20 Jun 2014

The Widow's Redeemer- Philippa Jane Keyworth

November 2012, 290 Pages (Kindle)
A penniless young widow with an indomitable spirit. A wealthy viscount with an unsavory reputation.

London, 1815: After her husband’s untimely death, Letty Burton comes up from the country with her domineering mother-in-law. Hiding a past she wishes to forget and facing an uncertain future, all she wants is to navigate London Society as a silent companion.

A chance meeting with London’s most eligible bachelor sets in motion a series of events that will bring her quiet life under the unfriendly scrutiny of the ton. With the net of scandal, debts, and rivals closing in, will she let her dark past dictate her life forever? Will she learn to trust again? And most importantly, will she allow herself to love?

I’ve read a fair few Regencies in the past couple of years, and I would rank this amongst one of my favourites. The notion of a retelling of the Book of Ruth set in the Regency period was clever and generally well done, with a realistic and accurate historical setting, and a stock of well-drawn characters. Letty /Lettice(which I imagine was short for Letitia), a hurting woman whose abusive marriage destroyed her belief in love struggling to survive in society. Major Deverill, the dashing and honourable war veteran who quickly befriends out heroine and leads and defends her through many trials, and Viscount Beaumont, the rakish nobleman who is not all he seems.

There are enough balls, hobnobbing with high society and glamorous dresses and period delights to please fans of Regency. I enjoyed the story itself on one level for what it was not- it was not what I call ‘fluffy’ romance in which the protagonists are constantly dwelling on the physical attractiveness of the other, or kissing at every given opportunity. Admittedly Beauford is smitten with Letty (but not she him), but in came across in a way that seemed almost- chivalrous- not soppy or silly.
The struggles, attitudes, outlook and language of the characters seemed to fit in with the time period, and did not seem too Americanised, which is something of an issue for me. No doubt the reason was that the author is British, so it’s pleasing to find a British author with a successful work Christian Fiction genre.

I did have one or two complaints. One was the lack of religious commitment on the part of the male protagonist, who is meant to be the Boaz character of the story, (for those unfamiliar with the Biblical account he was the faithful Jewish landowner who married Ruth- the non-Jewish woman who embraced their faith and people) which was a fact that did not seem to change towards the end. Perhaps it’s not a wholly founded complaint, but it seemed to me that for Christian Regency, there was not a lot that was ostensibly Christian.
I think perhaps the author was trying to make the change in his character more subtle, in line with the theme of redemption though love central to the story. Finally, there was some of the language- in the sense of swear words, yes they were understandable in light of the circumstances and the feelings of the characters- but I somehow thought it seemed distasteful to keep saying ‘damn him’ of a person who was already dead.

Generally, a solid and enjoyable story it’s easy to get lost in, with faint shades of Austen. I would certainly be interested in reading Mrs Keyworth’s next novel, due out in September.

10 Jun 2014

Behold the Dawn K.M.Weiland

PenforaSword Publishers 2009, 332 Pages 
Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.

Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.

Overall, the book left me with mixed feelings. It was undeniably well-written with vivid and evocative descriptions and realistic and exhilarating battle scenes- at least at the beginning. Towards the end the kidnappings or attempted kidnappings), attacks, narrow escapes, rescues and almost inevitable accompanying fight scenes seemed to become a little repetitive, predictable and dare I say, overdone or over reliant on action?
Also, the apparently invincibility of the hero Marcus Annan and his servant Marek seemed to stretch credibility- with the former able survive numerous wounds, to fight with broken bones or other injuries, and the latter surviving being thrown off a balcony- all of when other characters are killed with far less (Was really that easy to cut through chain mail?)
Another scene in which one of the villains broke into a castle guarded by precisely one man at the main gate seemed decidedly implausible. Seriously, I doubt a castle in the Middle of potentially hostile territory would have been so poorly defended, especially after being broken into once.

The hero Marcus Annan could be a frustrating character. His actions were sometimes inconsistent or hardtop work out- wanting to be rid of the monk Gethin one minute then riding off to save him shortly after. Also, the characterization of a Crusader cum pilgrim with religious doubts is perhaps not the most original, as similar protagonists can be found in other books and movies. Like them, Annan’s skepticism, apparent bias against the Crusaders, and some of his other beliefs and attitudes seemed rather too modern.

There were also a number of historical issues- the most notable being the depiction of events that took place after the capture of the city of Acre in 1191- the controversial order given by Richard the Lionheart to massacre 2700 Muslim prisoners. In the novel it is made out that Richard gave this order after only a few days when Saladin hadn’t produced the sum of money demanded as part of the negotiated terms of surrender- and he is made out to be the bad one for having broken his oath to Saladin to deliver the prisoners and acting dishonourably.

Now, during the course of reading this book I read up quite a bit on the siege of Acre, as I was curious to know what really happened.
It seems Richard made no oath to Saladin, and the impetus was on him to fulfill the terms of surrender, who acted just as duplicitous as Richard by playing for time, trying to change the terms, and draw the Crusaders into battle.
Also, over 30 days elapsed, the agreed deadline for fulfilling the terms of surrender, before the order was given. Finally, it is claimed that women and children were among those massacred, when this is not mentioned in any contemporary sources, and at least two modern historians have asserted those slain consisted entirely of fighting men. Admittedly, the origin of this inaccurate depiction was in the sources the author used, not she herself, but given the capacity of historical fiction to influence people’s perception of history, it bears mention.

I also seriously do wonder whether the leading characters would have been allowed to get away with murdering or plotting to murder, their fellow nobles, or the rape of a noblewoman, right under the king’s nose- so to speak. Medieval nobles were generally quite assertive in defence of their rights- to the point that they even rebelled against Kings who abused their power. So I certainly think the nobles would have acted to defend themselves against the villains of this story, or complained to the King
My final complaint was some of the language such as repeated use of the nineteenth century nautical slang term ‘bucko’. I think this and other phrases might have been used because they sounded ‘British’ but I’d never heard of it.

Overall Behold the Dawn was a worthwhile - and I might say somewhat compulsive read, and was certainly an engaging story with solid Christian and well-presented Christian themes of redemption and forgiveness , but d required perhaps more suspension of disbelief then I like. On the other hand I probably would read it again. 
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