Sunday, July 13, 2008

By Queen's Grace by Shari Anton

Lady Judith Canmore is Queen Matilda's niece, and, like Queen Matilda, is more or less a prisoner in a nunnery, kept there by the order of the King and the Abbess's wish for Judith to become a nun. As a close relative of the Saxon Queen, though, Judith is valuable in a dynastic way. Were she to be given in marriage, her children would be next in line to the throne if the King and Queen were to die without children. Because of the threat of what would happen if she was married off without the King's permission, she must stay at the Abbey. But she seeks any chance to escape for a short while, so when the sisters go hunting herbs, she asks to come along, and they assent.

Corwin of Lenvil is a man loyal to King Henry. Though he is a Saxon as well, his sister is married to a Norman named Gerard of Wilmont. On his way back to court, Corwin's sister wishes him to carry a letter to Judith, who is her good friend. But when he arrives, he found that raiders have carried Judith off when she went into the forest with the nuns to hunt medicinal herbs. As the only knight near enough to the scene of the crime to actually be able to catch the miscreants, he sends his companion back to the abbey to summon the sherriff, and rides off in search of the men who have Judith.

But just before he can catch them, he discovers that they have an unusual reason for wanting Judith. Not as a prize, but as a bride for their leader, a leader who will lead a Saxon revolt against the Norman King Henry and restore the Saxons to their lands and manors. Corwin rides into their camp and admits he was there to catch them, but now he wishes to join their rebellion... and he has his own price: his brother-in-law's manor of Wiltshire, a rich and fertile land. While the small band of rebels cannot agree to his demands then and there, they can take him back to their leader for his decision.

Judith despises the men, but she despises Corwin even more for siding with them, until he tells her he is only there to find out who leads the rebellion and bring his name to King Henry, letting his knights deal with the mess. But while two of the rebels accept Corwin for who he says he is, the third, Duncan, is extremely suspicious of Corwin and has nothing but bad things to say about him. While the other two are a father and son, Corwin quickly learns that the son, Oswuld, doesn't support the rebellion. He is only there to look after Thurkill, his father, who has a bad heart and may soon die. As long as Thurkill lives, Oswuld will support the rebellion, but the moment his father dies, he will see him buried and then leave to return home.

Judith eventually warms to Thurkill and Oswuld when she learns that Thurkill is ill. Then, she uses her knowledge of herbs to try and help the older man. The five of them evade capture, using Corwin's status as a knight known to be looking for Judith in their quest to stay free. But when they are nearly to the rebel fortress, Thurkill suffers an attack that may soon see his end. Judith refuses to leave him while he is dying and prevails upon the leader of the rebellion to put Thurkill in her room until the end.

Meanwhile, Corwin is eventually accepted into the rebel army when he shows the leader, Ruford, just how unseasoned and unready his troops are to be soldiers. He provides them some training while he searches for a way to escape without Ruford, Duncan, or the other soldiers from the fortress knowing about it until long after the deed is done. Oswuld knows a way out, but it is locked, and Ruford has the only key. Even after they escape, Corwin and Judith, who have fallen in love, must survive the journey home, and must somehow find a way to marry with the King and the Queen's permission, something much harder than it sounds.

And when Ruford chases Corwin with the best of his forces, Corwin must stand up against him to give King Henry's troops time to mobilize. But can he stand against so many, and will he survive to marry the woman he loves.

This was another Harlequin Historical novel and it was very enjoyable. It was set in the middle ages and had knights and ladies in distress, but Judith didn't stay in distress for very long. Her bravery and determination to somehow win her way free of her captors transformed this novel above the usual romance novel hero and heroine. While Judith isn't buttkicking in the usual sort of way I would describe a heroine, she is strong and stands up for what she believes in and eventually for the man she loves.

Corwin is another strong character. He starts out not liking Judith very much because she shut him down when he was being nice to her in the past, but he learns she was attracted to him, and when he showed he could be nice to her, she was afraid she was falling in love with him, but would never be able to marry him. That's why she shut him off, coldly, to save the both of them from later pain. But he is able to forgive her, and to confess that he, too, might have been falling in love with her. And his heroic rescue of her is very much what a knight of skill and daring would have done.

The two of them together make a wonderful pair, but much of the rest of the story is rather typical of medieval romances. I enjoyed reading this book, and if you like medieval romances, you'll probably like it, too. Worth looking for, if you can find it.

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