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Excerpt from Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fair Rosaline

A Novel

by Natasha Solomons

Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons X
Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons
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    Sep 2023, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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II

HIS NAME IS ROMEO

THE PLAGUE RECEDED LIKE THE WATERS OF A FLOOD, LEAVING DITCHES OVERFLOWING WITH HASTILY BURIED DEAD. CROPS MOLDERED IN THE FIELDS, AND BRIDGES LAY UNREPAIRED AS THERE WERE NO MEN TO HEW THE TREES INTO TIMBER, NO CARTERS TO HAUL THE UNCUT PLANKS TO THE RIVERS, AND NO CARPENTERS TO MEND THE ROTTEN BEAMS.

Rosaline watched in bewilderment as her father went onto his knees to give the Almighty thanks for his deliverance. She would not give thanks. God had seen fit to take from her what mattered most and left a world broken and pitiful.

Yet several times a week, a grudging Rosaline was urged into the small church crammed with penitents and grateful supplicants, all expressing thanks to every saint they could remember that they too had been spared. She noticed that it was those of her father's age who prayed with the most ardor. The younger congregants stifled yawns and were distracted, ignoring even the friar spraying spittle in his fervor as he preached. Rosaline watched enthralled, waiting to see who would be hit by clots of prayer and zeal, lobbed straight from God's messenger. The choral singing used to be joyous, until harmony in church was banned by Rome for inspiring profane and lustful thoughts. Rosaline found plainsong exactly that: plain and tedious. She thought again of her fate at the nunnery. To face a lifetime of prayer and single notes. How was she to bear it?

After church she sought her father in his office, studying his accounts.

Only, he wasn't looking at his ledger. He stared instead at a painted miniature of Emelia, caressing her varnished profile with a forefinger.

Rosaline seized her moment. "If you grant me a year's reprieve, at the end of it, I will enter the convent if not willingly, then without objection."

He frowned. "Why should I bargain with you?"

Rosaline gestured toward the painting of her mother. "She did not want me to be unhappy."

He glanced down again at the tiny painting clasped in his fingers. "Nor do I, Daughter. Even if you do not believe it."

"I do," she said, trying to sound as if she did and reaching for his hand, but the intimacy was too much and she let his fingers fall.

"A year's board and lodging is not inexpensive." Her father was a man of means though, and he cared little for the expense. He just wanted her gone. "Your mother desired you to go. Even if you don't want to hear it."

"And I shall. But give me a year more of the world. Let me fatten myself upon it before I lose it forever."

"Better to cut yourself off quickly. Seal the wound with fire. It will be easier thus."

She knelt down and blanketed his hand with kisses. "I beg you."

He was silent for a moment, considering. He looked unhappy, wavering. "I should like us to know each other a little better, Daughter."

She nodded, eager.

"And when you are admitted to the convent, you will allow me to visit?" he said, a note of sadness in his voice. "I have lost a wife; I shall not lose a daughter too?"

"You shall not," she answered.

"You may have twelve nights."

She looked up, aghast. "So little! That's not enough."

"That or you can leave at once. Do not forget, that for my all kindness, you are my own property to dispose of as I choose."

She agreed, blinking through a film of tears.

"Twelve nights from today you will enter the convent without appeals to the family or dramatic scenes, but quietly accepting your fate?"

She could not speak. There was a stopper of flesh and tears and panic closing her throat. "Yes," she croaked.

"Swear it, Rosaline."

"I swear."

She wanted to hear the sudden dirge of all the bells in Lombardy or a cacophony of rooks heralding the calamity of her misfortune, but there was nothing, only the distant iron clatter of hoof on stone as the horses were led around the yard and the cheerful pit-­pit of a chaffinch.

Excerpted from Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons. Copyright © 2023 by Natasha Solomons. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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