Can obeying the king lead to happiness?
Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
First Published: 2nd July 2012
Date Reviewed: 4th November 2012
Katrin was trapped in a wretched marriage, a match made in the interests of her uncle, the king. Now her husband has died, Ethelred wants to make another match for her in order to suit his interests, but Katrin does not want to be sold again and tries to resist. She can’t resist her uncle’s sword-theyn, however, albeit that he is much lower in status than her. If her uncle finds out it may be their undoing, however Katrin may find the outcome better than she’d thought to hope.
Whilst the official blurb of this book gives a lot more insight into the narrative, having, as it does, two heroes, it seemed a good idea to provide only the basics here in case this is your introduction to the book.
Navarre’s Anglo-Saxon tale is in a similar league to the famous Elizabeth Chadwick, featuring sweeping romances, politics, and a cast of believable characters. Navarre’s heroine may seem weaker, but she fits the time. In fact there is a balance within Katrin; she is strong in personality and aims to be as active in domestic society as possible, but she realises where it is better to step back and be meek in order to save her skin. Navarre aptly portrays the men of the time, in fact the first hero, Eomond, is a particularly alpha hero, being incredibly domineering though obviously enthralled by Katrin. It might take the reader some getting used to, this strong woman who will bow down when the pressures of her era take over, but Navarre always keeps her heroine steady – Katrin will always find certain situations difficult and won’t change her personality or feelings at any time. She recognises danger and takes the safest route, and when she knows she can be bold she will be. There is development in the way that Katrin decides to act, namely that she will throw caution to the wind after a time spent assessing the situation, and the way that Navarre makes the development of Raphael match that of Katrin is wonderful.
As said, Eomond is a rather strong character. At times the reader might wonder where the story is headed due to the way he treats Katrin, but Navarre balances it out via his love and his frustrations at his low situation in life. It is interesting, due to Eomond’s character, that the later Raphael is so different. The better match Katrin finds in him seems to demonstrate the difference between the woman naïve about love, and the woman who knows what she wants. Where the heroes are strong but likeable, the author deftly illustrates the fact that Katrin is rather lucky – the other men in her life are not as caring, and indeed King Ethelred himself makes for difficult reading.
It must be noted that Navarre has taken artistic liberties with the history she uses. The good thing is that this is discussed at the back of the book. Anyone who finds Ethelred hard to bear can take note that Navarre made him that way (and it’s nice that whilst the fictional Ethelred is rather horrid, he’s not nearly as misaligned as Gregory’s Anne Boleyn). That said, the basic period has been adhered to, and the interested reader will find that the politics and basic society of the day mirror Navarre’s portrayal.
The romance(s) are well written and mostly devoid of discomfort (the odd phrase may sound over-much, it’s up to the reader to decide how much historic-sounding phrasing they are okay with). Navarre does not always draw the curtains around the bed; when described the scenes are such that they add to the story. For surely scenes where the sex is accompanied by a burgeoning sense of emotional realisation can only develop the narrative further. What is interesting is the way, given the characters Navarre created herself, the strict Christianity is woven into the romance. Rather than simply relegating ideas of pleasure to prostitution and mistresses, and pro-creational intercourse to a marriage, Navarre demonstrates how the church viewed such concepts and how the people sought to align with them – or not, as sometimes happens, which in itself provides a good insight into how early Christianity could hinder relationships when adhered to.
The writing is generally good. There are a couple of occasions when words sound a bit off, for example near the beginning characters say “I say” and “look here” as though they’ve just stepped out of a wardrobe, chain mail is called ring mail, and there is perhaps a bit too much effort made to make the dialogue historic, but these do not detract from the overall experience. Accents remind you of the native lands of the characters as well as the fact that the story started in Scotland, and there is ample medieval phrasing that does work. Katrin has a tendency to think to herself a lot, which sometimes feels strange after all the third-person narrative, but it suits the story to have the insight it provides and offers a real chance for the reader to see what went on in the mind of a strong medieval woman. And it gives evidence and reasoning for the way Katrin acts where dialogue and regular narration does not suffice.
By Royal Command is a stunning epic that spans a long enough period of time for the reader to feel they’ve learned something, without being so long that gaps are present. Whilst being incredibly serious in its illustration of life the book glitters with fantastical romantic elements and plenty of emotion. And whilst having romance at its heart, it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of the day in terms of gender, political marriage, and sexual relations, as well as showing well how these same elements affected both men and women. In Navarre’s case, men especially, which makes the social history all the more poignant.
History, fictional but fine characters, and a good dose of true politics. By Royal Command rivals the best.
November 7, 2012, 4:48 pm
I love this kind of book..historical epics are the best :) Great review, thanks!
November 9, 2012, 10:46 pm
Jennifer: Thank you. They are, aren’t they :)