22/02/2014

The Woods of Windri (by Violet Needham)

Although my mother had loved Violet Needham's books since her childhood, and collected several of them as an adult, I had never actually read any of them until last year. I enjoyed the two I read, which were contemporary to Needham's era (mid 20th century) and decided to try one of her historical novels, also intended originally for older children and teens.

'The Woods of Windri' is set in Mediaeval times, and is a story of adventure and romance. The Lord Brian of Windri is a widower with two daughters: the beautiful Phillippa, who is about sixteen, and her ten-year-old sister Magdalen who is courageous, intelligent, and rather a tomboy. As the story opens, Lord Brian has just received an unexpected offer of marriage from Sigismund, the Count of Monte Lucio, a region which has been feuding with Windri for some years. So it would be an advantageous liaison... and in those days, most marriages were arranged by parents.

Meanwhile Magdalen goes exploring in the woods, despite being forbidden to do so, and comes across a malnourished boy of about fourteen who has escaped from the nearby Abbey. Her father is quite taken with him, and decides to offer him a role as page...

The writing is good, if inevitably somewhat dated, and probably gives good idea of the kinds of feuds and violence that was normal in Mediaeval times. It's set almost entirely in upper-class circles, and while I"m no expert, the conversations and situations felt believable... some of them very unpleasantly so. Children are beaten, traitors hanged, prisoners tortured. There are no gory details, thankfully but the implications are there in what seems, to my mind, rather a callous way as if they are to be expected.

The end of the book is rather disturbing too; however, since some of the plotting is rather complex (and went rather over my head in places - rules of inheritance really don't interest me) it's not one I would want to give to a child of less than about ten or eleven, perhaps older still.

Having said that, I'm glad I read it; it's certainly a good story which kept me interested right up to the end.

Although written in 1958, this was republished in 2003 and is still in print in the UK.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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