Back when A Knight in Shining Armor first came out in hardcover, I bought it, read it, loved it, and immediately started reading it again. I was at a friend's house sitting by her pool one afternoon and was pronounced "anti-social" because I had my nose buried in the book and was pretty much ignoring the conversation around me. So I said to my two friends, "Let me read you a little something, and maybe you'll understand why I can't put this down." So I started reading. Two hours and a sunburn later, the two of them were fighting over who was going to take the book home that night.
It was my first triumphant conversion to the wonderful world of romance.
Okay, so why does everyone love this book so much? I can't speak for everyone, so I'll tell you what I think. It has something to do with change, and how love can enact that change. It has something to do with the thought of actually being able to change the past. And it has something to do with the thought of a love so powerful, so pure, so timeless that it will literally span the ages.
When we meet Dougless Montgomery, she comes across as a total lamebrained pushover. She's in a relationship with a guy who takes complete and utter advantage of her, so much so that in the early chapters of the novel you want to crawl into the pages, give her a good slap and shout "snap out of it" a la Cher in Moonstruck. The couple's long-awaited vacation to England doesn't turn out to be the dream Dougless was hoping for. Mr. Charm brings his equally obnoxious daughter along for the ride.
Dougless finally stands up for herself, only to be left alone in an English churchyard with no money, no passport, no man, no nothing. She starts sobbing atop the tomb of a long-dead knight when low and behold, the knight is suddenly standing beside her saying, "Well witch. You have conjured me. What do you ask of me?" He is Sir Nicholas Stafford, and he died in 1564. Dougless called him forth somehow, yet she has no idea how to send him back. So the duo embark on a history lesson of sorts, delving back into Nicholas' life to try to find the key that will unlock the portel back to the past. It's a journey that will lead both Nicholas and Dougless back to 16th century where they will have the opportunity to "put right what once went wrong".
One of the most entertaining features of A Knight in Shining Armor is the "fish out of water" that Devereaux allows readers to experience - not just once, but twice. First it is Nicholas' turn. For a 16th century man in modern England, he does a marvelously good job of adapting, mostly because he thinks of the trip as a holiday. He belittles the quality of the clothes, loves tea, becomes completely fascinated by anything remotely electronic and, because he is a learned man, looks with awe on bookstores. He tries to keep Dougless at arms length, but the two quickly become so protective of each other that it becomes impossible for him not to experience real "affection" for her.
From a reader perspective, Dougless' trip back in time is infinitely more interesting, although not quite so amusing as Nicholas' adventures in the 20th century. When Dougless arrives in Old England, Nicholas doesn't know her. Determined to stick close and solve the problems that led to his premature death in the first place, Dougless passes herself off as the niece of the King of Lanconia (Devereaux afficianados will recognize her "credentials" as coming from her prior novel The Princess. Until Nicholas' sceptical mother can verify her claims, she keeps Dougless on at Court for entertainment value. Dougless knows a lot of songs and proceeds to fill the castle with Rodgers & Hammerstein tunes galore. In the meantime, she does her best to convince Nicholas that the two of them meant something to each other, going so far as to bake him brownies and fried chicken in an attempt to trigger his memories. She eventually spends so much time in the past that she gets used to wearing layers upon layers of clothing and eating fifteen course meals. Devereaux gives a real history lesson in the daily practices of life inside a nobleman's keep.
I don't want to give away much of the plot because it is one that I have always found completely beguiling. Nicholas and Dougless don't fall into bed immediately and it isn't love at first sight. They become friends in need and build a relationship that grows stronger and stronger with each passing day. . . year.
Witnessing Dougless' growth is equally fascinating. The mousy, put-upon schoolteacher has no choice but to accept the responsibility of what has been forced upon her. She begins to deal with her circumstances intelligently, yet she never sacrifices her basic innocence. For that is what Dougless is - an innocent who has trouble coping with the harsher aspects of life. Believing herself lacking in inner strength, she calls Nicholas forth. And it is not until after she is separated from him that she discovers a hidden depth of fortitude.
I don't know that I have adequately expressed my thoughts on this all time favorite. It entertains me. It teaches me. It moves me. It makes me wish I could conjure up something half as magical. But most of all, it makes me believe that there is a knight in shining armor out there for everyone.
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