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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Golden Age

Back before blogging really took off, I would lurk over at the AAR message boards. Inevitably a thread would crop up every couple of months. Someone bitching voicing their concerns that historical romance just "ain't what it used to be." Too much wallpaper, not enough "meaty" history. Then the historical market seemed to peak and stagnate a bit - and everyone started declaring the historical romance "dead." I never really put much stock into this theory, but I do think the historical romance as we once knew and loved it is poised for a big revival. Sweeping sagas featuring passion, betrayal, loyalty, and above all? Actual history. If you're an old-school romance fan, especially one who adores medievals? Yeah, just stop reading my review right now, run out and buy The Conqueror by Kris Kennedy. It has everything you'll want, and more (!), all for the bargain basement price of $3.99.

Sigh, yes I know the back cover copy says that it's 1152 and Henry II is the King of England. But even though the person who writes the back cover copy at Zebra doesn't know history, the author does; and she employs it to excellent effect, while tweaking things just enough to make this fictional story all her own.

After years of war, Guinevere de l'Ami is tired. Her beloved father is dead, and now the villain who lives on a neighboring estate is trying to force her into marriage. It's while she's busy thwarting his evil plans that she finds herself rescued by Griffyn "Pagan" Sauvage. What neither of them knows? Each others true identity. Griffyn doesn't know that Gwyn (or "Raven" as he takes to calling her) is the daughter of his sworn enemy. And Gwyn has no idea that Griffyn is the rightful heir to her estate. Also? They both are on different sides of the continuing battle over the English throne. Gwyn backs King Stephen and Griffyn is working to secure the throne for Henry II.

There's also the small matter of some long, lost treasure rumored to be hidden on Gwyn's Griffyn's land.

Seriously, this is like the first 50 pages.

There is a lot going on in this book, and it couldn't have been easy for the author to juggle all of this in one story. However, Kennedy makes it work, with mysteries solved, loyalties tested, and the struggle for control of the English throne all be resolved by the end of the story. The author does tweak a few historical facts to make her story work, but they add to the drama and conflict of the story, and force Gwyn and Griffyn to admit their love and devotion to each other.

I suspect the one issue that will be hard for some readers to overcome is Gwyn's unflinching, unyielding loyalty to King Stephen - even after it's apparent to her, and the reader, that she's breathlessly in love with Griffyn. It's a hard thing to understand, I think, as a 21st century reader, that people in medieval times lived and died for their loyalty. So yeah, I'm not above admitting that I got annoyed with her...but a part of me did understand.

This is a big, sweeping saga of a story, and it's also a damn hard one to write a review for. It really has that epic quality that used to be so common place in historical romance, but has been absent for many years as the sub genre took off like a rocket during the late 1990s. For readers who miss "the golden age" of historical romance? The Conqueror has all you want, and more, since the author avoids the many pitfalls that plagued some of those stories of yesteryear (no forced seduction, the hero isn't a jackass, and the heroine isn't a brain dead twit). It's easy to see why this book finaled for RWA's Golden Heart award. It's really a very accomplished debut novel, and fans of medievals should just beat the Christmas rush and start rejoicing now.

Grade = B

Thanks to Jane from Dear Author for this Twitter update. For those of you who "do" ebooks - The Conqueror is on sale over at Books On Board for $2.38. Seriously. $2.38. Even if you think I'm full of crap and you end up not liking this story? It's $2.38! At that price how can you not try it? Hell, that's cheaper than a lot of the novellas and short stories being sold out in ebook-land.


Kris Kennedy said...

Woot! Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and I'm *so* excited you liked the book!

Barbara said...

Well, this one sounds like a winner. Adding it to my wishlist!

Kristie (J) said...

Wow - a B from you is a good grade - and at that price I know I can't resist.

Damn you for making me break my own personal challenge. I was cracking at the seams before but now the damn is about to bust. I love a good medieval and I see a stop a Chapters (and I've been so good at avoiding them lately) in on my list of places to stop at.

Wendy said...

Hi Kris! Will you be making the trip to RWA this year? Maybe I'll see you there!

Barbara and KristieJ: Ahhh, two of my old skool romance blog readers :-)

Kristie, I think you'll like this one. The history is good, the setting is great, the hero is suitably hunky, and it's really a big sweeping kind of story. And you're allowed to buy it because I read your recent blog post. Frankly, buying the Jennifer Ashley book doesn't count because you've already read it, and were just buying a finished copy for your keeper library. So for that reason you should be able to buy an "extra" book.

Give me a few minutes and a little caffeine and I can justify the hell out of almost anything. Tee Hee

Kati said...

You know, I meant to get this book and it fell off my radar. Thanks for putting it back on, and with you giving it a B, it must be DAMN good!

Tracy said...

It's definitely on my TBB list after you talked it up on Saturday. Great review Wendy.

You give good book. :)

Wendy said...

Kati: Slapping C grades on some of Kristie's favorite books seems to have given me a reputation as a hard ass :-)

I know not all readers are wild about medievals - but the sub genre still has some diehard fans out there. I like one every once in a while as sort of a pallet-cleanser, and I was really impressed with the way the author handled the history in the story. Plus all that love, honor and betrayal "stuff" makes for good reading.....

Tracy: We should make a "Gives Good Book" button. Ha!

Karen W. said...

I love medievals, and THE GOLDEN AGE for $3.99? That book is mine, baby! ;)

sula said...

hmmm, intriguing. I like a good historical and medievals are up my alley. Assuming of course that the heroine doesn't pull the martyr routine. And hotness level? iz gud? I'm shallow. ;-)

Wendy said...

Karen: I know...for only $3.99 how can you go wrong?

Sula: I would say conventional historical romance hotness level. Right around PG-13. Also, nice chemistry between hero and heroine.

I didn't really see the heroine as a martyr, although there is some family baggage in her past. I guess you could say her loyalty to King Stephen is rooted in that, although I'm not sure that's entirely it. She really believes that Stephen is England's best chance at peace. Mostly she's just tired of war. And who could blame the girl there?

Kristie (J) said...

OK - I caved - like a wet Kleenix. I broke my ban on buying books and got this one at Chapters today. And *heavy sigh* since it's almost impossible for normal people to walk out with just one - being a book addict, I had to buy four more to keep it company.

Wendy said...

LOL - poor Kristie! Try not to curse me too much. I'm not a terribly lucky person as it is.

To everyone who has e-mail notification turned on - I've edited this blog post. For those of you who read ebooks, Jane from Dear Author just Twittered that The Conqueror is currently on sale over at Books On Board for $2.38! OMG - $2.38?!?! How can you not try it for that price?

Taja said...

Ahhhhh! I just went book ordering last night. This one would so have been ordered along with the others.

Okay, I'm going to get THE GOLDEN AGE now. Solo. I hope I won't add books for company so that it doesn't feel all alone in the parcel. I have a book budget to consider. *g*

Taja said...

ROFL! I just discovered that I had the book title wrong the hard way: I couldn't order the book.

This happens when I'm too lazy to check for the book title again and just look at the post title. Serves me right. Sorry!

JaneA said...

Wow, thanks for the heads up on the Books on Board sale. This book sounds wonderful and I'm heading over there right now to pick it up!