~ About the Books ~
The year is 1348—and the Black Plague has reached England. Forced to leave her betrothed behind, Lady Velena Ambrose arrives at her father’s countryside castle, grief stricken—and burdened with fears. She embraces her seclusion, but she is not to remain alone.
Though suffering great loss, Esquire Tristan Challener arrives at the castle, able to find comfort in the Bible that a friar has secretly placed in his satchel.
Velena desperately needs the book that Tristan keeps safely hidden in his room, but is it wise for her to find companionship with a man who is not her betrothed? Will darkness make its abode in her forever, or will she finally be set free to see that God is good, and that there is rest to be had, beneath His mighty outstretched arms?
Beneath Outstretched Arms is the first of four books to be released in this compelling new medieval series, Walk With Me.
Certainly not Lady Velena Abrose, who not only bears the scar of her mother’s death, but also lives with the uncertainty of her brother’s life.
Having remained sheltered for the last three years, Velena now finds herself thrust into a harsh season of change as her self-seeking uncle arrives at the castle with news that his eldest son has died—and with him, her arranged marriage.
Tristan wants to believe that the death of Velena’s betrothed means new-found freedom for their ever-deepening friendship, but in his heart, he knows differently. Plans are already being laid for Velena’s future, and chances are, they won’t include him.
A little while longer, and their friendship may be lost.
Genre: Historical (Medieval) Fiction; Coming of Age
Series: #1 & #2 Walk With Me Series
Release date: 22 April 2016; 30 June 2017
Pages: 217; 252
Publisher: Selah Press
~ Excerpt ~
Tristan approached Velena until they were only inches apart. Her hair was disheveled, but charmingly so to Tristan’s mind; he watched dark strands blow across her face, creating lines of vision leading to high cheek bones, a pleasant mouth, and resplendent green eyes dressed in a golden circlet of their own.
He thought again how attractive she was, but it wasn’t the color of her hair or her eyes that drew his attention, but rather the mask she’d just pulled away. To him she’d been witty and pleasant, intelligent and fun—but not vulnerable. He wanted to put his arms around her, but touching was not their way.
Velena stiffened at his closeness, but didn’t step away. She wondered what he was thinking as his eyes roved over her face, admiring her features and embracing her pain. She waited for him to speak, but he said nothing. “Why are you staring at me?”
“I didn’t know.”
“That I was afraid?”
“How much it consumed you; I wish I’d known.”
“You couldn’t have.”
Tristan took the reins from Velena’s hands and left her staring after him as he tethered Augustine and Guinevere to the closest tree.
“Let’s sit.” He gestured for her to join him in the grass, and then laughed as she held her hands behind her back, sashaying her way over to him in slow exaggerated movements. She spread her navy skirts like royalty about her feet.
“As you wish.”
“Are you trying to distract me from the subject at hand?”
“I may be trying to lighten the mood. I don’t need to be disposing my burdens on you. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for…Velena, that’s what we’re here for; it’s why…why we exist—to bear one another’s burdens, to hold each other up. Jesus says to love each other as ourselves; do you think I could march forward to sanity without looking behind me to notice that you’re faltering?”
Velena picked at the grass and flicked at a passing scarlet colored beetle, her mouth turned down at the corners. “I really thought I was doing better. Tristan, you’ve lost so much more than I have. How are you not afraid?”
Tristan slouched back on his palms. “I think that fear is an awful thing, and I’d rather not spend any more time in its presence than I have to.”
Velena’s heart sunk; she really thought he might have the answers she needed, but then he continued.
“Sometimes I’m afraid, but honestly, Velena, God gives us promises that help us escape from that place of fear.”
“Friar Daniel once read something to me from the Holy Scriptures, a psalm written by King David. It says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamps against me, my heart will not fear; though war arises against me, in spite of this I shall be confident. One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.”
Velena was distractedly tossing pieces of broken grass into his cupped hands while he recited from memory. He wasn’t sure how well she was listening, but he continued on until the end. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.”
Velena looked up then. “My mother believed that God was good,” she finally said.
“He is. Think of what he did for Israel…and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
“Do you think that existing beneath these same arms, today, qualifies us for this same mercy? Does He see our afflication?”
“I do—and yes, He does.”
~ Review ~
Attention, lovers of medieval fiction! Here is a new series that is definitely worth checking out. It’s a coming of age saga set against the backdrop of what was surely one of the most devastating periods of history, especially for those who lived through it: The Black Plague. Most of us have heard of it, but how many of us have stopped to think about what it would have been like to live through? It was a time when the line between superstition and Christianity was increasingly blurred; a time when medical knowledge was rudimentary; and it was a disease that paid no heed to wealth or class. Nothing evokes fear like the unpredictable, the inexplicable, and the misunderstood.
Such is the world we enter with Lady Velena Ambrose, and although the story doesn’t dwell on the physical aspects of the Plague, the reader gets a good feeling for the emotional effects through Velena’s experience. Though only fifteen at the opening of the novel, she is of marriageable age by medieval standards and has been betrothed to her cousin for a number of years. However, the Plague’s devastation and Velena’s removal to the countryside for quarantining postpone the wedding indefinitely.
Beneath Outstretched Arms follows Velena’s maturation over a three year period as she struggles with fear and a loss of faith in God’s goodness, and develops a deep and abiding friendship with the castle bailiff’s nephew, Tristan Challener. The interplay and banter between these two is one of my favourite aspects of this series, and I love the way in which Tristan mentors Velena in the Christian faith. This was particularly interesting because it took place during a time in which lay-persons reading the Bible for themselves was discouraged, if not forbidden, and Tristan’s understanding of the Gospel went against the universal Catholic teachings of the day, pre-dating the Protestant Reformation by more than 150 years.
However Velena’s marriage is always looming on the horizon. Provided he survives the Plague, her betrothed will eventually come to claim her. Velena naïvely believes that this won’t need to affect her friendship with Tristan, however Tristan, being a few years older and wiser, knows that no prudent husband would allow his wife to continue such a close friendship with another man. Their friendship is set to become a central point of tension in the rest of the series!
A Little While Longer continues Velena’s story after the arrival of her uncle and cousins at the castle. The tension becomes much stronger in this second novel, as another of Velena’s cousins seeks to take the place his brother would have had as her husband. Naturally, he feels threatened by Velena’s friendship with Tristan, despite their insistence that their love for one another is platonic rather than romantic. Tristan has always said that he would happily stand aside for Velena’s betrothed–provided he was happy that he would love Velena as she deserved. He’s convinced her cousin isn’t that man.
Over the course of the novel, the character of Velena’s cousin is gradually revealed to the reader in a way that remains largely hidden from Velena, and largely unprovable by Tristan. This reader is thoroughly convinced Tristan and Velena’s friendship is exactly the kind that makes the best foundation for marriage, even though it hasn’t taken a romantic turn yet. Emphasis on the YET, I hope! But how or if they will ever get to that point remains to be seen.
There were some technical things that distracted me a little during both of these novels. There is a bit of point-of-view switching within scenes which, while smoothly done, isn’t my preference. There were also some editing issues, particularly with incorrectly used homonyms or similar sounding words, and grammatical things that were missed in line editing.
My other caution is that the second book in the series does have some references to the immoral activities, thoughts, or desires of some of the characters, particularly of a sexual nature, and there are occasional unsavoury comments made by these characters. There are also instances of the words ‘bl**dy’, ‘d*mn’, or ‘b*gger’ used by certain characters. I felt these aspects were true to the period and contributed to the illustration of those characters they related to, however readers will want to keep this in mind when recommending to others.
This is a great series for those who want to immerse themselves in medieval life and explore love, friendship, and faith in God from a perspective that is at once completely different to our own, and yet universal at its heart. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment!
I received a copy of these novels from the author. This has not influenced the content of this review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
~ About the Author ~
Venessa Knizley was born in Santa Ana, CA, and was educated at Multnomah University in Portland, OR, where she received her degree in Bible and Theology with a Greek minor. She is now a wife and homeschooling mother of five, residing in the desert southwest of Yuma, AZ.