Dear readers, Miss Bates has been scarce lately: 😦 , the world is too much with her. For the next few weeks, likely months, she offers mini-reviews, much as she’d prefer to wax loquacious. Better a mini-review than none at all, though! Her first such is a historical romance novel, set in late 13th century England and Wales, Elizabeth Kingston’s The King’s Man. It opens as Gwenllian of Ruardean cares for the injured Ranulf Ombrier, Of Morency. He lies feverish, envisioning Gwenllian as ministering angel. Beyond his injuries, Ranulf, frighteningly handsome to the plain, tall, gawky Gwenllian, suffers spiritual torment, pleading with Gwenllian, a hold on her wrist and tormented eyes, to push her dagger into him. What torments him? What has brought this notorious Norman lord, king’s man to Edward I, the king’s assassin, to her family’s castle? Gwenllian, a woman trained in combat, in command of men, is as much her mother’s “woman” as Ranulf is the king’s: stripped of her womanliness by a mother who wants her to be a weapon in preserving Welsh independence against Edward’s hegemony. Lady Eluned, Gwenllian’s mother, bids Gwenllian return Ranulf to King Edward; thus begins a journey bringing Gwenllian and Ranulf, and the push-pull of their antagonism and peculiar attraction, her beast to his beauty, to Edward’s court, landing in the machinating, self-seeking king’s hands. Gwenllian, once promised to Aymer of Morency who was killed by Ranulf, was to be lady of Morency. To this day, her family contests Morency lands. Edward seizes an opportunity of Ranulf and Gwenllian’s presence: he announces their impending marriage, rids himself of a thorny conflict between two powerful families, and seals Ranulf and Gwenllian’s strange symbiosis and rancour and attraction. Continue reading
Though I appreciate a medieval-set romance, I’m aware of its challenges. It is difficult for a romance author to capture the strangeness of the medieval world and still make the romance familiar. Thus far, only two romance authors I’ve read achieve this successfully (mind you, I haven’t read much medieval romance, these are the ones who work for me): Blythe Gifford (Secrets At Court is my favourite) and Elizabeth Kingston. But, like Kingston’s mentor’s books, Laura Kinsale’s, it took me a long time to warm to Desire Lines.
To look to the novel’s opening, “It began in beauty and in blood.” A beautiful, knife-laden young woman, Nan, rescues a Welshman, originally sent to the English King Edward I as obeisance from the young Welshman’s father, Welsh royalty.
(England’s 13th-century conquest of Wales is the historical context of Kingston’s novel.) Gruffydd ab Iorwerth has been knight, prisoner, and captive. He’s lived in the luxury of the English court, then hid for years in a monastery, made friends and enemies, tamed and hunted with his beloved falcons (his marketable skill, important to English lords) and been chained, starved, and beaten.