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I had read the unabridged version of Coulter's Fire Song back in the 90s, and never did forget it. Only recently, thanks to a knowledgeable network of historical author colleagues, did I relocate the title.
In reading the reviews, it's obvious Coulter didn't make many friends by having rape as one of the themes in the story. As a medieval historian, though, I must contradict popular opinion--while it's true the subject matter would definitely not be acceptable in current romance novels, the tale was definitely told with astounding historical accuracy.
The gentle and innocent heroine, Kassia, awakes from a near-death fever to discover her father has married her off to a neighboring lord and mighty warrior, Graelem. Her father acted with no malice: in fact, he was certain that his daughter would die before the morning, and by legally binding her to a powerful lord, he would effectively protect his losing his land to his wicked nephew, Jeffery. Graelem rides off to his own keep, convinced he has become a husband and a widower in the same day.
But Kassia survives, the first inkling we see of the hidden spirit and fortitude of this impressive young woman. When told of her betrothal, she gracefully accepts her fate and rides off to meet her husband.
Lord Graelem is shocked when his wife arrives, but is initially is taken and charmed by her delicate beauty and seemingly gentle nature. Soon, however, her lifted chin and stubborn refusal to be treated like a "dog or a broodmare" angers Graelem. That's when the fireworks begin.
One of the many 1 star reviews comments that Coulter's "hero is a serial rapist." I did not find this to be the case, at least in the abridged audio version. The fact of the matter is that, yes, in the middle ages, men did dominate their women, forcing their submission in all things, with refusal sometimes resulting in their whacking off their heads (Henry VIII did it more than once, I think).
Coulter may have angered the more modern thinking of some 21st century women, but her frank portrayal of how life really was for women back then is something I admired. It took courage to write the story so true to historical reality, even if it was completely against current, modern feminine status.
In reading this title, I encourage one to also remember it was written 30 years ago--how much more sensitive feminist issues were back then, and how much courage did it take to write such a historically correct tale?
I thoroughly enjoyed Fire Song, and will be going back to enjoy the rest of Coulter's series. Many historical novels I have read/listened to are so riddled with "wrong facts," it's like fingernails on a blackboard. I will continue to enjoy/re-enjoy Coulter's Medieval Song Quartet) with the comfort of knowing the story was written with the ability to take me back to the Middle ages, realistically, without Hollywood's glorification and deletion of the distasteful aspects.
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