Best 4 medieval novels


Best 4 medieval books

Here is my list of top four medieval novels. The criteria used was interesting characters, a decent plot and readability of the writing.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

This novel is brilliant. Set during England during the Wars of the Roses, Penman’s sweeping epic covers some very turbulent times in English history.

Essentially, this novel presents an alternative view of one of England’s most maligned kings, Richard III. The convential wisdom says that Richard III was an evil hunchback who was responsible for the murder of his nephews, the two young princes in the Tower of London.

Instead, Penman presents Richard III as a highly competent battle commander who was principled and stubbornly loyal to his family. He is also a committed and devoted husband.

Although focussing on Richard’s life story, the book also tells of the rise of his brother Edward IV and his arrogant and beautiful wife, Elizabeth Woodville, to the throne.

The subject matter of the Wars of the Roses provides highly dramatic material. There are close family members who make heartbreaking betrayals. There are desperate battle scenes, heroic acts and high romance. However, Penman is also a very talented writer. Her prose is easy to read and she develops detailed characterisations. She is also adept at weaving believable details into her story. This book is a highly enjoyable read.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Set in 14th century Norway, this lengthy historical epic covers the lifestory and passions of Kristin Lavrandsatter, a beautiful and stubbornly headstrong woman. The book was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in the 1920s, and actually forms a trilogy: “The Bridal Wreath”, “The Mistress of Husaby” and “The Cross”.

The story covers many human emotions, profiling high passion and drama, political intrigue, family relationships, love, and betrayal . It is also covers in complex detail the day to day customs in medieval Norway. The influence of Catholicism is also a strong factor throughout the novel.

Although incredibly lengthy, and sometimes wordy, this novel has its charms. It is concerned with emotions and relationships that ring true in our own time. The people and their problems, the way they deal or fail to deal with the problems, have a strong resonance.

The story starts when Kristin is a young girl with a particularly close bond with her father. Her father is a highly principled, well respected and religious man. He betrothes her to Simon, also a respectable, sensible man, who falls deeply in love with her. However, Kristin meets the love and passion of her life, Erlend, when she is staying at a nunnery. After many trials, Kristin and Erlend finally marry at the end of the first novel.

The second novel, “The Mistress of Husaby”covers Kristin’s married life. She grows into a devoted mother to her children. However, all is not well. Although still in love with each other, the marriage between Kristin and Erlend is extremely turbulent. Erlend, also gets into political trouble when he is involved in an attempt to overthrow the king. Simon, the man she was originally betrothed to, also features in this novel as her brother-in-law, as he goes on to marry her sister. This novel is also very much concerned with Kristin’s search for religious redemption and meaning.

Without giving away too much of the plot, broadly speaking, the third novel covers Kristin’s life as a widow, as a mother trying to help her children make their own lives, and later as a nun dealing with plague.

The Physician by Noah Gordon

This epic story, set in the 11th century, recounts the story of Rob J Cole and his quest to become a doctor.

The book opens in London, where Rob is orphaned. He becomes the apprentice to a barber surgeon and travels the roads of England, selling medical ‘cure alls’ and performing basic amputations. Although well intentioned, and able to help some people, Rob is unable to assist many of his patients. After becoming increasingly frustrated that he is unable to help dreadfully ill people, Rob develops an overwhelming ambition to become a true healer. Rob learns about a medical school in Persia, which is run by a man reputed to be the greatest doctor of the age. He decides he will undertake the perilous journey through Europe and Contsantiople and on to Persia in order to attend the famous medical school. Rob then spends a number of years learning the craft of medicine. In the process, he is part of a medical team sent to treat plague victims and also becomes a war surgeon.

There is some interesting detail about medieval medical knowledge and the influence of religion on medical learning and treatment. The book also engages in a lot of detail about religion, talking about Islamic, Jewish and Christian practises. Rob disguises himself as a Jew in order to be accepted into the medical school, as they do not teach Christians. Of course, like any good epic, there is also a love story involved. The story is long, but is well written and the fast paced narrative keeps the reader involved.

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley

This is one of those books that you can end up loving. Set in 14th century England, A Vision of Light follows the life and fortunes of Margaret of Ashbury. The author uses the device of Margaret dictating her memoirs to a scribe, called Brother Gregory. This allows the stiory to alternate between Margaret’s present life as the happily married wife to a wealthy merchant, and her past life.

We learn about Margaret’s marriage as a young teenager to an abusive husband. Later, Margaret manages to survvive the bubonic plague. In the process, she learns survival and independence skills and finds her vocation as a gifted healer and a midwife.

Throughout the book there is a theme of the supernatural and spiritual. The book is named “A Vision of Light” because of Margaret’s visions of light, and hearing the voice of God. The book also profiles how the medieval church saw the role of women. During the novel, Margaret engages in debates with Brother Gregory about religion and is also accused of witchcraft.

This book is very engagingly written. It is also easy to follow and read. The character, particularly of Margaret, is drawn out lovingly thoughout the book. She is a very attractive character, with loads of practical ntelligence and humour. She also has very good intentions. A great book to read when you feel down and want to be cheered up by a good adventure. Happily, this is also the first book in a trilogy about Margaret.

Top 4 medieval novels

The Sunne in Splendour
The Sunne in Splendour

Sharon Penman's epic novel about the life and times of Richard III is written with perception and attention to detail.

Kristin Lavransdatter: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Kristin Lavransdatter: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Sigrid Undset's nobel prize winning novel is about the life and loves of a woman growing up in medieval Denmark.

The Physician (Cole)
The Physician (Cole)

Noah Gordon's novel about a young man's quest to study medicine spans medieval England and Persia.

Vision of Light, A
Vision of Light, A

Set in the 14th century, Judith Merkle Riley's novel is about the adventures of Margaret of Ashbury, a woman with a gift for healing.


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Comments 7 comments

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed this book review, and shall bookmark it so that I can reference it later for a good read. I love medieval novels! Thank you!

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Great review.

mactavers profile image

mactavers 5 years ago

Your book review has prompted me to at least read two of the books. Thank you.

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

I think that I read 'The Sunne in Splendour' many years ago ~ I considered Richard III to be something of a hero at the time ~ but the others are new to me, and I am particularly interested in medieval times, so I might enjoy them.


Emma Beth profile image

Emma Beth 5 years ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

Well I do hope you enjoy any of the books profiled here and thanks for reading my reviews. The only thing that I will say is that three of these books - Sunne in Splendour, Kristin Lavransdatter and The Physician are all lengthy, however, I found them worth the read. Emma Beth

cjatwater profile image

cjatwater 4 years ago from Greensboro, NC

I've read all of these books except for Kristin Lavransdatter and enjoyed all of them. They are some very talented writers. Have you read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet?

Emma Beth profile image

Emma Beth 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

Hi. Yes, I've read Pillars of the Earth, years ago, so I can't remember all the details, except it made me appreciate all those medieval cathederals more.

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