REVIEW: Iron and Amber by Dinah Dean

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A previously unpublished epic saga of love, loss, faith, and adventure from master storyteller Dinah Dean

England, 1095

Roger FitzHugh is horrified to discover a lady being sold to pay her step-father’s debts. Moved by her plight, he pays what the man owes and offers the penniless young woman—Rohese—the option of paying her entrance to a nunnery or his hand in marriage. He’s delighted when she chooses him, but she has powerful enemies who cast a shadow over their union.

Duty, protectiveness, and affection towards his new wife make the threats to Rohese, and the children they hope to have together, all the more painful for Roger, even as the bustle and drama of everyday life demands his attention. Then he is summoned to accompany a Bishop on an essential but dangerous pilgrimage to the Holy lands. He must leave all he holds dear, and the wife he is coming to love, and accept the religious journey.

TW – miscarriage


Reading this book was both sad and thrilling. Sad because this is the last unread Dinah Dean book for me. Thrilling because I doubted I’d ever read it as it was (as far as I know) only ever released in a German translation. Then while Millie Page and Cover & Page did all the hard work to reissue Dean’s other OOP books, the manuscript for “Iron and Amber” was discovered. So here we are. 

Let me just say straight off that this is more a book of historical fiction (albeit with some RL characters and events nicely worked into it) with some romance rather than a historical romance. I think if readers go into it knowing that, they’ll enjoy it more. Dinah Dean lived near the Minster at Waltham in Essex and used the area in many of her books set in England. The religious community was an integral part of life there until the dissolution of the monasteries and figured in all her three medieval, and the one 15th century, Waltham books. 

It’s Michaelmas and Roger Fitzhugh, as undersheriff of Essex, is mostly responsible for collecting the tax. When he arrives – along with his squire Drogo – at the Abbey of Waltham one of the things he wonders is will one feckless landowner actually pay his taxes this year. The guy is infamous for his excuses but this year three and everyone’s running out of patience. Turns out he won’t (again) and his lack of money will in a way become Roger’s issue. Faced with a young woman being sold (and this was apparently legal) by her stepfather (feckless landowner) to someone in town or to a brothel in London, Roger steps up and pays the tax himself. Now what though?

Rohese is the granddaughter of an Earl but Rohese’s mother was disowned by her grandfather when Adela eloped with a priest (it was only recently that priests were forbidden to marry and several of the canons at Waltham are married). Of course they were found but by Rohese’s cousin, a thoroughly awful human being who has a vested interest in Rohese being thought a bastard. Yeah, granddad, no conflict of interest there, right?

Faced with a woman in desperate need of a friend, Roger again steps up and offers her choices – placement in a nunnery, marriage to him, or something else to be decided by Rohese. Then he gives her time to think about it while he takes the tax money to London. Roger, who knows it’s time he marries and needs a good wife to whip his household into shape, finds that he’s actually hoping she’ll agree to marriage while Rohese realizes that Roger might actually be one of the rarities – a good man. MOC done, they travel the four miles to his main property where his people quickly realize what a gem Rohese is. She spins, she sews, she embroiders, she realizes the problem with the firewood which is irritating the cook and soon the household is eating better than they ever have, wearing undarned clothes, and now they have a wise woman in the person of Gundreda, Rohese’s servant.  Win!

Then Roger is selected to travel to Normandy with the Court while the King’s brother mortgages the Duchy for money to outfit himself and an army to free Jerusalem from the pagans. Once there, a further journey is sprung on Roger, one that will take him far away from his beloved home and the woman he’s beginning to realize that he loves.  

Okay so yeah, for a lot of this book, Roger and Rohese are separated. Yet each is not far from the other in their thoughts. We also learn about medieval laws regarding (among other things) forestry, deer, pannage, serfs, obligations owed by serfs to their masters, mules, destriers, day to day travel in a large army across France, the Alps, Italy, and back and how remarkable Sicily was at the time in terms of DEI. For readers who are getting nervous because of the mention of what later became known as the First Crusade, it plays no other role in the book beyond causing the travel. It’s also the reason that Roger and Co go to Sicily and see firsthand that three different peoples – the Greeks, Saracens, and the Normans who arrived with the Great Count – can live together harmoniously. This is something also mentioned through Diana Norman (Ariana Franklin)’s MotAoD series (about a century later in time). 

One of the joys of this book is how totally decent Roger, Rohese, their people, Drogo, a priest, the Great Count, and the religious men at Waltham are. The King and his brothers aren’t too bad either. Even their half-uncle who plays a large role in Roger’s journey, although a bit of a rogue, ends up being not awful which is a lot to say of royalty at the time when they still actually ruled. A  muted “joy” is the fact that the raving whack-job villain is recognized as such by most and people with power are keeping an eye on him. Rohese has a brilliant way of dealing with him though and I, along with many of her household were in awe of her. Oh, and there’s a cat whom Drogo finds who perhaps becomes the great, great, great …. grandcat of several later felines in Waltham. 

Hip, hip, hooray to Page & Cover for bringing this book back from the realms of never-read-land. Dinah Dean is that rarity for me – an author who pretty much hit the ball out of the park each time. “Iron and Amber” is a (very) slow burn romance that probably shows how a MOC really was and which brings medieval life back to life by effortlessly including little details which make the worldbuilding shine. Now I feel like starting all over again reading all her books. B+  


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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