Arranged marriages are a way of life in 8th century France. Alda knows this, but the thought of marrying the abusive and hateful Ganelon puts thoughts of joining a convent into her head. Serious thoughts. The only chance of escape seems wrapped up in Hruodland, the only one to show her respect and kindness. Plans begin to form in her mind to escape Ganelon and capture the attention of Hruodland, but this will put her on a path she never expected; one of love, pain, and difficult choices that may break her heart for good.
The depth of reality captured in this book is commendable. The details of the homes, character's dress, politics, and religious beliefs were all carefully crafted. I had no problem putting myself in the time period and believing the events of the story.
The importance of this diligence to story was that decisions and reactions that may have seemed strange to modern readers made sense because the background and setting were so well developed. Even for those readers who are religious, some of the choices Alda makes based on her religious beliefs are hard to take. I was begging her to rethink her choices at times, but I knew she wouldn't, and couldn't because of the world she lived in. Even though I didn't want her to make certain choices, I would have been disappointed if she hadn't. All of the characters were very believable and realistic, which made their story so much more compelling.
The story overall was not what I expected at first. I had expected the courtship between Alda and Hruodland to last the majority of the book. There were several complications presented early on that it could have made it last, but in reality their courtship was actually a much smaller portion of the book. The rest focused on the struggles they faced after their marriage. For a while, I wasn't sure what the main theme of this book was. It took until about halfway through the book before I felt I really got to the meat of the conflict, but even though the pacing was a bit slower than I usually like, I was interested in their journey thanks to the great characters and well crafted development.
Aside from many of the characters' names being difficult to pronounce and a few fragmented scenes, my only real problem with the book was that I had a hard time connecting with Hroudland. He seemed to have quite intense mood swings that didn't always make sense to me and he was often easily swayed. His reactions were frequently hurtful to Alda. Others were able to see this, but he did not. This seemed to be more than a character flaw that made him more human. Alda made many choices that were difficult to take, but made sense because of her station and the time she lived. Hroudland just seemed slightly unstable at times and it made it harder for me to like him.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, it had a strong background and well developed characters that readers will enjoy.
Who would I recommend this book to? Mainly historical fiction readers. I think this would be a harder book for readers new to historical fiction to start with because the pacing is a bit slower than most commercial novels and the complexity of the historical aspect.
The Cross and the Dragon is available from from Kindle on Amazon US, Amazon UK, paperback (USand Canada), B&N, Kobo, and Indigo.