This review has been done in conjunction with the new release of
Miss Belfrage is kindly offering a copy to gift to a lucky winner which shall be drawn on Tuesday 17th of November. In order to be in with a chance of owning your own copy, just leave a comment at the bottom of the page or on our Facebook page.
The story opens with the heroine, called Kit, who, in the early turbulent 14thc, suddenly finds herself plucked from her former life and into a new life - well, someone else's life, actually. She is kidnapped by the wily wife of the man she will learn is her father, to marry a man she has never met. Kit has no choice. If she does not marry this landless knight, Adam de Guirande, she and her household will be turfed out of her childhood home; the home, she learns, that was given to her mother by her father, the already married, Sir Thomas de Monmouth, as a place to bring their daughter up. Sir Thomas' wife, Lady Cecily, is determined that the disappearance of her wayward daughter, Katherine, will not affect the benefits that this marriage will bring to her family and forces Kit to marry de Guirande in an effort not to lose their chances of advancement. But there are complications with this scheme, Kit is not her sister Katherine, and although she displays a remarkable likeness to her, Kit has neither the guile nor the temperament of Katherine de Monmouth, and nor does she have the promiscuous reputation.
Kit manages to keep the subterfuge from her husband whom she grows to love and what happens when he finds out, is something that will have the reader rooting for Kit. Later we are taken on a nail-biting roller-coaster ride of an adventure which left me hanging onto the edge of a cliff many a time as Adam de Guirande and his beloved baron Sir Roger Mortimer lead a rebellion against the inept King Edward II whose formerly exiled favourite, Hugh Despenser, returns to the country to exact his revenge on those who had seen to his downfall. Despenser is gunning for Baron Mortimer, but he can't get to him and so he tortures poor Adam. I shall not reveal anymore as I am in danger of giving too much a way.
What I love most about this extraordinary story is it's ability to fill me with a range of emotions that so many other books often fail to do. You could never accuse this author of blandness. Not only does Ms Belfrage manage to write a page-turner, she cleverly instills the spirits of her two main protagonists, Kit and Adam de Guirande, within my own. There were times, however, when I was not sure if I could believe some of the behaviour of these two characters, they are larger than life personalities. Some of the lengths that Kit goes to, to save her husband from certain death, are pretty incredible, but this is fiction at his best, ticking all the boxes and sometimes, one has to suspend belief, sit back and enjoy the ride. And what a fabulous ride it is!
Ms Belfrage takes the brave step of not conforming to writing prose that is archaic or set wholly in an historical language of the time. This does not always please the more stringent readers of historical fiction, but it is also not written with too much modern jargon. There are no 'gosh' s or 'gee's. Ms Belfrage does implant the reader into time and place with the backdrop that Kit and Adam's story plays against. It is the early 14th century. King Edward II sits upon the throne. He is an inept king, unable to repeat the glories of his father, the great Longshanks. The nobles are fed up with the favours he endows upon Hugh Despenser, who, as the author's version of Despenser shows, is a cruel, greedy, depraved man.
The theme of the story centers around what is essentially a love story between Kit and Adam. The threads that entwine the other characters into the tapestry of their lives are secondary to theirs and it is the horrors that Kit and Adam both face within the framework of this wonderful story, that test their love and their relationship with each other. Kit and Adam are what drives this book and they are neatly ensconced in any future works of this series, for without them, the story would be very different. Ms Belfrage pulled me into their scenes and from whoever the point of view is being told, their minds, their thoughts and their emotions are all mine too; such is the skill with which the author utilises her talent. It is not many authors that can achieve this and it is worthy to note, that authors who head hop within scenes, never achieve this kind of depth to their writing.
But it is not all plain sailing for their love. The world seems to contrive against them and when Adam's duty to his lord, the Baron Mortimer threatens to tear them apart, Kit finds that she has to put aside her fears for both their lives to allow her husband his honour. She is angry with him for putting Mortimer before her, but she loves him too much to stay angry.
She was tongue-tied beside him. The food swelled in her mouth, the wine made her gag, and when they retired to the solar she lay still and silent under his touch, her heart breaking at the thought that might be the last time they had together. Once he fell asleep, she sat with her legs pulled up to her chest, keeping vigil over her sleeping man.
Adam in turn is filled with deep regret that she should ever think that he loved Mortimer above her. She is his life, his world, but he is a knight, and he must do his duty that knighthood requires of him. Yes, he does love the baron, for it was the baron who saved him from being beaten death at the hands of his cruel father. He owes Mortimer a debt of honour, but he could never love anyone more than he loves his Kit.
"You haven't promised me that you will come back, you haven't told me there will be future moonlit nights." She hit him again and again. Tears stained her cheeks, bloated her face... Tenderly he wiped her eyes, her nose.
"I will come back, of course I will."
She threw her arms around his neck and clung to him, her tears dampening his skin. "I don't want you to go."
..."Truth be told, I don't want to go."
"Liar." She snivelled. "Of course you want to go."
"No, not when it leaves you this distraught." He brushed her hair off her face and kissed her softly on the mouth. "I'll be back, sweeting, and I give you my word that I'll never leave you behind again."
The characterisation of the other players are craftily done. Baron Mortimer is as complex a man, as he was in life. A colourful, larger than life character, he plays an important part in the tale. At first, when you meet him, you are given the impression that he is truly out for number one, and his behaviour is that of a lecherous oaf, who, having had a fumble in the dark with Kit's sister, Katherine, prior to Kit's marriage to Adam, thinks that Kit really is Katherine and tries it on with her. When Kit rebuffs him, he is puzzled, but thinks that perhaps she has 'settled' down into married life and is no longer the promiscuous lady she once was. Later, the reader is treated to a more compassionate view of the Baron, as he is sometimes referred to, and a brave, courageous man is presented to us.
Hugh Despenser on the other hand is a more one dimensional type. As the villain of the piece, Despenser, is thoroughly obnoxious; a violent sadist with no endearing qualities whatsoever. He is the archetypal baddie and so very well drawn. You can imagine a certain type of music to start playing whenever he takes the stage, like in the Jaws movie, the music that played whenever the shark was near. It is true, that in history he was despised and he fought back at those who had caused his downfall. When the king, Edward II defies his nobles and recalls him from exile, he is out for blood and the sadist in him is unleashed and Adam and poor Kit become his targets. One must wonder what endearing qualities the real life Despenser must have possessed for the mostly affable King Edward to have so loved him.
So far, the king, Edward II, does not make many appearances, in fact I recall only one, but he is portrayed as inept and useless, more interested in indulging his favourites, the Despensers, than doing anything effective for his country. I will be interested to see if he makes more of an appearance in the second book.
The other supporting characters are likeable or not likeable depending on which side of the fence they belong and they do their jobs to help drive the story forward well. At times, it seemed that some of the threads within the story could have been more developed and seemed to be thrown in to move the plot rather than anything else. The story about Katherine's reappearance and Kit's father, Thomas de Monmouth are sketchily drawn and I would liked to have seen them have more page space in the book, perhaps a chapter or two, but this does not in anyway detract from the book as a whole and makes no dent in its awesomeness.
In the Shadow of the Storm is an undeniably fabulous book, as great a love-story as Scarlett and Rhett's Gone with the Wind or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Ms Belfrage's first in the new series will be a winner as I'm sure all the books will be. As a writer she knows exactly how to hook the reader in. She leaves the reader biting their nails, turning the pages with trepidation, as they whip through the book in a whirlwind of excitement, adventure and sheer terror! The storm which is written into the title is the book itself. It starts with a rumble and as the book progresses, the thunder and lightning increase and the rain and wind batter at the pages until, in a crescendo of events, the storm reaches its pinnacle and then comes the calm; we are at the end of the book and all is well. Or so we think...
Paula Lofting is an historical novelist and can be found on twitter, Facebook, blogger and her website
Her first novel Sons of the Wolf is due to be re-released at Christmas followed by the sequel The Wolf Banner in the Spring.