This is the third novel in acclaimed Anna Belfrage's series the King's Greatest Enemy and so far I believe this to be the best.
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Edward II is held prisoner at Kenilworth Castle, having been dethroned by his queen, Isabella, and her lover, Lord Mortimer. Handsome and courageous knight, Adam de Guirande is waiting to travel to Westminster leaving his fiery wife, Kit, at home in Tresaints, nursing her newborn son, Ned. Things are not the happiest at court, for the young Prince Edward is not overjoyed that his father is a prisoner, and relations with his mother and Lord Roger have cooled somewhat. Things are about to become more complicated, as Prince Edward is soon to become a king, and then the problem of what to do with the old king arises, especially when rebellion rears its ugly head. As usual, Adam and Kit are dragged unwillingly into the very centre of the conflict. It is not long before they find that their lives are in danger. Those loyal to Edward Snr, plan to rescue him, and an old enemy turns up to exact his revenge from them, in the most terrible and horrific way.
As I said in my opening sentence, I believe this to be the best in the series so far. The King's Greatest Enemy series has got better with each book. The first two are true nail-biters, unequivocal in the way they keep you turning the page well past your bedtime! If a book can't keep me wanting more, and not want to sleep until I've read one more page, or one more chapter, then all I can say is, its not as good as it should be. The King's Greatest Enemy series has that quality, however this, the third, has a slower, but surer pace. There is a much slower build up of the tension, but because I have already read the first two books, I am waiting, just waiting, for the 'fun' to start and for me to find myself whipped up into a roller coaster ride of heart-stopping havoc. You feel you are stepping onto a knife edge, knowing something is coming, but you don't know when. I can honestly say, that its a rare quality in a book, I find, that can make me feel a sense of joy when I read, but this book does that for me.
The author knows her period well, and is able to weave the salient points into the story with ease and skill, and without feeling that she has to info dump in all the historical detail, thus spoiling the story. The characters of Kit and Adam are extremely likable, and expertly drawn, and I have to confess that I prefer this Kit of earlier. She is maturer, and with that maturity has come wisdom and gentle forbearance, which she did not possess before. Adam has grown into the man he was destined to be, strong, honest, possessing the moral fibre expected of a knight. But he also has his sensitive side, which the author allows him to show, every once in a while. Even the minor and supporting characters have all grown, either for the worst or the better. An example is Mortimer, once that shining example of a goodness, whom Adam had looked up to all his life and has become somewhat tainted by his own success, but is humanly played by this author's version of him.
The author's prose is not sunk into a quagmire of archaic mud, but is written using a mixture of modern and olde-worldy, though there is more of the new than the old. For those who prefer more of the use of antiquated language, they may not be happy with some of the phrases, but for me, I would prefer to understand than have to wade through a marsh of obsolete words.
This book has more romance than battle in it, but it is not a 'ladies book' full of sickly romance and corny sex. There are many facets that make up the story, one of them being intrigue and murder, and I dare any reader to not find it to their liking unless they are only interested in blood, guts and gore and no story.
As I said, romance plays a big part in this book, and I must be honest, I'm not a fan of the historical romance genre, however this is not like the usual romantic yarns where the relationship between 2 people is at the core of the narrative. Despite all the other aspects that fill the pages, Kit and Adam's love for each other still manages to shine through the deceit, the greed and the immoral hypocrisy of the times, and it is easy to see how the Mr & Mrs Beckhams of the 14thc are fast becoming everyone's favourite couple. I absolutely adore them.
Google the words Historical fiction definition, and this is the first search that comes up as defined by yourdictionary.com which says: Historical Fiction is defined as movies and novels in which a story is made up but is set in the past and sometimes borrows true characteristics of the time period in which it is set. A novel that makes up a story about a Civil War battle that really happened is an example of historical fiction.
Under the Approaching Dark fulfills this simple explanation, being a made up story, set in the 14thc against the true characteristics of the period and with true historical events as its background. Within this scope, Ms Belfrage had added other elements, one being the love story of two people who were initially thrown together against their wills and defy the odds and fall hopelessly in love. There are, of course, included within the narrative true events, and there is hatred, betrayal, danger and adventure also thrown into the mix. Through the eyes of our two love-birds, Kit and Adam, we are able to see how the affect of Lord Mortimer's affair with the wife of the deposed king, Edward II, plays out, causing rifts within the kingdom, amongst the nobles and between the young king Edward III and his mother. Essentially, Ms Belfrage is very cleverly killing two birds with one stone, by appealing to those who love the romance aspect of the story and to those who like the history and the characteristics of the world. Perhaps one characteristic in particular being the pugnacious world of knights, male camaraderie and the violence of the era.
Trying to write historical fiction that pleases everyone can sometimes be a thankless task, for some people might pick on this word, or that word, as not belonging to that era. In my opinion, as long as someone does not write, for example, "oh golly gosh", then I'm generally ok with modern language being used. Ms Belfrage, in my opinion, uses just about the right mix for something written in this time. Most importantly, I 'get' it and it doesn't ruin my experience like some books I have read that read like Shakespeare.
Now, I know that there are some readers who skim through sex scenes for whatever their own reasons might be. When writing something romantic, is it right that in whatever era, we should ignore what happens behind closed doors, after all, it is often shown very graphically on film and TV, these days? (I wonder if people skim the sex scenes in films also?)...Not in this book, though, does the author shy away from sex. Miss Belfrage is a skillful writer of romance and sex. If you take the time to read some of her beautiful scenes, you will see that there is more to them than just two people humping each other. Skillfully, Ms Belfrage will engage the reader in these scenes by allowing them to assimilate the emotions of the characters. And, because the relationship between Kit and Adam is such an important aspect of the story, to skip these scenes is like missing a whole set of episodes in a TV series, you will lose the essence of the story. These scenes are some of the most tenderest ever written by an author and if there were an award for such a thing, Ms Belfrage would win it.
...He touched his lips to hers, a chaste caress, no more. "Can we stop talking about this?"
She nodded, her eyes luminous pools of darkness.
"Good." This time, he kissed her until there was no air left in his lungs, until his blood pounded through his veins and all he could think was of her.
Belfrage shows the story through Kit and Adam's point of view only, so at least one or the other is in every scene. As mentioned before, the couple have grown and matured throughout the books and whereas I have always loved Adam, I was not totally enamoured by Kit in the beginning. I did like her character, however she was often complaining about something to do with Adam, and not always without cause, but once everyone could see how much Adam loved her, she continued to accuse him wrongly of being unfaithful and I wanted to jump right in the book and slap her silly face! She was also quite wilful, and for some strange reason I didn't like it too much, however, toward the end of the last book, I was warming to her and once I'd settled into Under the Approaching Dark, I decided that I liked her a lot more. She has matured, and although she is still fiery and passionate, I feel it is appropriately channelled. Truthfully, I think there is a lot about Kit that reminds me of myself! Apart from her beauty and red hair of course!
One of the other things I liked most about this book is Belfrage's use of dialogue. The author clearly adept at using appropriate dialogue and not resorting to 'telling' the story, which for me, is often a lazy way of writing because you don't have to work as hard when crafting relationships between characters, or designing an exciting scene. You can feel the tension as Mortimer and the young King Edward cross words:
"Are you unhurt, my lord? Adam's hands flew over the king's arms, his head.
"Leave me alone!" Edward shook him off, but not before Adam felt the tremors running through him...Edward's face was streaked with mud and dominated by wide eyes. His hair was a mess, the fine linen of his shirt torn and dirty.
"What are you waiting for?" the king asked, eyes darting from one dead man to the other. "Sit up and ride.Ride, damn it, and kill every single one of them."
"They have the advantage." Mortimer handed his sword to one of his squires. "We ride against them, they slaughter us."
"I did not take you for craven," Edward said. There was a collective intake of breath. Mortimer took one long step towards the king, who sidled away from him.
"What did you say?" Lord Roger's voice dropped dangerously low.
"I called you craven." Edward straightened up.
"No man has ever called me that and lived. Count yourself fortunate you're nothing but an untried lad." Mortimer nudged at the closest corpse. "He died for you, my liege. so did tens of others. And you would waste more lives just to soothe your wounded pride?"This book is beautifully crafted by an author who has won many awards, including IndieBRAG, and Indie author award from the HNS. You just cannot go wrong with a book that has been created by someone with such an accolade. Under the Approaching Dark is the perfect recipe for an historical fiction novel, it has it all going on: kings, queens, knights, conflict, damsels in distress and villains who need destroying. All this against a well-researched historical background of an era I neither knew nor cared little about but now feel that this may be one of the most interesting eras.
Ms Belfrage writes exceptionally well, and there is never a boring or dull moment as we allow ourselves to be immersed in the fascinating world of the 14thc. I highly recommend this book to all no matter what genre you prefer, because as a book, it is a joy to read.
About the Author
I was always going to be a writer - well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart's favourite page (no double entendre intended - I was far too innocent at the time) Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.
Life happened. (It does, doesn't it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?) a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house ... Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.
Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months... (I still work. I no longer garden - one must prioritise) It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.
You can find Anna at her Website
And you can buy her books here
Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner
You can also find me at my blog
1066: The Road to Hastings and Other stories