Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mystique by Amanda Quick

Sir Hugh the Relentless is looking for a wife, and also the huge, gleaming gem that is said to be one of the keys to a hidden fortune that should belong to him. And luckily, he is able to find both in one, the red-haired, beautiful Lady Alice, now living with her brother and Uncle Hugh in her Uncle's manor at Lingwood. Part of Alice's possessions is a strange large green stone- one of the very stones Hugh has been looking for.

But when Hugh goes to speak with Alice's uncle for her hand in marriage, it is clear that Alice has her own mind about marriage and sets out to make a deal with Hugh herself. For the stone has been stolen from her by a passing minstrel, and if Hugh will give her enough money to send her brother to college and for her to escape her uncle, she will help him retrieve the stone that he so wishes to own, for Alice is intelligent and perceptive enough to help him find it.

Hugh is intrigued by her offer, enough to offer a bargain of his own as well. For Alice to leave her Uncle's hold, she must agree to be betrothed to him. It need not be a true betrothal, but enough that anyone who sees them together would not find it strange that she is in the company of he and his knights. Alice, thinking only of freedom for her and her brother, agrees. and after the betrothal ceremony, they set out to seek the gem that has been taken from Alice.

But as Hugh takes part in a Joust, Alice tracks down the Troubadour who stole her gem, and defends Hugh when his opponent would call him a coward for hurrying to rescue her instead of taking part in the joust. The opponent turns out to be Hugh's cousin, Sir Vincent of Rivenhall, and they are already foes of each other. When Alice defends him with such vigor, Vincent is quite taken aback, and suffers a rhetorical defeat at her hands that has Hugh regarding her in quite a warmer light.

Now that they have the gem back, Hugh offers Alice and her brother Benedict the shelter of his castle. Because she has nowhere to go, she accepts his offer, but once again, Hugh has an ulterior motive for his offer. He's intrigued enough by Alice that he wants her for his wife, and he isn't about to let her get away. But someone wants Hugh and the treasure that should rightly belong to him, and isn't above using Alice against Hugh. As the two become lovers, that same someone won't settle for less than Hugh's death- and Alice's with him if she won't be so obliging as to just leave. But when Alice's stand by Hugh- even when it appears that he has betrayed her in a most horrible way turns her into a hostage, can Hugh find a way to free her before she ends up dead?

This is a fairly early Amanda Quick novel, and one not much like her later stories. Yes, Alice is intelligent and witty, not to mention naive in the ways of men and women, but she doesn't come to a true understanding of Hugh until much later in the book than some of the Heroines that Amanda Quick writes. On the other hand, in Hugh the Relentless I can definitely see some of her later heroes. He doesn't really think of himself as intelligent, and it takes him a much longer time to twig to how much Alice has come to care for him. And though he can be very self-centered and sure of himself, he's not upset at having to grovel to Alice for how much he misjudged her.

I liked the plot, especially how the large green stone tied into the mystery of why it was so important in revealing the missing treasure that Hugh was looking for, and who the true villains were was pretty much a mystery right up until the end. I also loved that Hugh was willing to go out of his comfort zone to try and give Alice the compliments on her beauty he thought she wanted.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. It's different from Amanda Quick's usual Romance novels, but has all the wit and the sparring of two intelligent people who fight and fight and somehow find love in the mix at last. And even with a lot of baggage, it is possible to find love, for the one who loves you helps you deal with it. Recommended.

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