Alina: A Song For The Telling, by Malve Von Hassell

‘Something tugged at me – a dream of seeing distant lands’. Ch. 3.

‘Fourteen-year-old Alina refuses to accept the oppressing life her strict aunt wants to impose upon her. When the opportunity comes along for her to escape, she and her brother embark on a journey through the Byzantine Empire all the way to Jerusalem.’ Back Cover.

In the Spring of 1173, young Alina and Milos set out from Provence. They have lost their parents. Milos is supposed to inherit his father’s land but the estate is controlled by their uncle. Alina has only a bleak marriage to a suitor selected by her aunt to look forward to. But when the siblings reach the far land, the Holy Land, almost anything seems possible, perhaps even an independent future which for Alina had been an impossible dream. Her dream is to become a trobairitz like Beatriz de Dia, that is, a woman troubadour.

I have always loved stories set in medieval times. I devoured books by Henry Treece, Geoffrey Trease, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alfred Duggan and Zoe Oldenburg. Most of these novels featured knights or barons – men in a male world. Only one or two, such as The Lady For Ransom by Alfred Duggan, placed a woman centre stage, and these were the wives of powerful men. In Malve von Hassell’s story, however, heroine Alina is young, not wealthy and not beautiful. What she does have is the highly valued gift of making music and song.

‘In Jerusalem, nobody will care that we are the children of an improvised troubadour .. or that his wife was falsely accussed of witchery.’ Milos to Alina, Ch. 3.

I enjoyed the children’s journey from Provence to Venice to Acre and on to Jerusalem almost as if I had become a tourist a thousand years ago and was seeing the sights for myself. Once in Jerusalem the pace of the story changes as Alina and Milos rely on the dubious promises of crafty men and get drawn into the complexities of the court. The author skilfully disentangles all the plots and factions and the competing suitors for the hand of princess Sibylla – who is even younger than Alina. I galloped through the last half of this story. Suspicions mount and danger follows danger. This is book so deftly written that you would almost not realise the depth of the research it must have taken to create it. The story is fascinating and Alina is a wonderful creation. I also enjoyed the portrait of Princess Sibylla, imperious and arbitrary to Alina, but really just a child struggling to face her imminent responsiblities in a little kingdom facing danger on all sides. This is highly readable historical fiction.

Malve von Hassell is a writer, researcher, and translator.  On her website you can learn more about her works including Letters from the Tooth Fairy, written in response to her son’s letters to the tooth fairy, The Falconer’s Apprentice, her first historical fiction novel for young readers and The Amber Crane, a historical fiction novel set in Germany in the 17th century,

Learn more about Trobaritz, the women singers and song makers of the Twelfth Century, on Malve’s excellent blog, Tales Through Time. The quote that precedes the tale of Alina is by Countess Beatriz de Dia, who composed the one piece from that time that survives with musical annotations, the A chantar m’er.

Where to find Alina A Song For the Telling

Alina, A Song For The Telling, published by BHC Press 2020, is available through Bookshop Org, BookDepository (with free shipping), Amazon – including in Kindle and Audio, Waterstones UK, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo and more.

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