When Belle meets Luke, Scribe to the poet Chaucer, she is determined to travel with him to Canterbury. She hopes for a miracle: that her father will walk again.
But her journey is not so simple. The young King Richard II is just hanging on to his throne. Someone on the pilgrimage is blackmailing Belle, and she and Chaucer are drawn into a political intrigue involving the king.
As the adventure draws pace, the impulsive Belle is drawn towards both Luke and Walter, the wealthy son of a Knight. But Walter has his own, difficult secret…
A heady tale of intrigue, adventure and forbidden love that will steal your heart.
When I first spotted Belle’s Song in Quercus’ Spring catalogue, I knew I wanted to read it as I love the premise; it’s got Chaucer and the pilgrimage that inspired The Canterbury Tales, which I loved when I had to study them at university. Add to that the slight crush I have on Chaucer as played by Paul Bettany in A Knight’s Tale and this book was an automatic want to read. And while I had some issues with the book, I wasn’t disappointed.
The troubles I had were mostly concerned with the historicity of the book. Most obviously, Belle has some almost jarringly modern idiosyncrasies, such as her OCD and auto-mutilating. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t people in the 14th century suffering from OCD and auto-mutilation, there most probably were, but to me they felt too contemporary. On the other hand, had Ms Grant put Belle’s OCD in the context of a superstition-like belief, I most probably wouldn’t have blinked, so perhaps it’s just a matter of personal bias. The fact that Belle was allowed to learn how to read and write was exceptional as I understood it, so in an age where literacy was limited for most people other than scribes and monks, how realistic is it that shops would have written signs in the windows? But to be honest, once the book got going and I was gripped by the story all these concerns vanished, because it’s a tale that grabs you and keeps you turning pages.
The main characters of the book, Belle, Luke, Walter and Master Chaucer are all likeable and well-developed, though Luke was my favourite by far. I also like that the love triangle hinted at in the blurb of the book, isn’t the one you’d expect, but it’s well-written and has some unexpected twists at the end. Despite being a large part of the story, the romance thread isn’t the most important component of the story, that is actually the political plot. This political arc focuses on the struggles between King Richard II and the Commission installed by Parliament to control his spending. Ms Grant gives us a deliciously vile villain in the Summoner, every time he came along I felt like I needed to go wash my hands, he was so slimy. In the end, Belle deals with him in a beautiful manner and I love how the story was resolved and ended. Belle’s line about finding peace in her love was beautiful.
I find it hard to say much about Belle’s Song without spoiling plot elements, but suffice it to say it’s a page-turner. I read the book in two nights, and only put it down the first night because I had to work the next day. Ms Grant’s writing reminded me a lot of one of my favourite writers of my youth, Thea Beckman, whose historical YA books I devoured in a similar manner. Belle’s Song is a wonderful read for readers at the younger end of the YA-spectrum and I could see some adult readers not finding the story meaty enough to their tastes. I really enjoyed the book, however, and it’s made me want to revisit The Canterbury Talesagain. And to me a book inspiring the reader to read more is always a good thing.