Sunday, April 5, 2009

Shadowed Knight by Jan Alyce Avery

Richard was born the bastard son of a nobleman named Alain Searcy. His mother, a poor, dependent kitchen maid, did her best to care for him, but could not shield him from the tyrannical cruelty and severe abusive treatment Richard suffered at the hands of Searcy and his legitimate sons. How could she, when she herself was a victim of the same abuse? When his mother died, an embittered Richard departed his sire’s estate determined to carve out a better life.

Andrew Berenger is not a wealthy man, but when he discovers Richard eating the grain of his horses, he offers the young man work as a servant to help him. A bond soon forms between the two and Richard becomes Andrew’s squire. The idyllic interlude, did not last. Andrew dies and leaves Richard his horse and his armour. In memory of the man who had showed him so much kindness, Richard proudly assumes Andrew’s surname.

Margaret is a noblewoman whose bloodlines are traced to William the Conqueror. When outlaws murder her father and brother, she finds herself solely responsible for the running of Warnmark and its many servants and men-at-arms. Respected by those in her service, she manages to keep Warnmark in good stead and thriving. But she knows that a young woman alone runs the risk of scandal and gossip, so Margaret sets out for a nearby estate to rescue her cousin, Ann Conroy, after the death of her abusive, elderly husband. Margaret brings Ann back to Warnmark to act as her chaperone, even though Ann is younger than Margaret.

Richard Berenger swears his fealty to Baron Ware and becomes a knight in his service. Richard soon earns the respect of his liege lord and peers by his unwavering loyalty and well-honed battle skills. Baron Ware rewards him by granting him the estate of Warnmark through marriage to its sole owner, the Lady Margaret D’Arcy.

When Margaret learns that Baron Ware has ordered her to be married to a baseborn, landless, bastard knight and turn her home and lands over to him, she is very much infuriated. Her fury increases all-the-more after she accidentally overhears him speak disparagingly of her even before they are introduced.

Richard is also far from happy by the circumstances that tie him to the fiery Lady D’Arcy who coldly tolerates his presence. But as a man well-accustomed to making the best of a bad situation, he does his best to please his new bride and make her happy.

Nevertheless, misunderstandings occur and Richard and Margaret find themselves constantly at odds with each other. Ann, along with Richard’s best friend, Sir John Fitzwilliam, try their best to bring the two together, but unsuccessfully. As time progresses, Margaret learns Richard is not the greedy, unkind man she first thought he was, just as Richard learns that Margaret is strong and talented and can read.

An uneasy truce is struck when Margaret agrees to teach Richard to read, something he has wanted all his life. When a brutal band of outlaws threatens Warnmark, Richard and Margaret are sorely tested. They must put aside their differences and join together to keep their people and land from harm.

Jan Alyce Avery has done her research and the historical accuracy of the novel is very evident. The characters are compelling and enduring, as are their struggles to come together. The book is well edited and tightly written and the prose is comfortable to read. Shadowed Knight is most definitely a tale that will sweep you into its plot and entertain you. It is most definitely one of the best medieval romances currently available. I highly recommend it.

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