Falling Pomegranate Seeds - Book Review
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
by Wendy J. Dunn
Historical novels require an enormous amount of research, and the earlier the period represented the harder it will be to find reliable, and indeed, coherent information. Falling Pomegranate Seeds, the Duty of Daughters, must surely fall into that category, yet Wendy Dunn has wrought a fine portrait of Spain in the late fifteenth century, both in the place and the characters of that time, and she has done so with passion and commitment.
The story follows the lives of the children of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, in particular, their youngest daughter, Catalina, destined to be the first wife of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon. Beatriz, tutor to Catalina and her companion Maria de Salinas, is the observer who stitches together for us, imagined or otherwise, the threads of the royal family’s lives and relationships, from 1490 to Catalina’s departure for England. Through the tutor’s eyes, we see the everyday world of the royals wrought in the rich colours and fabrics of that age: shimmering gold, and the red of pomegranate seeds. Woven into the narrative are Beatriz’s feelings and fears, not only for her young charges, but for her own personal fulfilment. Centuries ahead of her time, Beatriz is determined to follow her dream and continue as a respected teacher of Latin at the University of Salamanca. She has a passion for books, medicine and midwifery. She also attempts to keep a wary eye on King Ferdinand, who has an unhealthy appetite for women, other than his wife.
Beatriz adores her charges and much of her life with the royals is happy. But no family, especially one living in the fifteenth century, is immune to tragedy; Dunn writes skilful and moving accounts of death and madness. (No spoilers here.)
I was intrigued by Princess Margot, fiancée to Juan, son of Isabel and Ferdinand. A delightful character, she breathed fresh air into the sometimes claustrophobic royal family atmosphere, their lives ruled by formality and expectation. I was a little disappointed that Dunn’s narrative did not take readers to the scene where Margot reacts with ‘…humorous dismay…’ to an overloud musical welcome. Although Margot is not a major player in the story, I would have enjoyed being taken there.
The defeat of the Moors and their last night in the beautiful city of Granada, built by them with the light of torches centuries before, is sensitively described. Beatriz observes, “…the light of the torches seem to throb out a silent dirge to her that the city’s very beginning had predicted its end.”
Historical novels always make me curious, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters inspired me to browse the Internet for further references to Spain in the fifteenth century.
Dunn is currently writing All Manner of Things, the second part of her Falling Pomegranate Seeds trilogy, which should be published in 2019.