Original date of publication: 1992
My edition: 1992 (St. Martin’s Press)
Why I decided to read: browsing in the library
How I acquired my copy: unacquired, from the library, April 2010
Set between the years of 1371 and 1383, The Peacock and the Pearl is set amongst the guild system of medieval London and against the wider historical backdrop of the period—culminating, in fact, with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Joanne Burgeys, the plain-featured daughter of an ambitious mercer, encounters Sir Tristam de Maudesbury, a retainer knight of John of Gaunt, one day during an apprentice riot. In true romantic tradition, Tristam literally is her knight in shining armor, saving her life. Later, Joanna repays the favor, and by a strange twist of fate, the two marry—although the relationship is pretty much one-sided.
The historical detail of the book is excellent, and the author, who wrote a number of books on the medieval guild system. Everything, especially what people wear, is meticulously described—sometimes ad nauseum.
Apart from the historical veracity of the book however, the rest of the novel pretty much falls apart, because the author isn’t very good at developing believable, interesting characters. Our heroine, Joanna, behaves in some completely idiotic ways, so much so that it made me less inclined to be sympathetic towards her when she got in trouble. Tristam is so obviously a Bad Guy, and he and Joanna are so obviously ill-suited for one another, that I just didn’t care in the end what happened to either of them. Joanna’s sister comes across as a shallow idiot, and Black Nick’s character does such a large 180 about halfway through the book that it just wasn’t believable.
It’s clear that the plot was somewhat influenced by medieval romances, but I just wasn’t absorbed in this one. The author’s writing style is very good, and as I’ve mentioned, the historical bits are wonderful, but I just wasn’t all that involved in the story or the lives of the characters, who sometimes seemed like modern people dressed in period clothes.