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Publisher's Summary

"You should be grateful, my girl. You have no dowry, and I am doing everything I can to get you settled. You are hardly any man's dream."

Alina's brother, Milos, pulled his face into a perfect copy of Aunt Marci's sour expression, primly pursing his mouth. He had got her querulous tone just right. 

I pinched my lips together, trying not to laugh. But it was true; Aunt Marci had already introduced me to several suitors. So far I had managed to decline their suits politely.

Maybe Alina's aunt was right. How could she possibly hope to become a musician, a trobairitz, as impoverished as she was and without the status of a good marriage?

But 14-year-old Alina refuses to accept the oppressing life her strict aunt wants to impose upon her. When the perfect opportunity comes along for her to escape, she and her brother embark on a journey through the Byzantine Empire all the way to Jerusalem.

Alina soon finds herself embroiled in the political intrigue of noble courts as she fights to realize her dream of becoming a female troubadour.

©2020 Malve von Hassell & BHC Press (P)2020 Malve von Hassell & BHC Press

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Historical and timeless, a beautiful book

Alina is one of those books that winds like silk through your mind, long after you’ve finished reading. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, it tells the story of a young woman on the verge of adulthood making the long pilgrimage from France to Jerusalem in the 12th century. She has personal rather than religious reasons for the journey – reasons that will resonate with women and girls of today – and the characters are sharp and live and credible to modern sensibilities, without ever ceasing to be people of their time.

This is characteristic of the work of Malve von Hassell – I’ve never read anything of hers which I have not profoundly admired. In her historical fiction, she has the gift of making you stand there, in the long-gone world that she recaptures, breathing that air, hearing that music, feeling those anxieties. There were moments in the narrative when I thought “no – this is far fetched! A young girl with nothing, adopted into a royal court?” Yet when I struggled back through what I know of this time, I realised that there is nothing implausible here. The world was less crowded then: the estimated population of the whole of Europe was around the same as the UK today, and although Alina is poor, she is the daughter of a landowner and as such a member of the second estate, and a “lady”. Hierarchies were rigid, but aristocratic and more humble members of noble households lived in much closer physical proximity than one would expect today: the great halls which served as the centrepiece of a mediaeval castle, where kings and lords would hold court, were also places where the less distinguished castle residents would eat and sleep. All of the characters and events in this intense and engaging tale stand scrutiny of this kind: Malve von Hassell does not cut corners. This makes the modern echoes even more intriguing – issues of religious intolerance and anti-semitism, the restriction of women’s lives, the jostling for political power.

This is billed as a novel for young adults and there are certainly young people who will be captivated by it, though it is a quiet, reflective book without the sensational shocks and fireworks of so much young adult fiction. I would have loved this book in my teens, but decades later I love it as an adult, and unless “adult” means “full of sex and swearing” it works perfectly well as an adult novel now.

I met this book first as an audio book, and I must say a word for the exquisite narration by Penny Scott-Andrews (@Penandrews). I cannot guess how long it must have taken the publisher to find a voice so perfect for the time and the person, so entirely sensitive to the story, so timeless. Thank you Penny Scott-Andrews for bringing the story so compellingly to life. I read the book later, but heard your beautiful voice throughout it, and for me you simply are Alina.

All round, Alina is a beautiful book. I’ve said this before about the work of Malve von Hassell: buy it as a gift for someone you really like.