My rating: 3 of 5 flames
I found it started off strong. It’s the year 1349, and during the prologue,a very clever and cunning widow saves her fellow villagers from being bricked into the church by their lord, in quite an unorthodox manner. With many sick and more dying, they were walled in to die of the pestillence, and keep the sickness from spreading. Edith, though, is no ordinary woman. She is a blacksmith. She has her tools with her, and once the lord and his men are gone, she pulls out her tools, and frees the villagers.
The beginning was quite intriguing, as what can a bunch of villagers with no home, no money, do with themselves? Edith has some rare silks from China that her grandfather had brought back, and from his journals, she sets about to make them all costumes. They travel the tournament circuit pretending she is a princess from the Far East, and they her court. Here is where I felt that so much more could have been done with the book. The game of pretend was a serious one, and she would have been killed if anyone found out she was mingling with her “betters,” but I thought that it was being set up to make use of that fact so much more.
Fast forward a couple years to 1351, and we see Edith at a tournament accepting gifts from the knights. My first thoughts, with such a dangerous game of acting as the Lady of Lilies, was that there were two directions the author could take this-either it would be light, and ridiculous with the heroine dressed as a veiled harem girl, but feigning to be a Chinese princess, or it would be the opposite. She would be discovered for the fraud she was and would need to be rescued by either her own wits, or the hero. Well, the author surprised me-she did neither. The heroine stayed Lady of Lilies, Princess of the Far East, up til the end. She was only Edith with Sir Ranulf, the hero, and only towards the last third of the book.
In fact, it was almost bittersweet to see how people either hung around her to see her bright silks, and veiled face, only because she was a princess. Or with her friends, the ones from her village, they still treated her as one of them. So when Ranulf went to a bit of trouble to set up their first time together, she thought:
“”No other man had taken such trouble to please her, not when they knew her simply as Edith.”
Now, while the beginning starts off strong, it’s a slow book, a slow build-up, and a slow romance. A couple things didn’t work for me. I didn’t like how both characters were willing to say “I love you” (and they did mean it, don’t get me wrong) but in the same scene each thinks that he/she doesn’t trust the other. This happened a couple times. Another thing that bothered me was that I didn’t feel there was much resolution at the end. “She was content.” that was the last line. There had been so much to deal with and that was the end? They’d dealt with Sir Giles, Edith’s former lord-the man who walled them into the church and left them for dead. They’d dealt with the Plague, they’d accepted many new people (and children) to their motley crew. They’d had an angry mob looking for salvation from the pestilence. And at the end, “She was content.” I felt like there was so much left undone.
One thing I really did like was that the villain of the piece wasn’t necessarily Sir Giles (although he was a bastard) but it was the Plague. I liked how the heroine was much more practical than most. She knew how to tell how far along someone was before they weren’t going to make it. There was a scene where a baby was stillborn and completely deformed. I thought it was so sad that everyone automatically said it was the devil’s work, and the girl’s fault. The girl called herself “many” meaning she was one of many girls the men would pass around. I think that several dashes of realism from the author gave this medieval romance a harsher edge than most I’ve read. Everything from the fleas in the borrowed tunic, to the branding of Sir Giles’ servants (he was an awful lord! Awful-he branded his serfs across the face as one would cattle), but all of that harsh reality only drove home the point that it was after all, the year 1351. And i liked how it was stressed by Ranulf how young Edith was. She was married at 14, widowed and betrothed by 19, and I’m guessing that she’s only about 22 when this is all taking place. She’s very resourceful and good at thinking on her feet. I only wish that there had been more showing and less telling.
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***Thank you to Kensington for the ARC