and having read the book I feel much better informed, but at no time did this feel like a history lesson; facts are given when needed, but never shoe-horned into the story.

I finished reading this, the first in a series, late at night, and next morning I found that the characters were still 'with' me. A true indicator that I'd spent the previous evening in another world, fully absorbed in it.

Be warned - there are some brutal, bloody scenes, but these are so realistically drawn that I felt I really was watching the horror unfolding. The brutality is powerful, shocking, and it works as truthful historical drama.

After reading the book, I put a few questions to Anna:

You've spent a long time in a world of time-slip and Scottish and American 17th-century history. Was it always your plan someday to visit the 14th century? 
AB: Yes. The medieval period is something of a first love for me, and the story of Roger Mortimer is particularly intriguing. I did consider writing it as a time-slip, but neither Adam nor Kit showed any inclination for being born in another time than their own, so I had to scrap that.

Once readers have enjoyed this book, what can they expect from the next in the series?
AB: That the story continues? Book one ends in 1323, and the next book, Days of Sun and Glory,  covers 1324 to 1326, with a lot of focus on Queen Isabella and the as yet very young heir to the throne, Edward of Windsor. The entire series is based on historical events, but I’ve also given Adam and Kit their own share of adventures.

Are you planning to write any more about Kit and Adam? And have readers of The Graham Saga heard the last of Matthew and Alex?
AB: The series featuring Kit and Adam consists of four books. The third will be published in April of 2017. And yes, as I have serious separation angst whenever I get to the end of a series, I am toying with a fifth book – but it would be totally stand-alone. That separation angst is also why there is an almost finished book nine in The Graham Saga. Thing is, is it good enough to be published or is it just me pandering to my sense of loss? Matthew is not entirely thrilled at the thought of yet again being paraded before my readers (or so he says: one never knows with him) and besides, the story is pretty sad, so he keeps on scowling at me and telling me it isn’t fair of me to put him and his Alex through all this. What can I say? Life is no walk in the park, is it?

Universal links: 
In the Shadow of the Storm
Days of Sun and Glory