Kris Kennedy's latest book (and her first for Pocket), Defiant.
England is in turmoil. King John isn't exactly a warm and cuddly sort, various barons are threatening civil war, and the Magna Carta is on the horizon. Knee deep in all of this is Jamie Lost, our hero, and one of the king's most trusted knights. John has sent him on a mission to find Father Peter of London, rumored to be back in England after many years living in exile. The problem being that there are quite a few people running around who want to find Father Peter - including our heroine, Eva.
Eva owes her life to Father Peter, and cannot for the life of her understand why the man came back to England. The problem is that England is not safe for Eva, nor for her young traveling companion, teenage Roger. She takes one look at Jamie and knows her mission will not be easy. This is a hard man. A scary man. And they both want the same thing - Father Peter.
Reading Defiant is an exercise in patience, and I suspect it's going to divide readers. With Kennedy's previous two medievals, I strongly recommended them to not only medieval fans, but to general historical romance lovers as well. Defiant is just as strong (if not stronger) in terms of "history" - but that said, it's a very medieval-y medieval. There's a lot of medieval political intrigue, two-timing, back room dealing, and the author writes it out in drips and drabs, leaving a small trail of bread crumbs for the reader to follow. This is good, because it saves us from a mind-numbing info-dump, but it's not so good for those readers (uh, like me) who might not be entirely up on their medieval history. This was not a book I was immediately engaged in. There are a lot of unanswered questions early on. The author does get around to answering them, but it takes time. Again, it saves from the info-dump, but readers are going to have to stick with it to get to the pay-off.
Now that being said, not all historical romances being published these days feature the depth, breadth, and sheer amount of "history" in them quite like Kennedy's work does. Readers hungry, and at this point probably desperate, for actual "history" in their historical romances will probably be more than willing to exercise patience. Yes, the author does tweak a few details to make her fictional story work, but this is still a book with a very strong sense of place (and lengthy author's notes at the end - which I lurve).
The romance is also a bit of an exercise in patience. One has to remember, Eva and Jamie are at cross purposes for the vast majority of this book. They both want the priest, but for totally different reasons. Not to mention that Jamie is loyal to King John, a man Eva does not think highly of (to put it mildly). So readers should expect quite a bit of animosity and bickering. Now, it's certainly amusing animosity and bickering, but it also means it takes a good while for the reader to see, and buy into, a romance between these two people. On that score, I found this to be a second half book. The lack of truth telling, the lies by omission, after a while it gets to be very exhausting. However by the halfway point, while not everything is out in the open, there's enough on the page to get me to believe a happy ending will work.
This wasn't an entirely easy read for me, and it's not my favorite of Kennedy's work, but I can still appreciate it for how special it is in a lot of ways. Medieval fans should rejoice, and those of you looking for something different, something with some actual history to back it up? Yeah, when was the last time you read about the Magna Carta in a romance novel?
Grade = B-