Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Review: Secrets at Court

Secrets at Court
By Blythe Gifford
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Release Date: February 18, 2014

Blythe Gifford’s latest novel takes readers to 14th-century England and the court intrigues surrounding the marriages (secret and illegal and public and church-sanctioned) of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, to her cousin Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III and heir to the throne. Anne of Stamford, Joan’s lame lady-in-waiting, is the book’s heroine. Privy to secrets that Joan guards zealously, Anne also serves as a sort of personal spy for Joan, a role for which she is peculiarly suited since her lameness means that people tend to overlook Anne and forget about her presence. Anne is not always comfortable doing the things Joan asks of her, but she is loyal to Joan because serving her has saved Anne from the deprivations a woman with her handicap could reasonably expect. Anne believes that she has accepted that her lameness means no man will look at her with desire, but her acceptance is threatened when she meets Sir Nicholas Lavayne.

Nicholas Lavayne , a man knighted by the king for his skills as a warrior, has been the king’s messenger seeking dispensation from the pope for Joan and Edward to marry despite their invalid secret marriage and the fact that their family connection falls within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. Nicholas’s mission has been partially successful: the pope will grant the dispensation but he requires an investigation into Joan’s tangled marital history. Nicholas is eager to be free of royal commands and the intrigues at court, but the king demands his service until the investigation is complete. Unable to refuse his king, Nicholas reluctantly accepts that his own plans must be delayed. A man who has avoided emotional ties, he is surprised by the fascination he feels for Anne.

Gifford immerses her reader in the medieval world where the threat of plague is a constant reminder of mortality, the king has at least temporarily emerged victorious over the French, and the Church is powerful and corrupt. Anne and Nicholas are both wounded creatures with limited autonomy who find in one another a love that enlarges their vision of what life can be. Their shared experience forces them to reconsider the very definition of such things as truth and loyalty. They are complex, engaging characters who inhabit a world far removed from the reader’s and yet strangely like it in some interesting ways.

If you are a fan of medieval romance novels, if you are a reader who has longed for a romance novel that is different from the usual Regency or Victorian, or if you enjoy stories that bring history and characters, real and fictional, alive, I highly recommend this book.

Are you a fan of medieval romances? Are you a reader who likes to see variety in historical settings, or are you happy to read only novels with Regency or Victorian settings?

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