Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Woman's Lot by Carolyn Hughes
Release Date: 4th June 2018
Genre: Historical fiction
Series: Book 2 of The Meonbridge Chronicles
Publisher: SilverWood Books

How can mere women resist the misogyny of men?
When a resentful peasant rages against a woman’s efforts to build up her flock of sheep.  
…or a husband, grown melancholy and ill-tempered, succumbs to idle talk that his wife’s a scold.  
…or a priest, fearful of women’s “unnatural” power, determines to keep them in their place.
The devastation wrought two years ago by the Black Death changed the balance of society, and gave women a chance to break free from the yoke of chatteldom, to learn a trade, build a business, be more than just men’s wives.
But many men still hold fast to the teachings of the Church, and fear the havoc the daughters of Eve might wreak if they’re allowed to usurp men’s roles, and gain control over their own lives.
Not all men resist womens quest for change – indeed, they want change for themselves.
Yet it takes only one or two misogynists to unleash the hounds of hostility and hatred
A Woman’s Lot is the second Meonbridge Chronicle, the sequel to Fortune’s Wheel.


At that moment, the constable knocked on Emma’s door. ‘Is Mistress Titherige with you, Mistress Ward?’
Emma invited him inside and he bowed to Eleanor. ‘Your sheep are found, mistress.’
She blanched at the gloomy expression on the constable’s face. ‘Are they dead?’ she asked, in a whisper.
He shuffled his feet and, when he spoke, his voice was quiet too. ‘Two dead, mistress. The third, nearly so––’
Eleanor cried out. ‘Dead! My lovely ewes. And their unborn lambs.’
Emma put her arm around Eleanor’s shoulders. ‘It’s wicked, that’s what it is. Those poor innocent creatures…’
Eleanor got to her feet. ‘Take me to them, master constable.’
But Geoffrey demurred. ‘No, no, Mistress Titherige, there’s no need—’
She tossed her head. ‘Yes, there is. I want to see them. Please lead me, master constable.’ And she swept from Emma’s house and strode down the lane behind Geoffrey, who was still trying, but failing, to dissuade her from her mission.
But if Eleanor had been determined to see what had happened to her sheep, when she did so, she wished she had not come after all.
The derelict barn was cold and damp, its roof partly fallen in, and the ancient hay piled up in the stall where her sheep were penned was giving off a foul and musty stink. As Geoffrey had already said, two of the sheep were dead, lying close together in the rotten hay, their tongues lolling from their mouths, their lovely fleeces all filthy and reeking. One had dried blood around her tail and, when she saw it, Eleanor’s hand flew to her mouth.
‘Had she already birthed?’ she said, a choke rising in her throat. She cast about her, looking for a lamb. Then Geoffrey hurried forward and scrabbled in the hay, one of his men holding a lantern high.
Shortly, Geoffrey stood up. ‘It’s here, mistress. Don’t look––’
But, refusing his advice, Eleanor went forward too. He pointed, and she pressed both hands to her face, as she stared down on the pitiful little body, dark and bloodied, nestled in the foul hay a short distance from its dam.
‘Where’s the third?’ she said, her voice a whisper.
Over ere, missus,’ said the constable’s man.
The third sheep lay apart from the others, on its side, panting, its eyes sunken.
‘She’s been deprived of water,’ said Eleanor, kneeling by the animal’s side. ‘How cruel…’
Or mebbe just ignorant?’ said the constable. He bent down and picked up some hay. ‘The hay’s all rotten, mistress. It’s been here years. Won’t ’ave done them no good.’
She looked up at him. ‘Bad hay and no water?’ She stroked the sheep’s muzzle, and tears filled her eyes. ‘The poor, poor creatures.’
Eleanor wiped away the tears on the sleeve of her kirtle. ‘Anyway, she’s past saving. So please, master constable, arrange for her to be freed from her suffering.’
Geoffrey bowed his head. ‘Will Cole’ll do it.’

This book is the 2nd book in the Meonbridge Chronicles and after enjoying book 1, Fortune's Wheel so much last year I was very excited to read A Woman's Lot. Check out the review for Fortune's Wheel HERE!

As with book 1, A Woman's Lot boasts a wide range of characters and again Carolyn has provided a handy who's who at the beginning of the book. While I felt A Woman's Lot could be read as a stand alone novel I do think its good to have read book 1 to simply deepen your understanding of the characters and their situation. And besides, why would you want to miss out on a brilliant book!?

A Woman's Lot is set in 1352, a couple of years after Black Death decimated the village of Meonbridge, robbing it of many of its residents. Many of whom were skilled labourers and farmers. Those who were left behind had to think of new ways to survive and earn a basic wage to feed what was left of their families or to try their hand at new things. And, that meant that the women of the village often had to step into roles that had been exclusively men's roles. But, women being as they are, stepped up to the challenges presented to them. Unfortunately, not all of the men are happy about this.

A Woman's Lot follows the stories of a group of such women. Firstly we have Eleanor. She has, since the Black Death become a successful sheep farmer, much to the resentment of many men in the village. She is fiercely independent and it makes her uncomfortable to think that she will not progress too much further in the farming community without a husband by her side to give her some credibility. But who to choose from the 2 most likely men in her life. 

Susanna, once incredibly happy to find a good man in Henry the Miller who took her and her son into his heart and home. But, things have changed in their relationship and Henry no longer values her as a wife, confidant or advisor, dismissing her every idea or offer of support. He seems almost angered by her.

Then we have Agnes whose circumstances are so reflective of the struggles of women in this modern age. The age old struggle between juggling motherhood and a job. Agnes has skills she wants to refine and become as good as her husband. She wants to be a carpenter which is unheard of! A woman working alongside her husband learning a skill meets with lots of disapproval. 

And lastly, there's Emma who feels her family's fortunes lie outside of Meonbridge but her protestations about their situation fall on deaf ears. Only wanting to improve things for her family, Emma becomes increasingly frustrated by circumstances.

Through each woman's struggles we are given a glimpse into the earliest of fights for women to have a standing in society and be given the respect they deserve. Again, with this book Carolyn Hughes has clearly conducted a massive amount of research but the reader doesn't become bogged down with loads of historical fact. Its simply woven so well into the story. The language is rich and fluid, reflective of the time and descriptions of village life transported me back to Meonbridge once more.  Life was hard in the village and the author definitely doesn't sugar coat just how hard.  Throw into the mix accusations, lies, suspicion and a bit of intrigue and things get even more difficult in the village.

A Woman's Lot is about more than power struggles between men and women and the on-going battle for change. It's about families and love and a desire to have your voice heard in a time when it took the bravery of women to push the boundaries for the right to stand alongside men and be recognised in equal measure. I absolutely adored this book. Readers will find themselves lost in the characters and invested in the outcomes for them. I need book 3 now! No pressure Carolyn Hughes! A highly recommended read for lovers of historical fiction and those who just enjoy a good story! 

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Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.

A Woman’s Lot is the second of the Meonbridge Chronicles, her series of historical novels set in fourteenth century England. The first, Fortune’s Wheel, was published in 2016. The third in the series is well under way.

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