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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Velena and Tristan are the only young people, other than the servants, at an isolated castle in northern England. It’s the fourteenth century and their families, or what was left of them, left their southern estates in the hopes of escaping the plague that was taking so many of their loved ones. Velena and Tristan strike up an instant bond, not just because there are no other young people of their rank, but because they share the mourning of the recent deaths of their mothers and, for Tristan, the deaths of his sisters as well.
As the two young people get to know each other, they share what little literature is available for them to read. Velena favors the classic story of Tristan and Isulte, a tragic tale of a love triangle that has captured romantics for centuries. Tristan was given a copy of the Bible from his friar friend, and soon the two are studying God’s word in the hopes of understanding the unfolding tragedy that continues to take more of their loved ones. A deeper feeling develops between the two, but Tristan realizes that, although of some means, he is below Velena in social standing and Velena is promised to another, her cousin, Peter. But two years pass and there’s no sign of Velena’s intended.
Venessa Knizley's novel, Beneath Outstretched Arms, is a dazzling story of love and acceptance in an age when life teetered precariously off balance. The author tackles the difficult issues of loss, tragedy and the unfairness of so many things, and helps bring the main characters, Velena and Tristan, as well as the reader, to a realm of understanding and appreciation for the true depth of God’s love. The author has a penchant for strong character development and descriptive scenes, allowing the reader to instantly feel a part of the story. The ending seems incomplete and the reader is left yearning for more, wanting to cheer on the budding relationship which, given the era, could have developed into more. Love between noble couples was a rarity and only happened by chance, but the love of God is eternal and everlasting. A powerful study of a troubling time in English history.