Thursday, March 15, 2012
Barbarossa's Princess by Elizabeth Vallone
Would the Pope order the death of an innocent child? Would he instruct an archbishop to carry it out? What would be the motivation and what would cause such a drastic action? Constance of Barbarossa was over the childbearing age and was about to give birth to son. Legend or superstition has it that she will give birth to a demon or who they refer to as the Anti-Christ. Constance has been sheltered for most of her life in a convent but was sent for by her nephew the King to marry in order to create a bloodline to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. With her wet nurse and her maid she lives within the walls of the Palace with her young child and has no idea what is about to happen. Enlisting the help of someone the Archbishop has no choice but to ask for a special poison that will not only kill the child within a few days but also cause the wet nurse some minor discomfort in order for his actions to go undetected. As the author takes the reader back in time to the court of the Holy Roman Empire as the events unfold in the year 1194. Queen Constance, wife of Emperor Heinrich is about to give birth to an heir to the throne. But, this is not an ordinary birth, as you would experience today. This is what they referred to back then as a public birth. Many will witness the agony, pain, personal and what should be private moment in a woman’s life to see if the child she bears is a demon or not. Some predicted that it what will emerge would be the Anti-Christ. The author then flashes back to when it all began allowing the reader to learn of her prearranged match, her marriage, the secrets and the lies told.
Words are powerful and sometimes control the actions and thoughts of others whether true or false. Clairvoyants whether in the present or past are thought to predict events in the future and can often see the end result? Many belief their predictions and adjust their lives and actions accordingly. Superstitions often create or instill fears in others the same way and the result of giving in to them can be tragic. Constance was born a princess and lived a life that every young girl would want. But, when forewarned that something was going to happen to a royal heir she was sent away to live under the protection of the nuns at convent of San Salvatore. Living as a nun Constance felt safe and secure until called back to Palermo in the darkness of night. Greeted by her nephew the new King she was told of an impending match that she was required to accept. The unhappiness and indignities that she would face and the ones prior to that allow the reader to understand that what some young women went through in the 12th century to just be accepted is no different than today. The methods might be barbaric and cruel but the end result the same. As the author takes us back to her childhood and allows the reader to meet Constance, her nephew and her loyal nurse Almudena and understand what happens when appearances really do matter. As the Germans arrived from Barbarossa and the inspection began the result might prove positive but the procedure by far not. But, another premonition would be in the back of Constance mind but this time she set it aside. Just what it was and had she listened might have changed the course of so many events. But, sometimes we think of a wider and bigger picture when the throne of a country is your prize.
Betrayals, massacres and deaths would follow before all was said and done and the final coronation takes place. When Constance finally marries Heinrich the obstacles she faces are many and the indignities she withstands horrendous. But, the birth miraculous as the truth about the child unfolds and the death of another would follow. But, Constance did not remain true to Heinrich and those who knew of her affair the poet would hold her love for another secret. Battle lines drawn, Kingdoms in disarray, loyalties tested and one young King who wanted it all at all costs. Deaths of those dear to Constance and one child who just might bring hope to a nation. Told in the voice of the Empress the reader feels the pain, understands the frustrations, enters the prison along with her, the sickness and cures used to help her pull through and the many treatments she endured just to bear a special child. The lives of so many depended on Constance and the hope of the Sicilians in the hand of one so young. Take the journey back in time and learn what happens to one woman who endures the life set out for her by others, the cruelty, manipulations and the life she did not choose as Constance proves that she is more than just a pawn in a chess game so dangerous that even the King is in more than just Check.
Characters that you will either love or hate. An Empress with no heart and a young King out for his own greed and one woman who stood to gain it all but would she before it was too late. An ending that will surprise the reader and twists, curves and turns you won’t expect as author Elizabeth Vallone reminds everyone that prejudice, hate and terrorism are not just part of today’s society they have been around for a very long time. One well-written novel and one that definitely deserves more recognition and should have more readers.
Fran Lewis: reviewer