Haven’t curled up with a medieval romance in a while so this was a delicious treat just for being something different from my usual. I’ve been wanting to try the author’s books for some time after hearing wonderful things. Right mood and right time led to a few enjoyable afternoon reading sessions. Knights, chivalry, damsels in distress, betrayal, and family behind a spirited pair of lovers left me eager to get my hands on more of the series.
This book is part of longstanding de Piaget series as book #13 and also connected indirectly to the MacLeod series. I had no trouble jumping into the middle and treating this like a standalone. The characters from the earlier stories were present, but this book’s plot was independent and took place in a slightly disconnected setting. The story features the youngest de Piaget daughter who I assume was part of the earlier stories as the wallflower sister. Siblings, parents, and grandparents are present, but this Isabelle’s story.
The story opens with Lady Isabelle pondering a rash course of action. She has received a letter threatening her family if she doesn’t personally and privately comply with the sender’s wishes. Isabelle is the youngest daughter and unmarried. She is uninterested in the suitors who come for Amanda who is recently wed and are forced to turn their tepid interest on her. Isabelle longs for adventure and a chance to step outside of the shadows. Well, here she has just such an adventure only, her family’s lives are dependent on her quest’s success. All must be done in secret. Isabelle makes arrangements to get to her grandmother’s convent in France where the mysterious letter writer orders her to go.
Gervase de Seger once the terror of the tournament circuit and handsome well-sought man is now a shadow of his former self. He inherited his family titles and lands along with the care of his six younger half-brothers, but soon after he took his father’s place, someone tries to kill him and nearly succeeds. He is crippled by injuries from the fire started in his hall and the crossbow bolt that pierced his thigh and shattered muscle. Gervase nearly died and lives in weakness and constant pain. His sufferings distract him so that the needed work along with the investigation into his would-be murderer remain undone. Into this situation comes a bedraggled waif he rescues, but doesn’t want to be responsible for so he sends her to the kitchens to work there.
In the shipwreck, Isabelle was injured and lost her memories. She recovers some of her memories only after she is taken for a peasant girl. Isabelle decides to keep up the appearance until she figures out why she is in France and not back home in her father’s castle in England. How she got there and why nag at her because she vaguely remembers that it was for an important reason. In the meantime, Isabelle sees the situation in Gervase’s household and starts taking things in hand which rubs her against Gervase and his dark moods, his younger brothers, and the running of the household. She can complain about many things when it comes to Gervase, but unlike most of the male population, he not only sees her- really sees her and remembers her name, but he calls her beautiful and talented.
Gervase eventually learns the extent of his danger when he is told who the lovely, irritating not-subservient enough to be a serving woman is. Now there is Isabelle’s quest, his need to find his would-be killer, and the force of the de Piaget family ire hovering over him like a mighty storm. And he thinks on the possibilities with a spirited woman like Isabelle being just the person he needs in his life.
Alright, so this one was a lighter romp compared to most medieval romances I’ve read. It took me a bit to adjust to the tone because of that. I did have an issue and it was a big detractor from my overall enjoyment, but it wasn’t the sort of thing to make me put aside a story.
I’m glad I continued on through because there was a lot about this story that was fun and engaging.
I figured out who was behind all the trouble early on so that plot thread didn’t provide me with any suspense, but the daily life in Gervase’s home with his younger brothers was sheer delight. I loved the sizzling chemistry between Isabelle and Gervase along with their witty dialogue. The late inclusion of Isabelle’s twin brother made each scene he was in just shine. And the romance was warm, well-developed and heart-warming beyond the passion.
As to the big issue I had, it was Isabelle or rather the likelihood of a woman of Isabelle’s background engaging in what she did. We see it often enough in historical romances- the heroine who steps out the usual role and goes against convention, exhibits behaviors that are too modern, and is pretty much not so convincing as a woman of her time as a result. Most of the time, I shrug and go with it for the sake of some escape reading. Like I said, not an unusual thing, but there is only so far I’m willing to take it. I’m reading a historical so I really do want to see a woman who, for the most part, fits her setting.
The medieval period made it harder for me to adjust and accept. These noble women were sheltered and protected from anything outside their castle walls. They were not secret warrior ninjas who could outfight and out man the menfolk. The subsequent events of chapter one and onward when it came to Isabelle’s quest were as unlikely as they come. So unbelievable that it undermined her character for me. I couldn’t get past the ignorance and arrogance that launched her into action.
She gets a letter threatening her family’s lives if she doesn’t show up at her grandmother’s convent in France. So a young woman who has a family full of well-trained fighting men on both side of the channel decides- instead of calling upon them to help- that all depends on her alone. She will protect them all against someone who may have the means to kill a lot of well-armed and well-protected powerful people. She has no training or skills in defense, she has no knowledge of weapons. She is a beautiful woman alone in a harsh land of lawlessness outside the protection of the lords and their castles. She has a long journey and no idea what is the purpose of the threat or who it’s from, but hey, she’s a little bored and feeling under-appreciated so she’s doing this. She doesn’t have the excuse of a young girl’s impetuousness. She’s twenty-three and her father made sure she is well educated and knows how to use her brain.
So yeah, I didn’t buy all this at all. Then she decided later in the game to be cautious right when the smart thing was to be honest and communicate to Gervase who she was. He’d proved that he was a good and honorable man. But no, let’s let the poor guy who rescues her from robbery, violence, and rape get put in a tight spot when her family thinks that Gervase took her and kept her for his own nefarious means. Again, I shook my head. Is she altogether a flaky, stubborn-stupid heroine? Of course not. Isabelle has spirit, good intentions, compassion, understanding, and courage. She was never mean and she wanted the best for all involved.
Now Gervase! Gervase’s situation was the highlight of the story for me. The unwanted son who makes good when he goes out into the world. The fighting man who believes in the knightly virtues and upholds them, untempted by the decadence his wealth and status can give him. He comes home to do his duty and make things better after his lazy father dies and his conniving step-mother deserts her young children for court. He now has the neglected younger brothers and the equally neglected duchy in his care. If the weight of his duties wasn’t enough, he has to recover from a life-threatening wound that unmans him. Gervase is lost and must find his way back. And he does, one step at a time. I loved that Isabelle saw past the scars, the weakness, to the man with the heart of a warrior. It’s what redeemed her for me. She could have been attracted to his handsome grown brothers, Jocelyn and Guy, who were easier to be with and like but she wanted the man with depth and strength and good heart. He also knew how to swallow pride and take help. I fell a bit in love with Gervase, if you can’t tell, despite his cranky moments.
I can appreciate so much about this story and enjoyed it to a certain extent. The wry humor had me chucking more than a few times and the family togetherness was touching. That stuff with Isabelle pushed my credulity too far even for a lighter read was the only fly in the ointment. Would I read more of the series? Yes! Definitely want to go back for some of the other stories as well as my eagerness for her brother, Miles and his brother Jocelyn to get their books. Medieval romance fans who like the tone to be light and the romance only slightly spice should take a closer look.
My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.