(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Sold as a slave in Romania for seven pounds and three solidi, the Gypsy girl, Sharai, escapes a slave ship infected with the plague. As an adult, she performs her silky, exotic dances to earn enough to sustain herself and the toddling orphan girl she adopted. She yearns for relief from the grinding poverty, and a secure home. Having been violated by a nobleman posing as her hero, she wants naught of any other man of title, and also scorns the dubious Gypsy king who pursues her. In a tent at the bustling autumn fair in Winchester, she meets the dashing Lord Tabor, and her resolve to avoid all noblemen softens.
Though possessed of a stately castle with prosperous lands, the English knight,Tabor, teeters on the brink of losing all his holdings. A powerful noble has attacked Tabor’s castle, determined to seize his lands. Tabor seeks revenge for his older brother’s murder, but England’s throne is held by an infant king and his feuding uncles. The realm is paralyzed with uncertainty and lawlessness, and the crown has abandoned him.
Then a stroke of good fortune helps Tabor, a sizeable dowry that can save his holdings. He need only wed an earl’s daughter, the regal Lady Emilyne. But he has already fallen in love with Sharai, and they are locked in a powerful dance of desire. His refusal to abandon Sharai plunges them into life-and-death struggles–and a painful choice between duty and love.
The story, book one in the four-volume Coin Forest series, is set in a unique period in history when Gypsies were welcomed, their travels even financed by the nobility in the countries in which they traveled. Dubbed the Gypsy social honeymoon period, it lasted for just a few decades as the Gypsies ventured into Western Europe. Growing mistrust, a waning interest in pilgrimages and increasing incidents of thievery and racial/culture clashes combined to end the honeymoon. The incidents in Tabor’s Trinket occur as the honeymoon begins to sour.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
English history is definitely one of the topics I’m not knowledgeable about when it comes to historical fiction but I have to say that because of Janet Lane, I learned so much more. The most impressive thing about Tabor’s Trinket is the amount of research Lane put into the novel. There are just tiny little details that make the world come alive like how the latest fashions were actually sewn, the little county fairs that cropped up sporadically and the migration of Gypsies into Western Europe and England. What I found the most interesting were the scenes with Sharai where we learn about the Gypsy culture. Obviously I can’t speak as to how accurate that was but considering the fact that the rest of the novel is very well researched I see no reason not to give Janet Lane the benefit of the doubt. Tabor’s Trinket was certainly a learning experience for me.
The strength of this first book in the Coin Forest series is undoubtedly the characters. Tabor is out to look for revenge for the taking of his castle and the death of his older brother and his brother’s bride-to-be. But he’s more complicated than that, believe me! He wants to restore his family’s fortune and get revenge but at the same time he fantasizes about making a love match, about finding a woman that’s right for him just like the heroes in all of the legends he reads. However, that’s not really his fiscal reality and he is forced to let his overbearing mother enter into marriage negotiations with a wealthy family whose daughter he does not love. At the same time, Sharai once dreamed about not marrying for love but marrying up in the world to gain security. She loses this illusion when we meet her a couple of years later after she has been raped and is being pursued by a self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies. When she’s offered a contract by Tabor to sew for his mother and the other ladies in the castle, she’s reluctant because she notices Tabor’s attraction to her. She’s understandably wary of men and this causes a definite push-and-pull dynamic between the two as Tabor struggles to make his feelings known while at the same time respecting her feelings and her space.
This push-and-pull dynamic causes some of the conflict in the novel and is the main focus for the most part but both characters have their own conflicts to overcome. Tabor has to figure out how to get money to keep his castle running and Sharai has to figure out how she’s going to deal with her growing feelings for Tabor while evading the Gypsy King who wants her to be his wife when her contract is up. I can’t really talk about the plot twists because it would be giving away far too much but let’s just say that all of the conflicts come together in the climax for a couple of absolutely gripping chapters that really leave you doubting whether both lovers will even survive the final conflict or not. The ending is sort of expected when you take the whole tone of the novel into account but I still loved it. It makes sense, even if it was fairly predictable. However, in between the ending and the beginning a lot of the plot twists will blindside you so Janet Lane deserves kudos for that.
If you like historical fiction with a well-developed and believable romance I think Tabor’s Trinket is the book for you. Yes, it flirts with the whole star-crossed lovers trope but as Janet Lane shows through her amazing research, the romance between Tabor and Sharai is not unprecedented in English history. Will it turn out like Tabor’s beloved romantic novels or will the lovers end up like Romeo and Juliet? It’s hard to say and if you’re even a little bit intrigued by the blurb or anything I’ve said in this review I’d recommend picking up this book. It will draw you in so quickly and you won’t want to put it down.
I give this novel 4.5/5 stars.