SONG AT DAWN - Jean Gill
It is the story of Estela, a gifted young musician, who is swept up into the retinue of one my favourite historical characters of all time: Aliénor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine. Then the Queen of France, the cultured Aliénor takes Estela on a visit to the court of Ermengarde, Viscomtesse of Narbonne, where the natural talent of the beautiful girl is tutored by the dashing Knight and troubadour, Dragonetz.
Rich in historical detail, this novel brings alive the political intrigue, culture and harsh reality of court life in the twelfth century. Despite their scheming and their obvious rivalry, I loved the characters of Ermengarde and Aliénor. Two of the most powerful women in European history, they shared a common passion and jointly promoted the ideal of ‘Courtly Love’, while surrounded on all sides by would-be assassins, misogynistic churchmen, jealous noblemen and the problems caused by unwanted, inept husbands.
Weaving through this ambitious novel is the wonderful and tender love story of the mysterious Estela and the ambitious Dragonetz. Determined to thwart the bigoted clergy in both their business monopoly over paper, and in their in their plots to cleanse France of Jews and Muslims, Dragonetz is a complex and wily adversary as well as a brave, loyal and attractive lover; a hero for our own time.
I found the politics and the large cast of unfamiliar, foreign names a little confusing at first, but my perseverance was well-rewarded and I thoroughly enjoyed Song at Dawn. This is an intelligent and entertaining historical novel which vividly brings alive the mediaeval era and major characters of the time.