I took one look at the blurb and just had to read this one: Scottish-English border warring during the time of Edward I, new English overlord, girl disguised as the English knight’s squire to get into the castle for a daring rescue, traitors…oh yes, it sounded all sorts of good plus new to me author. After finishing this first book in the trilogy, I am definitely going back for more from the author and continuing on with the series with its nice balance of history, romance and story development told with humor, warmth, passion and excitement.
The story opens with English knight, Sir Nicholas Beringar, sent to the border of Scotland and England by his king during a tumultuous time to take over the duty of restoring peace after his predecessor is removed for suspect activities. He and his band of knights must stop the reiving that has bled the castle and estate dry and he must somehow convince the area Scots that he is honorable in his intentions and actions. His predecessor has not made this easy on him as he sees the evidence of harsh repression, misery, and suspicion that the man skimmed off the estate bleeding it dry. Trust and respect are earned so he sets off to do it by stopping the lawlessness, tearing down the hovels and rebuilding the people’s homes, making sure provisions are available and justice is served. Meanwhile, he is accosted while out on his daily patrol to catch the reivers by a young, skittish, impoverished Scottish lad who would have robbed him. Instead, he decides to bring the young man into his fold and teach him to be his squire and give him a chance at a better life. It doesn’t take him long to see that young Thomas has secrets when it comes to some of the Scottish lords particularly the one imprisoned in the castle and the one who visits the peace talks and leaves Nicholas feeling that all is not right with the Earl. But what truly worries him is his inappropriate feelings toward his squire.
Whatever has she gotten herself into, Lady Elizabet Armstrong wonders after impetuously attempting to rob the solitary knight to earn gold toward buying her imprisoned family’s freedom. Sir Nicholas didn’t penetrate her disguise, but just how long will she be able to get away with tricking him that she’s a boy. Hopefully long enough to locate where her father, brother and their men are being held and free them. The idea of tricking the English knight in the process had great appeal until she starts to see just what an honorable man he truly is. Now her deceit and lies grow weightier each day. She sees that he is just and will most likely deal fairly with the prisoners and any who sought to strike back against the one before who forced them to fight back against his oppression and greed. There is also the fact that she is attracted to this honorable English knight and sees him looking tortured by his inexplicable attraction to his young, male squire. The day the truth comes out will end any favor or kindness from him. First, she needs to rescue her brother and fend off the man who has wanted her for years and will stop at nothing to act against her brother and take her just to hurt Terrick.
There is a lot going on in this story. There is the mischievous scheming of a young woman who wants to help her family and dives into situations without thinking them through. There is the brave honorable knight trying to investigate his predecessor’s crimes and keep a lid on the powder keg that is the border lands. The romance developed more as a friendship through much of the earlier story because of the guise of Elizabet as a boy. It was an interesting conflict. I felt sorry for Nicholas as he struggled with feelings for his squire because part of him recognized the femininity of Thomas/Elizabet even while his mind told him that he was attracted to a male and a young one at that. Elizabet couldn’t very well enlighten him either until she was sure that her brother was safe and then she was worried about the honorable and honest Nicholas’ reaction to her deception. Elizabet was rash which got her and others into trouble and danger, but she wasn’t stupid and just did what she had to do since she had to assume that the new English castellan knight would be an evil tyrant like the last one.
As I said, the romance developed slower because of the situation, but once it got going these two didn’t waste time. They were both sensible and didn’t make things unnecessarily difficult. The conflict in this story was mostly from the outside thought Elizabet let her misguided poor self-image make her resist.
I also enjoyed the added blend of intrigue as they tried to figure out who was moving stolen goods and stirring up the trouble in the area and the action that came when they worked it out. The villain wasn’t hard to spot and once recognized he was a bit of the ‘dastardly evil mustache-twirler’, but the sword fighting and rescue the damsel stuff was pure medieval good times.
So to wrap it up, I had a good time with this one that was the enjoyable blend if history, passionate romance, adventure and likeable characters. I anticipate the next installation in the series as it tells Elizabet’s brother’s story. Historical Romance lovers particularly those who enjoy Scottish Medieval Romance should definitely try this one.
My thanks to Kensington Group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.