The Sixth Surrender
by Hana Samek Norton (Plume, July 2010)
In The Sixth Surrender, Norton as constructed a real page-turner with well-wrought historical accuracy, just enough romance, multi-dimensional characters and impossible-to-put down suspense.
The ageing queen-duchess Aliénor of Aquitaine works to protect the kingdom of her last surviving son, John Plantagenet, and thinks nothing of using her subjects as pawns in the monumental power struggle that is her daily life. As part of her machinations, Aliénor convinces an unwilling novice, Juliana de Charnais, and the cynical landless warrior Guerin Lasalle to marry, dangling Juliana’s inheritance as the incentive for both of them. The resulting sparks between the pious Juliana and the womanizing Lasalle don’t show any signs of melting the chill between the newlyweds, and ensuing events serve to drive the pair continually in different directions, providing a refreshing departure from the standard historical romance formula. As their fates are manipulated by the big players like Aliénor, and the kings of England and France, Juliana and Lasalle are placed in ever greater peril, and we wonder if they will ever be able to set aside their differences and work to save not only their own lives, but the lives of their retainers and vassals.
Plenty of plot twists made The Sixth Surrender deliciously unpredictable, and though I might suggest a tad more explanation in some places, I was able to follow these twists to their ultimately satisfying conclusion – with the distinct feeling that the story of Juliana de Charnais and Guerin Lasalle has more chapters yet to come. Good villains and villeins, great battle scenes (de rigeur in my opinion), and plenty of well-fleshed characters whose fallible humanity renders the story both exhilarating and sympathetic.
Reviewed by Annie Leonard
The Next Chapter, Knoxville, Iowa