Matrix by Lauren Groff

Twelfth century France, Marie, a seventeen-year-old royal bastard and recent orphan, travels to the court of the magnificent Queen Eleanor. But Marie de France is tall, energetic, clever, willful and considered to be manly. She does not fit at court and Queen Eleanor soon sends her off to England to become a prioress of a nunnery despite having shown no previous piety, or deep religious interest. 

Marie feels abandoned. She loves Queen Eleanor and England is cold, the nunnery on the brink of famine. No one there expects anything of her. They are wrong.

A wonderfully rich novel filled with the female religious fervour and creativity of hagiographies and Marie’s own publication of poems (the real Marie de France published twelve short narrative verses about courtly love), Matrix is also about power and desire. 

Marie is a delightful character whose strength floods the book with refreshing feminism, exploring how women were able to garner power and influence at a time when they were considered the weaker sex. Queen Eleanor too harnesses myth and story to enhance her power, teaching Marie, understanding Marie’s potential. 

It’s an absorbing story that explores the complexities of power and wealth from a female perspective. You’ll know if this is your thing. I found myself fully immersed in Marie’s world, in the patterns of prayer, service and land ownership that require buildings and defenses. You’ll need to read it to enjoy the full meaning of the title.

A masterful piece of historical fiction that knows just where to pull its punches for a wide readership. I haven’t read any of Lauren Groff’s other work, but I would do so now. 

I’ll be reviewing The Giant Dark by Sarvat Hasin next.