Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The King, The Priest, The Knight, And The Mystery Woman

Here's a fairly useless factoid, before doing time in graduate school to earn my library degree, I slogged through four years of undergraduate work where I earned a degree in history.  My specialty (such as it was) was British History.  Yes, the girl who loves westerns got a degree in British History.  That being said, despite four years of my life given to this task, I'm pretty much clueless on those wacky Brits pre-Henry VIII.  Which sort of helps explain my reaction to 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-


Karenmc said...

In researching my family tree I ended up tracing lines back to John and a whole mess of the Magna Carta signers (talk about political marriages; if you're descended from one, you're probably descended from a dozen). So I accidentally learned quite a bit about the politics of the time. Not an easy slog, but ultimately very interesting.

I'll eventually get to this book, but it'll have to wait behind some others that are growing moss on my TBR pile.

Wendy said...

Karenmc: You know, what you've said helps to coalesce my feelings about this book. It was REALLY interesting, and the history WAS fascinating....but dang it was also exhausting! All that political intrigue and maneuvering! This was a rewarding read in a lot of ways, but not always an "easy" one.

nath said...

What about never read Magna Carta ^_^; Medieval romance is definitively not my strong suit... so I think I'm going to try Ms Kennedy other books first. I think I have her debut novel somewhere ^_^;

Wendy said...

Nath: Of her three books, I would say her second one, The Irish Warrior, is my favorite. I liked her debut (The Conqueror) as well - but TIW is the one that really sticks out for me.

Anonymous said...

Late to the party - I've been on vacation. I just wanted to say I loved this book! Everything that you say about it is so true, and that's what I enjoyed so much about it.

Yes, it was thick and meaty, which was a definite plus in my eyes. Additionally for me the romance between the h/h in each of her books is excellent.