Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.
Young and recently widowed Lady Servanne de Briscourt has been sold by Prince John, regent of England, into marriage to Lucien Wardieu, Baron de Gournay. Not that she’s complaining too much about it. Her groom-to-be is tall, fair, and extremely handsome—though she’s seen him only once and from afar—and she’s rather curious as to what more a marriage bed might bring. Her much older and ailing husband had been rather perfunctory and the rumors of the prowess of the Dragon of Bloodmoor Keep are rather loud and explicit. So, yeah, she’s not complaining on the way through Lincoln Forest toward Bloodmoor Keep. And her surroundings are quite breathtaking as well...As are the whispers of outlaws hanging out in the forest...
Whispers that are soon turned into reality when their riding party is ambushed by a hulking beast of a man wearing wolf pelts, killing a few of the knights in Lady Servanne’s escort, frightening her Abigail half to death and making Lady Servanne very, very angry. How dare he?! How dare he accost them in this rude manner?! How dare he speak to her like that?!And how dare he introduce himself as Lucien Wardieu, Baron de Gournay?!
Once upon a time (no, I’m not narrating a fairytale) medievals were my favorite subgenre of historical romance (until I discovered Ms. Quick and her Victorian era novels). There’s just something about the charm and pageantry of that time. The damsels in her modest wimples, the armored knights on their hulking war horses, the tournaments, the broadsword fighting, the feuds, the intrigue, the deceits, the secrets...Knowing very little about those times, keeping most of the ‘era’ shrouded in a veil of mystery, somehow makes it all seem (at least to me) that much more intriguing, that much more romantic. I just love how a hardened knight, swathed in bulky, movement constricting armor, can be brought down to his knees by a dainty damsel (wimple and all).And this story, the first in the Robin Hood Trilogy is a prime example of everything I love about historical romances set in medieval times. It had it all. Intrigue, secrets, deceits, stolen identities, rivalry and feuds, a tournament, broadsword fighting, good and honest outlaws, villainous villains, a few bastards, a viper in human disguise, the damsel in her modest wimple, and an armored knight on his hulking war horse who was brought down like a fallen tree by the aforementioned damsel. ;) And it was also a retelling of my favorite medieval legend—the legend of Robin Hood.
The Robin Hood in this story wasn’t named Robin of Locksley, Robin Longstride or any kind of Robin there is, and he didn’t immediately return home from the Crusade, having spent more than a decade in France, earning his reputation under another name...Anyway, he wasn’t the “Robin Hood” we all know from the other books, animated pictures and movies. And because he wasn’t that character, maintaining the ‘outlaw’ persona without the usual fare that comes with it, this retelling sounded fresh and new despite the done-already theme.
The Black Wolf and Lady Servanne were a fantastic leading couple and I cannot wait to read about them in the rest of the trilogy. The antagonism between them was exhilarating, the passion explosive, the attraction obvious almost from the get-go.
What surprised me was the beginning. The prologue started somewhere toward the end of the story, throwing the reader back through time to the beginning in the first chapter. And that prologue revealed the Black Wolf and Lady Servanne were completely in love (well, she was, since the prologue is narrated somewhat from her point of view). Yes, this is a romance, so we all know the hero and heroine are bound to end up together, so the prologue cannot be declared a spoiler when there’s nothing actually to be spoiled, but it served as an added incentive to keep reading to get to the ‘good stuff’. ;)
And, this being a romance, it’s natural the romance part was the main element of the story, of the plot, but that doesn’t mean, as in other novels might, that the romance, the love story of the two leads, overshadowed the rest. Quite the contrary. It was intricately woven with the other elements of the novel, the other ‘sub-plots’, if I could call them that. The dramatic element of Black Wolf’s true reason for returning to England, his ‘interactions’ with his men, the additional ‘romance’ in the story, the intrigue, the drama, the revenge plot, Servanne being used as bait and distraction...It all, all those elements, all those different ‘genres’, led to one point, to the end of the prologue and the climax of the novel in the last chapter...Read the blurb, if you want a sneak peek.
The prose was quite purple at times, which I haven’t noticed in the two books (The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses) I read recently, but I like purple, so I didn’t mind. It actually seemed to underline the mystique, the charm, and the pageantry of the era. The purplish prose rather fit as a narrative style. It certainly wouldn’t fit a contemporary romance, but medievals are made to be purple, if you ask me. ;)
Well, to bring this rant/review to a close, the entire book worked for me. On every level. The characters were well-defined, flawed, and with enough depth to make them real, the plot was nicely structured and tight, the narrative, though purplish at times, flowed nicely and well, and combined with the aforementioned elements, gave this story a feel of a page-turner for me, the pace quickening with each chapter, hurtling toward that cliff of a climax at the end.
I love these kinds of books. The kind that, despite knowing (or at least imagining) what will happen next, you keep turning the pages, wanting to know, wanting to explore, wanting to discover, living the tale alongside the characters, feeling their emotions, seeing their surroundings with them...And you want to keep on reading. These are the keepers for me. And this is definitely one of them.