Book Review: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

lady of hay front coverThe cutting, often mean journalist Joanna Clifford is undertaking an article series for Women in Action, one of which plans to debunk all the claims surrounding hypnosis.  Only, fifteen years before, whilst at university, she volunteered for a hypnotic regression clinical therapy trial, but she doesn’t remember it.  Things got out of hand very quickly, and the man in charge, worried by the consequences, made her forget all about it.

Now as she is researching her current article, she once more plans on being hypnotised, but is she opening a door that would be better left shut for good?  And how will her decision impact those around her, especially the men in her life?

I first came across Lady of Hay last year, after I read another offering by Barbara Erskine.  The book in question then was The Warrior’s Princess, which I loved.  However, reading other reviews of it, many claimed they were left disappointed as it was not as good as Lady of Hay.  I disagree with all of them.  Whether because of these comments my expectations of Lady of Hay were ridiculously high or whether a story filled with Romans and Celts appealed more to me than medieval history, I cannot say.  All I know is that The Warrior’s Princess resonated with me as a reader, more than the Lady of Hay.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I *did* enjoy Lady of Hay.  The story line was gripping, the characters engaging and the overall premise interesting.  But, for me, it lacked something.  Perhaps it took me too long to get into the story; I almost stopped reading it about 75 pages in, and yet, when I was finally drawn into it, I became completely hooked.

At first, I really didn’t like Jo Clifford but I slowly warmed to her as her story became linked to that of Matilda, Lady of Hay, husband of William de Braose, lover of Richard de Clare and accidental antagonist of bad King John.

By far, my favourite parts of the book were those set eight hundred years ago, during the reigns of King Henry, King Richard and King John.  It was during those historical passages that Barbara Erskine brought the story and the characters to life with such colourful and vivid detail.  And it was these, above all else, that compelled me to read on.

The story is a long and complex one (my copy of the book was nearly 800 pages long!) but it is rich in description, historical detail and character experience, making it convincing.  And once the ground work is set and the pace picks up, it is hard not to get lost in the story.

Lady of Hay is a heartbreaking tale of a sad past, one that can be felt by those were involved in it eight hundred years later.  But is it possible to rewrite history?  Does anyone really get another chance to fix past mistakes?  This book tries to find that out.

I would gladly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction as well as to those who enjoy stories set in both the distant past and the present.


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