Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton

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Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Sights, sounds, feel and fear of the Italy of the Medicis and Borgias through the eyes of a child. For those who like their historical fiction gripping and atmospheric, i.e. all of us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: December 2012
Publisher: Corvus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848874671

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It's 1492 and Mura, an exotic-looking child of Moorish, Spanish and Viking origin enjoys an idyllic childhood living with her widowed father, a Toledo bookseller. However she soon learns that the world is a cruel place when he's snatched by the Spanish Inquisition and she's hidden in a brothel for safe keeping. Adara, the lady of the night entrusted with Mura, betrays that trust and the child's adventurous journeys begin. From nurtured daughter to child prostitute to Medici slave, Mura discovers the power within, nourished by her childhood tales from the Moors and 'North Men' and her gift of 'the sight'. Mura also bears a secret but it seems that she'll be the last to discover it.

Journalist and author Lisa Hilton has an impressive collection of non-fiction historical biographies behind her along with a TV series or two but she didn't blip onto the radar of fiction readers like me until 2010 when her first novel, The House with Blue Shutters, set in World War II France was published. That may be a world away from the late15th/early16th century Europe in Wolves of Winter, but this second novel is confirmation that Ms Hilton is in the top flight occupied by the likes of the academic doctors of historical fiction Philippa Gregory and Pamela Hartshorne.

Lisa Hilton writes in a way that engages us and pulls us in. We empathise with little Mura (the story starts when she's about 4 and finishes when she's a young woman of 16), feeling her fear and exhilaration while experiencing outrage on her behalf as she's shifted from pillar to post. However it's not just the feelings that stream from the page; the colour and flavour of Spain and Italy also take on three dimensions. The markets, the monumental beauty of places like Florence (where the author studied) and the Moorish influences in Toledo are communicated with a contagious passion. Mura also encounters some wonderfully drawn people, some fictional like her but others (e.g. Giovanni de Medici) leap from the pages of history's records. Apart from the lass herself, my favourite characters were the haggishly wise Margharita and Mura's cranky teacher, the professorial Maestro Ficino. Then of course there's the lad Cecco… However, all become personalities that pass in the night once Mura falls into the custody of Caterina Sforza.

As ruthless, borderline-evil and unprincipled as Caterina is, I love her and have a feeling that Lisa Hilton had much fun writing her. Thrice married (the third time being to a Medici), alchemist, Countess of Forli, possessor of intimidating strength of character, accomplished politician and enemy of the even nastier Cesare Borgia; what's not to love about that? She epitomises the manipulation and malice that the upper echelons of Italian society needed to survive, her greatest weapon being her gender. Being a woman in 15th/16th century Italy meant being discounted, which led to underestimation which suited her fine.

Caterina's greatest hour, standing up to the French invaders and the aforementioned Cesare at the siege of Rocca di Ravaldino (her family's castle) is one of the novel's set pieces and it's spell-bindingly recounted. We eavesdrop on the negotiations behind the castle walls and wince at poor Mura's part as we turn the pages faster, hurtling towards the resolution.

I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I must admit to a smidgeon of a tear. Was that because of how the story ended or because it had? To be honest, I have a feeling it was a little of both. As subtly (cough, splutter) hinted earlier, if you've enjoyed this, we suggest that you'll also enjoy anything by Philippa Gregory or indeed Pamela Hartshorne.

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Buy Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton at Amazon.com.


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