Title & Author: The King’s Man (Welsh Blades Book One), Elizabeth Kingston
Genre & Publication Date: Historical Romance, June 20, 2015
Book Description: “Ranulf Ombrier’s fame throughout 13th century England for his skill at swordplay is rivaled only by his notoriety as King Edward I’s favorite killer. Ranulf’s actions have gained him lands, title, and a lasting reputation as a hired butcher. But after years of doing his king’s bidding, he begins to fear for his mortal soul and follows his conscience away from Edward, all the way to the wilds of Wales.
Gwenllian of Ruardean, Welsh daughter of a powerful Marcher lord, has every reason to leave Ranulf for dead when one of her men nearly kills him. As a girl she was married by proxy to a man Ranulf murdered, only to become a widow before she ever met her groom. In the years since, she has shunned the life of a lady, instead studying warfare and combat at her mother’s behest. But she has also studied healing and this, with her sense of duty to knightly virtues, leads her to tend to Ranulf’s wounds.
Saving her enemy’s life comes with consequences, and Gwenllian and Ranulf are soon caught up in dangerous intrigue. Forced together by political machinations, they discover a kinship of spirit and a surprising, intense desire. But even hard-won love cannot thrive when loyalties are divided and the winds of rebellion sweep the land.”
First Line: Wales 1280: When he first woke, he thought he must be roasting in the fires of Hell.
My Take: Every once in a while I pick up a book in historical fiction rather than speculative. I’ve only ever done one review of this genre on the blog. It’s a little odd since I’m a big Masterpiece Theater fan and just loved Downton Abbey (For anyone in withdrawal since the show ended, there’s another awesome series called Larkrise To Candleford that was made some time back. Equally amazing). My point is, it takes an especially good book to push me off my usual reading habit of imaginary worlds and space exploration. The King’s Man is one of those.
Initially I just grabbed the sample chapter, intrigued by the blurb. Pretty much after the first paragraph I knew my life was about to come to a standstill:
When he first woke, he thought he must be roasting in the fires of Hell. Later he would know if was a raging fever that burned him, and she would tell him it was delirium that caused insensate visions. These were practical and unromantic explanations that were true enough. But earthly truths would never be as real as hellfire, and angels, and the moment he put the tattered remains of his soul into her hands.
I mean, yeah. I didn’t stand a chance. The writing throughout the whole thing is just exquisite. I kept running into whole sections where I’d be like, “Oh wow. Hang on, I’ve got to reread that a few more times just for the love of words.” Yet, it never became heavy handed, the writing deliberately holding off on those more epic phrases until just the right moment. Then, while you’re curled around your Kindle, when you’re utterly rapt with the scene at hand, it releases that poetic style. Let me tell you, it hangs on to your thoughts well after you’re done reading it, like sillage from an open perfume bottle.
The plot itself is also solid. This is set during the reign of the ruthless King Edward I, otherwise known as Longshanks (some of you might remember his portrayal best from Braveheart). On the one side you have Ranulf, the King’s assassin, on the other you have Gwenllian, a Welsh noblewoman of a people long at odds with the King Edward’s rule. With murmurs of rebellion in the air, it sets a series of events in motion that neither one of them ever anticipated. Awesome historical and monarchical intrigue set against a very personal story of two people who find they are both enemies and allies at the same time.
The Magical: Loved Gwenllian! Such a great character with confidence and leadership ability, strong and steadfast, but also grappling with self-doubt and a wish for belonging. I also really loved Ranulf though. He’s as strong as Gwenllian, a strategic mind and cunning, but dealing with terrible self-loathing—adrift, never feeling at home in his home. Their trust grew slowly and in such a beautiful and believable way.
The Mundane: …I can’t think of anything, people! *sits down and checks pulse*
Summary of Thoughts: An amazing tale set in medieval Wales with three-dimensional characters, including the supporting cast. I enjoyed this one so much! Gwenllian and Ranulf felt like real people. They loved but they also argued, they made mistakes, they said stupid things and regretted them–just like a non-fictional relationship! I think that’s what I liked most. Currently it’s $4.99 for the Kindle on Amazon. I definitely recommend it (in case the gushing didn’t tip you off). Cool historical stuff, sword fights, a haunted past, and two people trying to learn what it means to love someone.
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