Isolde Martyn – "The Knight And The Rose"

9 Sep

GENRE: Romance / Medieval
PUBLISHED: Berkley Sensation, 2003

The back blurb:
“Lady Johanna FitzHenry is trapped. Her arranged marriage to Sir Fulk de Enderby – a veteran of the wars against Robert the Bruce – keeps her tethered to this brutal man, who sees her only as a means to her father’s fortune. But now a daring scheme offers her a slim but precious chance at freedom: A complete stranger who, for his own desperate reasons, is willing to swear to the court that she was wed to him first…
Though the ploy goes according to plan, her mysterious rescuer leaves many questions unanswered. He is a tall, attractive man who goes by the name of Gervase de Laval and claims to be a poor scholar. But Johanna’s attempt to discover the true identity of her hired husband will sweep her into the highest echelons of the English court – and into a dangerous passion she has never known before…”

This could have been a really great romance novel. The writing is good (although on few occasions I found it a bit too wordy), the historical details are woven seamlessly into the story, and there are interesting insights into medieval court practice.

So why do I say “could have been”?

The problem is that this novel is supposed to be a romance and for me, it falls rather short on that.

For the most part of the novel, Johanna’s characterisation is mainly that she goes of like a firecracker in her dealings with the hero. He says something and you can be sure she says something contrary just to be contrary or spirited or whatever – not very sensible considering her circumstances and almost unbelievable in a woman constantly abused by her real husband. And then she is in love with him. Because he is really nice or kind or whatever to her? It is not enough for a character to just be mouthy, and constant sparring is not enough to pass for sexual tension between characters (I never thought it that. Most of the time, I just considered it silly behaviour).

The hero (Gervase or Gervaint) finds the heroine attractive but doesn’t act on it. Later he decides that he could help her = show her that sex could be enjoyable – and refuses her after she goes to his room one night to make love for the first time. The next day they have sex and the hero explains his previous behaviour: “I am a free spirit, my darling, not a stallion to be led by the bridle in to breed” (p. 374). And the heroine is a mare, just waiting for the hero’s neighing that says “let’s do it!” or what? This just felt like delaying for delaying sakes.

But that is not the only time action or information is delayed. Delaying can serve to heighten tension, it can be an understandable action, but when it is done all the time, like in this novel, it starts to get annoying and seems to be there just to make the book longer. Most of the time in this book, it is the hero who withholds information. I found his behaviour, especially since a woman constantly abused by her real husband is concerned, inappropriate and rather disturbing. It is still the man who calls the shots.

So yes, I found the romance not too convincing.

Then there are the action scenes which seem sometimes a bit rushed. I was left wondering what happened and how it did happen. Example? Johanna runs to the queen for help and is held back by the guards:

“Johanna fought. Her shift tore in the man’s hand and she broke away almost naked. Evading the tentacles that tried to seize her, she wrenched a cloak form one of the beds and ran out the side door that took her back down the staircase. At least she knew the way to the bishop’s rooms.
Orleton! He would save Geraint. But they must think her lunatic. A noblewoman with straw in her hair and no kirtle.
In the hall, the bishop’s secretary caught her by the forearms.”

(p. 456)

A lot of action is described with these few sentences. This is often used to convey urgency, I know. But the action scenes really stood out for me in this novel, where everything is described in great detail except them. Compared to other scenes they seemed rushed and I found them jarring. The event, of which the quote is part of, takes two pages from the beginning to the resolution, and it is really an important point in the story.

A last small quibbling: I had trouble to believe that nobody wondered why the heroine’s father didn’t check her claim to be married (before she married Enderby). It seems to me the normal thing to do, even if I didn’t believe the claim – just to be on the safe side.

That’s why I say Isolde Martyn’s The Knight and the Rose could have been a really great romance novel. Instead you can see it as a romance novel with much history and lacking a bit in romance, or as a historical novel with much romance and lacking a bit in history.

Maybe it is this feeling, that this could have been a great novel with just a bit more attention to the romance and the action scenes, that makes me feel so grrr about it. Because, let’s face it, there are heroines around who are much more mouthy than Johanna, and there are stories where all kinds of things are withhold for far sillier reasons than in this story. Overall, it is a good written novel, interesting, and after getting into it, it was quite enjoyable.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 3 / 5


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