This one may seem something of a cheat choice, as it's debatable whether or not Alexander is a true villain. Although he causes problems for Eleyne, it is all borne out of the overwhelming love they have for each other. His obsession with her continues beyond the grave, while she continues to live her life without him. Perhaps the true villain of the book is Robert de Quincy, or even King Edward I? Reading Barbara Erskine's books in the Lady of Hay trilogy were an interesting experience because they present the history I grew up learning about from the opposite angle. It is the Welsh and the Scots who are at the forefront of these stories and we begin to understand the passion that underpins these countries. Each English victory I grew up reading about is viewed from the perspectives of the defeated people and we learn about the people behind the names, the sacrifices behind the battles. Predominantly, the main characters are female - strong women who work within the boundaries of their society to exert some element of control over their lives. It is these women who attract me to Erskine's books, but I inevitable end up wanting to know more about the period in which they lived. Early medieval history is not a period I have ever studied in any great detail, but the wealth of information in these books is testament to Erskine's research skills.
For a long time, Barbara Erskine has been one of my writing heroes. Her attention to detail is meticulous but you never get the feeling that you are being fed information - every bit of research and historical fact in the books is woven seamlessly through the narratives. They say you should never meet your heroes, but when I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to go to a book signing at a local independent book shop (The Red Lion Bookshop in Colchester) I jumped at the chance to meet her. I had to take my then two year old son with me and I was worried about how he would behave. Needless to say, he chatted away to her while she signed my book and she was so lovely with him. I came away with a warm feeling of having not only met a very kind person and had a pleasant conversation with her, but also of feeling justified to have her as a writing hero. She could not have been any nicer and to make it better - the book I had signed - which was her latest release - had a heroine with the same name as me!
Given that I now live not too far from where Barbara Erskine used to live and where some of her books are set, I intend to attempt to re-read one of the two of her books that genuinely terrified me: Hiding From The Light - Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and resident of Mistley. I often drive past the Mistley Thorn, which is widely believed to have been where he lived and get a chill every time. I may have to only read it in daylight, but I definitely need to read it again. Maybe I'll even be brave enough to read it in-situ!
A selection of my favourite of Barbara Erskine's books