Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Plume)
Why I decided to read: It was offered on Amazon Vine
How I acquired my copy: same, June 2010
Oh, man. This is another one of those “I really wanted to like this book, but…” kinds of books. Set between the years of 1200 and 1204, when King John disputed with Arthur of Brittany over the crown. Although the struggle is the backdrop of the story, it’s not the focus; instead the story centers around one Juliana de Charnais, a wealthy young woman who starts out as a novice but must marry in order to keep her inheritance. In comes Guerin de Lasalle, who’s just as eager as she is to end the marriage.
At first it seems as though the plot of the novel is going to be one of those battle of the sexes things, where the hero and heroine eventually will end up with a happily ever after. I’ll give the author credit for taking the plot of the novel in a direction I never expected it to go in. however, the way in which she did it wasn’t particularly skilled. It kind of reminds me of that Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, where everyone but the main character knows that his life is a reality TV show but him. Here, everyone but Juliana seems to know all the secrets of the book… except her. There are so many plot twists to this book that I could keep them all straight after a while. It’s almost as though the author said,” what’s the most shocking thing I can make happen here?” and then wrote it in. Some of the plot twists were so incredible that I found myself rolling my eyes in many places, even laughing out loud at some of them (there’s a scene in a tunnel which is particularly funny, but confusing because it’s never completely explained how Juliana got out of the tunnel in the first place).
Character development, something I actively look for in a good novel, is missing here. Guerin is pretty much your stereotypical bad guy, willing to remove anyone or anything that gets in his path. Juliana wasn’t particularly bright (for all her book learning), and the real people in the story (Eleanor of Aquitaine, John, etc) aren’t well developed. The villains of the piece are also rather cardboard-ish. I didn’t even really buy the romance between Juliana and Guerin, which seems forced (he keeps saying, starting around the middle of the book, that he loves her, but there’s really no chemistry between them). The only really interesting character here is Anne!
I guess what I really mean to say is that I was disappointed in this novel. I expected a straight historical, and got a mixed up combination of historical romance and adventure. Like other readers, I guess I’ve been spoiled by reading Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth, authors whose novels are much more sophisticated than this one.