Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: From publisher Sourcebooks for review (rerelease)
“Daughter of a Norman robber baron, wife to an ambitious young knight, Maria is a courageous young woman struggling to find love, power, and her place in eleventh-century southern Italy. Bold as any of the knights in her husband’s castle, proud as a emperor, Maria pushes boundaries, she schemes, and she refuses to surrender in a world meant for men. Great Maria comes to life through the skillful storytelling of Cecelia Holland, a masterful writer whom the New York Times called ‘a literary phenomenon’” .
Great Maria is the story of a woman during a time when women were expected to be subservient to their husbands – but Maria is anything but that. Maria was strong, opinionated, and took part in many different plots that arose around her. The biggest dynamic of this story is between Maria and her husband Richard. This was a segment that I always looked forward to. That isn’t to say that it was always a positive relationship – but I think you have to look at it in terms of the appropriateness to the time period. They caused such problems for each other, and Maria was really the best challenge for Richard. Although the central characters are Maria and Richard, the character that I found the most captivating was Richard’s brother, Roger. I found him more likable than Roger and his relationship with Maria was fun.
The author really created a great sense of the period, the time, and the place. I don’t know anything about this era and I don’t even know if any of these characters were real, but through the descriptions, I could really feel that I was right there in the hillsides and mountains, interacting with Saracens and townspeople, going to war.
I did have a few qualms with novel though. The book was lacking a sense of how much time has elapsed in between chapters or even sections of the chapter. Characters would make slight references to events that had elapsed between chapters, but you would never really know what exactly happened. That was very frustrating. I also had an issue with the ending of the story – it clearly illustrated what drove the characters (and this was a character driven novel), but it still left me wanting…something. I’m not exactly sure what.
Cecelia Holland is the author of 24 historical fiction novels as well as several other books from various genres. She has a brand new book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Secret Eleanor, that was just recently released. You can visit her website to learn more about her many books.