Monday 8 November 2021

#BookReview - The Castilian Pomegranate (The Castilian Saga, Book 2) By Anna Belfrage

The Castilian Pomegranate
(The Castilian Saga, Book 2)
By Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: 1st October 2021
Publisher: Timelight Press
Page Length: 400 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance

An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.

Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.

Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . . 

Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.   

Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.   

Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger. 

Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?

“Somehow, she had to find a way to steal that infernal jewel…”

Queen Eleanor of England was a woman not to be crossed. Robert and Noor had no choice but to leave England. They could return only after accomplishing two things. Eleanor wanted the Castilian Pomegranate, a jewel that was not only beautiful, but it was said to hold magical like properties. Whoever had the stone would be safe in childbirth, as would the child. Having lost so many children already, Eleanor was desperate to own the jewel. But, by commanding Noor to find it and bring it to her, Eleanor has unwittingly sentenced Noor to death, for the only way she could retrieve the jewel was by stealing it. 

The second task that Noor and Robert must accomplish before they can return home to their estate is to leave their fostered son, Lionel, behind. But Noor and Robert love Lionel like he is their own son. However, they cannot forget who he is and what he represents. He is the son of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. If Edward found out about the child, then Lionel would spend the rest of his days under lock and key in Bristol Castle along with his brothers. As for Robert, such a betrayal would mean only one thing—execution.

In this war-torn, foreign land, Noor and Robert will face many challenges. But none will be harder won than the challenge of keeping their family together through all the hardships they must endure.

Once again, Anna Belfrage has written a masterpiece. The Castilian Pomegranate (The Castilian Saga, Book 2) is a compelling and unforgettable story of love, war and sacrifice.

Having read His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga, Book 1), I was really looking forward to reconnecting with these characters. Robert and Noor’s relationship started on rather shaky ground in Book 1, and there always seems to be something, or someone, that threatens their happiness. Robert’s past came back to haunt them in Book 1 but it is the unknown future that threatens their relationship in Book 2. Robert’s jealously drives them apart, and Noor’s innocence leaves a foul taste in the mouth. The struggle that these two face, both emotionally and physically, would challenge any marriage, but underneath the misunderstandings, there is a deep and true love that cannot be denied. I thought their depiction in this novel was fabulous and came across as very real in the telling. Their relationship was believable, and more importantly, it drove the story forward. I really wanted everything to work out for these two, but I think there are always going to be challenges for them and they have to decide, in a time where autonomy was not a right, what they are going to do. Their only option is to bow down to the whims of their king and, unfortunately, their queen as well. But with the child involved, such seemingly unquestionable and undeniable loyalty is questioned.

The chaotic nature of warfare has been explored in explicit detail. Spain, in the 13th century, was a very volatile place. It was a country that was divided not only by borders but by religious beliefs as well. Muslims, Christians and Jews might well mingle on the streets and the markets, but their beliefs separated them, they even lived in different areas of the town. And while the Pope, the grandmaster in this game of conflict and power, is determined to increase his own authority and his own wealth, all Christian thoughts of compassion seem inconsequential. He seemingly cares nothing for the suffering he causes, and the way families are torn apart because of the strife and greed that he has festered and created. It was very sobering to read just how much influence the Pope had, and how power corrupts absolutely.

The unpredictability of warfare and the dangers of travelling during this era has not been whitewashed over, therefore there are scenes in this novel that are immensely upsetting. The suffering is made worst by the fact that many of the characters are in total ignorance of what is about to happen. There is certainly an undercurrent of dread throughout this novel. Will the protagonists survive? Is it even possible for them, from both a moral and emotional perspective, to appease Queen Eleanor by taking home what she wants, and leaving behind what she does not? Robert and Noor find themselves in a seemingly impossible situation. They cannot return to England, but at the same time, they are caught up in what is happening around them. This is not their war. In a kingdom where everything is so unpredictable, the greatest challenge of all is perhaps staying together and staying alive.

We are introduced to many new characters in this novel, but I think the one I found the most fascinating was Lord Fernand. Fernand finds himself between a rock and a hard place. His step-father wants him dead, his mother wants him alive, and while this is all going on there is a frighteningly persistent woman who is determined that they marry. Fernand begins this novel as a young man completely out of his depth, every moment is a fight for him to stay alive. He knows who his enemy is, but his inexperience means that his power is incredibly limited. He has no control of his men, he seemingly has no say in anything, but as this novel progresses this changes, and as he begins to gain more confidence in himself he becomes exceedingly likeable. He is clever and quick to learn, and happy to do so. He doesn’t want to spend his life looking over his shoulder, he wants to take control and although he meets Robert in unfavourable circumstances, he is lucky in the sense that Robert takes him under his wing and allows him to develop and become who he was destined to be. I really enjoyed reading about Fernand, I thought he was wonderfully depicted.

This historical detailing of this novel is second to none. Belfrage has really done her homework. This era has often been neglected by Historical Fiction authors, which is such a shame, so often it is the English court that authors concentrate on. It was therefore a refreshing change to read about a very different country, with different problems and a different way of doing things.

Castilian Pomegranate (The Castilian Saga, Book 2) by Anna Belfrage is an undisputable success. Belfrage has really captured the very essence of this era. I would however recommend starting this series with Book 1, as I think you need the background of these characters and how they ended up where they did, it is also a cracking read and you really don’t want to miss out! If you enjoy reading quality Historical Fiction, then this is the series for you.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

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This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. 

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. 

The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, a world of intrigue and back-stabbing.  

Her most recent release prior to The Castilian Pomegranate is The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!   

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx