Kathleen Givens' Rivals For The Crown was the last of the books I had to read in preparation for my library's upcoming literary event. That's right kiddies - I am officially done with my homework reading! So far I've read, and enjoyed to varying degrees, a paranormal and a contemporary. What did I think of this Scottish historical set in the late 13th century? Well, it ended up being a mixed bag.
This story is more historical romantic saga than traditional historical romance, following the adventures of several characters. The author mostly focuses her story on Rachel Anjou and Isabel de Burke. The story opens with Rachel and her family getting kicked out of London. Their crime? Being Jewish. King Edward I, formerly their champion, has decided he no longer has use for them. So Rachel's family travels to the Scottish border, changes their last name, and open an inn.
Isabel has only known London, and has just been tapped to be the queen's newest lady in waiting. She is heartsick that the king has forced her BFF, Rachel, out of London, and is hoping to gain enough influence in court to bend the queen's ear. Unfortunately the stupid chit didn't listen to her mother, a bitter hag of a woman who sees conspiracies around every corner. Well surprise, surprise - turns out mama was right and trouble follows.
Naturally this story needs some men, and the author provides us several. Rachel catches the eye of a brave Highlander named Kieran MacDonald, while Isabel attracts the attentions of two men- an English knight and Kieran's cousin Rory. On top of all this, the crown for Scotland is up for grabs, with England's King Edward I throwing his considerable weight around. Y'all know what this means right? Yep, enter stage right - William Wallace.
The last book I read that featured saga-like tones and scope was Broken Wing by Judith James. Interestingly enough, I had the exact same problems with both books. Rivals For The Crown spans a seven-year period, and even though the author is working with over 500 pages, there were still moments where I found this story very choppy. There's quite a bit of jumping ahead in time, several instances of info-dumping (this is a sequel to a previous book, On A Highland Shore), and a little too much telling over showing. Also, there were several events that were glossed over entirely, some of them extremely important to the plot at hand. The best example of this is when Rory comes across a gang of men raping a woman. He kills one of the men, rescues the woman, but naturally he was a moron and left the others alive - thus putting a price and blood feud on his head. This big scene? Yeah, takes place off stage. The author tells the reader about it after the fact. And since Rory spends 3/4 of the story with thugs chasing after him, it's kind of a significant plot point. To not be privy to the details, as they were happening, was a little disconcerting. This isn't the only example from the book either - just the most glaring one.
The most memorable aspect of this story for me was Rachel. I think Lori would enjoy her as well, given that she's Jewish and not a stereotype. It was nice to read about the traditional Jewish religious practices/customs and the author does a fine job creating the unsettling times for Rachel's family under Edward I's rule. Isabel wasn't nearly as interesting, mostly because I wanted to shake some sense into her. Her mother practically beats it into her head that she must watch herself at court, to trust no one. Of course she doesn't heed mama's advice and is betrayed. But does she learn? Of course not. Her entire time in court is one huge misstep after another.
I admired the author's scope of the story, her handle on the history, and the fact that she kept the use of the brogue to a minimum (basically just ken, ye and dinna are tossed around). This is a big, sweeping book, and should appeal to those historical fans who bemoan the lack of "saga-ness" in today's offerings. Also, I think it will really appeal to readers who have watched the movie Braveheart so much that they can recite whole passages. As for me? While I didn't get swept up in this book, and it didn't make my heart go pitter-patter, it certainly didn't make my brain melt either. Which means I recommend it with qualifications - just like I did Broken Wing. If it sounds like your cuppa, by all means - take a drink.
Final Grade = C