Book Review: The Damask Rose by Carol McGrath

Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Headline Accent
Pub date: 15 April 2021
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron’s Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family – and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again.

As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen – a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter – by her side. But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .

The second in the she-wolves trilogy and a beautiful depiction of Eleanor of Castile.

McGrath tells the story of Eleanor from Princess to Queen of Edward I and her success as a property holder.

Eleanor led an exceptional life, she lived through the Second Baron’s War, she also went on Crusade and gave birth to approximately sixteen children!

Following her accession to Queen, Eleanor built up an impressive property portfolio including the beautiful Leeds Castle in Kent which I long to visit. McGrath uses her meticulous research to show Eleanor was not a usual Queen by medieval standards, she was highly educated, loved gardens and accompanied her husband as often as she could.

McGrath introduces fictional characters, a herbalist Lady Olwen, apothecary Guillaume and Sir Eugene to add depth to Eleanor’s story and I really liked their characters and the narrative they brought to the story of living in the thirteenth-century. It was wonderful to read about the plants introduced by Eleanor from Spain and how gardens became a popular feature for nobility.

Edward I is known for his castle buildings across Wales and it was intriguing to read how this came about, even though this is a work of fiction it’s also clearly the result of much research. The story of Edward and Eleanor could very much be told as a fictional love story but they did indeed clearly love each other, evident in Eleanor’s refusal to be away from him and Edwards instructions for the building of Eleanor’s crosses which end at Charing Cross.

McGrath provides an authors note detailing which parts are based on fiction and a great reading list for those interested in reading more which I’ll certainly be doing. Eleanor of Castile is a fascinating individual and I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Headline for providing a copy of the book.

I am looking forward to the next instalment of the series.

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