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Mark of the Cross by Judith Pella
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Mark of the Cross

by Judith Pella

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This mediocre and at best passable Historical romance novel fails because it tries so desperately hard to be something that it is not, that is an epic, memorable and truly touching love story. The heroine Beatrice is, for most of the story a shallow, spoiled, vain, self-centred shrewish brat.

We are supposed to believe that her ‘love’ for Philip at the beginning of the story is genuine and real, yet Beatrice was unable to even show Philip enough respect to accept that he simply did not want to have sex with her, and kept throwing herself at him regardless. Beatrice’s selfish desire to get what she wanted and have her own way with Philip, regardless of his own wishes and desires in this regard did not seem very much like ‘true love’ at all. It was really nothing more than lust and a childish infatuation on Beatrice’s part, which was made all the more difficult to take seriously when she had tantrums (literally) every time Philip rejected her sexual advances.

Yet what is essentially a teenage crush is the central focal point of the entire story, and it seemed to me that the author’s attempt to turn something so superficial into a lifelong undying love between the protagonists just did not ring true.

Philip was a more well-rounded character, and the reasons for his anger, bitterness and sense of rejection seemed genuine enough. Yet his constant tendency to blame every ill-circumstance that befell him on God, rather than realising it might be due to his own shortcomings or the actions of humans again did not seem plausible, and just seemed to be a convenient if rather implausible excuse for Philip’s religious scepticism.

There are number of inconsistencies within the narrative, for example when Beatrice first marries Gareth is it stated that the marriage was not forced, because she freely consented to it to protect her son and his inheritance. Yet later on the characters keep on saying that Beatrice WAS forced to marry Gareth after all.
In another place early in the story Beatrice states that she had lost the desire to engage in a pre-marital liaison with Philip or anyone after Gareth attempted to get his wicked way with her, yet a few short chapters later she does total U-turn forgets her commitment to chastity and is trying to get Philip to have sex with her for the umpteenth time.

I found the idea that Medieval people would totally turn their backs on religion because bad things had happened to them to be out-of-place and historically questionable, because people in Middle Ages had a very different view on the relationship between a benevolent God and and human suffering to modern people. Thus Philip and Beatrice’s views and attitudes in this regard were entirely modern.

There were a number of other historical issues, the most notable being that the author makes the all too common error (in the sight of a Historian like me at least) of judging the past by the standards of the present, and imposing modern values, beliefs and attitudes onto another age, as well as attributing modern political ideals and social mores to her characters at a time when people did not have these.

Thus there seems to be a clear attempt to draw comparisons between the ‘Baron’s War’ of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and his noble sympathisers against King Henry III and the American Revolutionary War with lots of talk of people fighting for their ‘freedom’ ‘rights’ and ‘liberty’ against a ‘tyrannical’ ruler to force him to adhere to the Provisions of Oxford and Magna Carta which are presenting as something akin to the ‘Bill of Rights’.
Those who support the King described as ‘royalists’ which seems to imply that those who were opposed to him wanted to dispense with the royal family altogether, which is complete and utter rubbish, as Simon de Montfort never dreamed of doing this and people in 13th century England would likely not have been able to conceive of having a country with no King.

At one point in the story Philip escapes the baddie, his evil half-brother Gareth, when he claims sanctuary just by saying to the priest outside a church that he wishes to. In fact this would not have been possible or legally valid unless a person was physically inside the building, and sometimes they had to actually touch the cloth covering the High Altar in order for thier claim the right of sanctuary to be recognised.

In another passage Philip expresses doubt as the authenticity of supposed Holy Relics, but his scepticism arises from what is basically modern scientific knowledge and methodology, which medieval people simply did not have.

Further on, Beatrice demonstrates her staggeringly advanced knowledge of microbiology and bacterial infection by expecting physicians to use Modern medical techniques that could only arise from this. Yet a few passages later, she is back to binding up wounds with dirty rags or cloths, which amazingly do not become infected.

The characters also have an uncanny ability to be able to see in the dark, as they are often able to gauge people’s emotions by looking closely at the eyes or facial expressions of somebody standing many feet away from them in a pitch dark room, or one lit only by candles.

The conclusion of the book, with its neatly wrapped up happy ending is predictable and a little corny to say the least, as well as being fraught with historical errors.

Beatrice’s ‘repentance’ for her adultery and incest with Philip was contrived and fake, and seems to have come from nowhere, as she certainly never expressed any regret or remorse over their liaison, yet we are told that she had been ‘repentant’ when all she seemed to be sorry about was losing Philip and her lot in life, and claimed the product of her adultery was a ‘gift from God’.

It was inevitable that the author would kill off the baddie Gareth (Beatrice’s husband and Philip’s half-brother) so that they could legitimately be together, and so all Philip’s moral qualms and insistence that he did not want him dead were rather hard to take seriously.

Also, according to the Laws of the period it would have been doubtful that Philip would even have been allowed to marry Beatrice after Gareth’s death as she was his sister-in-law. Certainly they would have required a dispensation from the Pope, and even then the wedding might not have been deemed permissible. Neither would their infant son Hugh have been legitimised by their marriage six months after his birth because, under English law at this time any child born outside wedlock was still regarded as illegitimate even if its parents got married afterwards.

Even though there are some technical terms and period details the historical inconsistencies and inaccuracies makes the author’s research and knowledge of the period appear to be sorely lacking. Ignoring the historical shortcomings and some suspension of disbelief is definitely required when reading this story which is entertaining enough, but is not really anything special.
( )
  Medievalgirl | Oct 4, 2016 |
Enjoyable read with a good fast-paced plot. The Christian themes don't overshadow or detract from a great book. ( )
  yosbooks | Nov 2, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0764201328, Paperback)

A son tries desperately to reclaim the love of his father--only to be denied. After years of abandonment will the young man get what he came for? From bestselling novelist Judith Pella.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:15 -0400)

"Historical drama set amid kings and Crusades, a story of love lost and found. A son tries desperately to reclaim the love of his father--only to be denied. After years of abandonment will the young man get what he came for?"--Provided by publisher.

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