Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales' last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her. Reminiscent of classics like The Mists of Avalon and A Game of Thrones, and newer popular titles like Hild, Branwen's story combines elements of mystery and romance with Noce's gift for storytelling."
Lady Branwen is being used as a pawn in a medieval game of chess. She is uniting two divided kingdoms in Wales by marrying the Hammer King, a powerful and tough Welsh warlord. Lady Branwen is just a young girl though and this is all new to her; she has little guidance. Her step-mother isn't supportive, so she barely has anyone on her side. To complicate matters further, the Saxons are constantly attacking and she has even been subjected to many assassination attempts. She knows her job is to simply produce an heir, but she can't help her desire to be more and do more. However, in medieval Wales, this is close to impossible. Enter a young knight named Artagan. She shouldn't feel something for him, but she does and now she must deal with impossible question of following her heart or knowing her place and her duty. Mark Noce's Between Two Fires is an entertaining medieval tale despite the few issues I had with it.
I really didn't enjoy Lady Branwen and that was part of my problem with Between Two Fires. She was a bit whiny and always reminding us of her raven black hair and slim body, which is, apparently, not a good thing to have. She wanted to look more womanly, but at least at the beginning of the book, she is just a teenager. So, once she got past some of her body image issues and gained confidence, I enjoyed her a bit more.
The romance in Between Two Fires was just ok for me. While I was obviously rooting for her blossoming relationship with Artagon, I could still see the potential issues surrounding it. She is a queen and a queen ultimately has her duty to her people.
The action in this book was definitely entertaining. I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting for another Saxon invasion or another assassination attempt. Medieval Wales is definitely a turbulent time in history. Noce depicts a violent and unsettling world very well. Which leads me to my favorite aspect of the book: the setting. Essentially, this is why I kept reading Between Two Fires. I can't say I have read too many books set in Wales during this time, so I was intrigued. It reminded me of various stories I've read about King Arthur. I also enjoyed the touch of magical-realism that Noce puts in Between Two Fires.
If you particularly enjoy this setting, then definitely check out Between Two Fires this fall. Also, debut author, Noce, is currently working on more novels in this series with the same setting, so I plan on keeping my eye out for them.