I’ve never lost my love for the way Ms Hunter details and fleshes out the background and characters, both historical as well as fictional, of 14th century England. Her sensitivity to the nuances of facial expressions and range of emotions she stirs with her story-telling is what got me hooked on her writing.
In this, her debut novel, she has created two compelling characters whom I’ve come to love a lot. Lady Christiana Fitzwaryn was promised in marriage to wealthy London merchant, David de Abyndon through a special arrangement the latter had with the King. In a bid to persuade David to call off the wedding, she visited him one night to inform him that she was no longer pure as a result of a romantic indiscretion.
However, when she met him, she couldn’t help but be drawn to this common merchant with the lordly manners and poise. David had agreed to the King’s arrangement to hide his deal with the monarch – an exclusive license to mine saltpeter in the Fitzwaryn ancestral home – and as a cover-up, he was rumoured to have bought Christiana sight unseen. Only when he met her did he understand why the King was so confident the rumour would be taken as truth, for David fear that he may have lost more than [his] heart in the bargain.
This is a marriage wrought during turbulent times, when England’s King is set on invading France, and very soon Christiana realize that David is more than just a merchant and the King’s erstwhile messenger. Like all marriages with such vast differences, both must reach a compromise somehow. Will Christiana give up court life for a chance at being a commoner’s wife? Will David pursue his one chance at fame and nobility through betrayal of his King? Will Christiana learn to love David, just as he suspects that he already worships the ground she walks upon? Or is her heart still pining for the noble knight he took her from?
With a plot that is rife with possibilities, Ms Hunter tackled each angle and spun out an epic that gripped me from start to finish. One of my favourite scenes from that book takes place in Chapter 9. Christiana has just realized that she’s made a big mistake about her supposed ‘indiscretion’ out of ignorance. She’s just had a confrontation with David the week before and he’s made it clear that he won’t visit her at the palace as he has to tie up all the loose ends before their wedding takes place in a week’s time.
Christiana finally worked up the courage to visit him and confessed her mistake in the garden. She also wanted to tell him that she’s finally accepted their marriage:
There were other things that she needed to say. She wanted to tell him that she accepted the marriage. He deserved to hear it after all the times she had smugly insisted it would never happen. She needed to promise that she would try to be a good wife to him, whatever that meant. She would like to thank him for being so patient with her. She had expected all of those things to be easier to explain than this first admission, but she found now that they were much harder.
As she groped to phrase these other things and sought the courage to say them, his right hand came into her view and settled on her lap beside her own. He turned it palm up.
She smiled down at that beautiful hand waiting for her. Her gaze locked on its exciting, elegant strength. No kinsman or priest would join them today, but there was an offer and promise in his gesture far more meaningful than the official betrothal.
He understood. He was making it easier for her. Today is the real beginning, that hand said.
Forever. The immensity of it tried to suffocate her for an instant, but she pushed the fear away.
It was why she had come, wasn’t it?
She placed her own hand in his. Of her own will.
…………. It occurred to her that maybe she didn’t have to say anything else at all.
** Spoiler **
Another one of my favourite scenes took place somewhere in Chapter 20, when they’re both under the roof of the enemy:
“I am out of time, Christiana. I need to know my true choices, and what I gain and what I lose. If I do this thing, are you going to stay with me?”
She barely heard his words because the stunning truth written insides him made the events which had created this marriage suddenly irrelevant. ……..
“Will you stay?” he repeated, his face inches from hers.
“I will not leave,” she whispered, for there could be no other answer after what she had just seen. “Noble or merchant, I will stay with you.”
Now, if you tell me those two paragraphs didn’t melt your heart, I think you need to re-examine why you read and love romance. As for me, am off to read another Madeline Hunter book.
I promise … I’ll really, really, really talk about The Knight and The Warrior next. Just pray that this Mad-ness doesn’t linger for too longer.