by Norah Lofts
This grand novel is set during the Third Crusade. Although its largest characters are Richard the Lion-Heart, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and other great historical figures, the story is actually told through the eyes of minor ones such as Richard's musician the lute-player, and a lady of the court who is physically disabled, yet subtly wields influence on all the others. I can't say which I loved more about the book, its rich descriptions of everyday life so long ago: the inner workings of a monastery, the boredom of court ladies cloister in the castle, the struggles of a ruler to make decisions, the sufferings of soldiers on crusade; or the utterly human frustrations and longings its characters undergo in their separate yet intertwined quests for love and power. A strange love triangle unfolds through The Lute Player: the musician is hopelessly in enamored of the princess Berengaria, who will stop nothing at seeking Richard's attention, who himself appears to care for no one at all, which frustrates Queen Eleanor, who is trying to arrange his marriage. My knowledge of history is rather weak, so I cannot say where this story is true to the facts. But every time I read it I marvel at its depiction of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. I really do mean to read more books by Norah Lofts someday.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 445 pages, 1951