There are few things better than historical fiction. Historical fiction set in 12th century Burgundy is even harder to beat; and if such a novel contains a noble knight and a armor dawning, courageous heroine, then there is little better.
The Red Keep is such a novel.
Anne D'Arcy is a woman with nothing to her name except her abandoned fief, the lands of the Red Keep. Destitute since her family was slaughtered by the evil Sauval brothers, she depends on the kindly Baron, Sir Roger, for her livelihood. But Anne's heart is noble, and she is determined to reclaim her lands with the help of her friend Conan of the Prigny, a noble squire growing up in the charge of Sir Roger and aspiring to knighthood. Conan is skeptical of her plans, until he realizes that the Sauval are intent upon further slaughter and finds his own family in danger. The two of them rally the masons of Vézelay to their aid and begin to rebuild the Red Keep, thwarting the plans of the Sauval and the evil Prior of Vézelay.
The Red Keep is, primarily, a historical work, painting a vivid picture of life in 11th century France. As Anne and Conan make unorthodox alliances the reader is taken on a tour through the social structure of Burgundy, and various parts of society, from the noblemen to the artisans, to the Jews, are examined in depth.
Those who are not history geeks may find the book slow at times and the characters less than engaging. Those of us with medieval obsessions however will be engrossed and thrilled. I especially loved the the role of Anne. She is a brave and bold heroine who is ready to take command and defend her people but nonetheless submits humbly to her place in society. She is the shieldmaiden who maintains her feminity even as she wears the armor of a man-- a rare and wonderful type of character.
For overall amazingness I would rate this book a 6 out of 10.
In its own genre of historical fiction: 8.
At 500wpm it should take 4-5 hours to finish.