It’s such a pleasure today to be helping launch the blog tour and to share my review of Children’s Fate by Carolyn Hughes: the fourth Meonbridge Chronicle, it was published for kindle on 26th October (free via Kindle Unlimited), and the paperback followed on 17th November, both formats available via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the author for my reading e-copy.
Yes, I did miss out on reading the first in the series, Fortune’s Wheel – Carolyn wrote an excellent guest post instead, back in 2017, about the creation of historical authenticity (you’ll find it here). Then, in June 2018, I read and reviewed the second Chronicle, A Woman’s Lot (find the review here), and realised I’d discovered something particularly special. That was followed by De Bohun’s Destiny (you’ll find my review here), and I thought it was even better. I never thought I could be so thoroughly hooked by a set of novels set in the fourteenth century, but I love Carolyn’s writing and the whole experience of being allowed to enter her wonderfully created world.
You might just have noticed that the author often uses quotes from my earlier reviews for her promotion, and I’m very happy that she does so – if my excitement about this series encourages any other readers to step outside their comfort zone and try one of her books, then I’m absolutely delighted. And it’s excitement time again – the fourth in series, and I’ve been so looking forward to this one…
How can a mother just stand by when her daughter is being cozened into sin?
It’s 1360, eleven years since the Black Death devastated all of England, and six years since Emma Ward fled Meonbridge with her children, to find a more prosperous life in Winchester. Long satisfied that she’d made the right decision, Emma is now terrified that she was wrong. For she’s convinced her daughter Bea is in grave danger, being exploited by her scheming and immoral mistress.
Bea herself is confused: fearful and ashamed of her sudden descent into sin, but also thrilled by her wealthy and attentive client. When Emma resolves to rescue Bea from ruin and tricks her into returning to Meonbridge, Bea doesn’t at first suspect her mother’s motives. She is happy to renew her former friendships but, yearning for her rich lover, Bea soon absconds back to the city. Yet, only months later, plague is stalking Winchester again and, in terror, Bea flees once more to Meonbridge.
But, this time, she finds herself unwelcome, and fear, hostility and hatred threaten…
Terror, betrayal and deceit, but also love and courage, in a time of continuing change and challenge – Children’s Fate, the fourth Meonbridge Chronicle.
Let me tell you more about why I love this series. I don’t read that much historical fiction really – and when I do, I’m always rather more comfortable if there’s a contemporary thread to draw me into a story. But there’s no contemporary thread to these books, but I’ve been amazed that every one I’ve read has immediately swept me back into fourteenth century life, completely comfortable to be there. The historical authenticity is quite exceptional – I’ve said before that these aren’t books you simply read, you become entirely immersed in the world created between their pages.
If you’ve read any other of the books in the series, many of the characters will already be familiar to you – It was good to find out how their lives have changed (or, in many cases, continued very much the same), but don’t let that put you off in any way from reading it as a standalone. Time has moved on, and this book largely picks up the stories of the next generation.
Emma left Meonbridge behind and moved to Winchester, with hopes of a better life for herself and her three children – she becomes a weaver, daughter Ami has a post as a housemaid, while Bea is indentured as an embroiderer, although she does worry about her young son who has taken up with bad company. The Winchester storyline though is largely Bea’s – her employer has a lucrative sideline, providing girls to men with the means to pay, and Bea becomes involved with the dashing Riccardo, in the naive belief that he will offer her a better life.
When Emma becomes aware of what is happening, she takes her family home to Meonbridge for the midsummer celebrations, although (depending on their welcome) it’s always her intention that they will stay. So, we become immersed in that wonderfully drawn community once more, as the family again find their place – picking up on earlier relationships and storylines, being part of the families’ day-to-day lives, following some of the younger characters through some well-written dramas of their own. But Bea – a wonderfully complex character, a combination of worldly-wisdom and extreme naivety – finds it less easy to fit in, finding herself making a number of unwise choices and unable to settle to working in the fields, fleeing back to Winchester hoping to resume both her apprenticeship and her relationship with Riccardo.
But then, foreshadowed by an eclipse, the plague threatens once more – more rife in the city than in the countryside, particularly given the lifestyle she’s been forced into – and Bea flees back to Meonbridge, hoping for a warm welcome that’s considerably less than forthcoming. I have to say that it’s impossible not to read about the plague threat without drawing parallels with the current pandemic, but the author never labours the point – given the era, they have little more than the power of prayer to fight it, but the wisdom of keeping distance and covering faces was every bit as important then as it is now. As indeed is the level of fear and directed aggression, the feeling of hopelessness as loved ones succumb – and the culture of blame, fuelled by fear and heightened emotions.
I really do think this was my favourite of the series so far – I particularly enjoyed the contrast between venal city life and the slower pace of the country, and the story is a thoroughly gripping one teeming with the strongest of characters. I loved the focus on friends and the bonds of family, the emotional moments, the choices made by the characters, the moments of drama when lives are in the balance, and all the authentic and well-researched detail that brings the era and setting so vividly to life with such love and care. Unmissable and entirely unforgettable – do give it a try, you might just love it as much as I did.
With thanks to Carolyn and Rachel, I’m delighted to offer the chance to win a $15/£15/€15 Amazon Gift Card (open internationally). Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
Terms and Conditions Worldwide entries welcome. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
About the author
Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After completing a degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the government.
She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage in her life. She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Children’s Fate is the fourth novel in the MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLES series. A fifth novel is underway.