A Knight Like No Other
Jocelyn Kelley is a new pseudonym for an author who has written under several names and across several genres, most recently as JoAnn Ferguson writing Traditional Regencies and Regency-set mysteries. This time around, she has chosen a particularly interesting moment in Medieval history: the final confrontation between King Henry II and Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury leading to Becket’s murder. Once the best of friends but now deadly enemies, Becket has returned to England, against Henry’s wishes, and is threatening to excommunicate the king. As Becket makes his way to Canterbury, the country chooses sides. Queen Eleanor sees only disaster ahead for all involved and wishes to keep her godson, Christian Lovall safe and out of the fray.
Christian’s father’s act of cowardice years ago while in Henry’s service still taints the family name. Christian is eager – overeager – to prove himself a brave and just knight, one worthy of being a King’s Knight. Eleanor knows he is ripe for any piece of derring-do and is afraid that Henry would find an eager tool in his effort to be rid of “this meddlesome priest.” To that end, she travels to St. Jude’s Abbey to recruit some help of her own.
Eleanor founded and continues to fund the Abbey, where girls showing aptitude are taught the knightly arts, for just such an occasion. The Abbey’s best swordswoman and teacher is Avisa de Vere, who has lived at the Abbey since she was two years old, and has rarely stepped outside its walls. She vows to protect Christian and then return to the Abbey she loves.
On his way to Canterbury for a wedding, Christian, traveling with his brother Guy, comes upon a Damsel in Distress: a beautiful young woman beset by thieves. He dashes to her rescue and they have several adventures eluding the villains, each saving the other’s life. Avisa, of course, had set herself up for the episode, counting on it piquing Christian’s interest and knightly chivalry. When they are safe, Avisa tells her fabricated story – of villains laying siege to her home, of her kidnapped sister, of how she is desperate to recover her, if only Avisa had a strong, brave knight to help her. Well, this scenario is tailor-made to appeal to Christian’s desire for heroic redemption, and he agrees to come to Avisa’s aid.
Avisa finds the world outside the Abbey a very different place than she imagined. She is surprised to find that women do not wear swords, that indeed women’s abilities in general are grossly underestimated, and their opinions rarely taken seriously when they are not summarily dismissed. She also never imagined her reaction to men and to Christian in particular, experiencing an immediate and strong physical attraction to him. This especially galls her when Christian condescends to her, trying to teach her that a woman’s role is to obey and be grateful.
While I found Avisa and her story to be refreshingly different, Christian was more stereotypical. He is so stuck in his Knightly Duty rut and view of the world, that it takes him a very long time to appreciate Avisa for more than her lovely body, even when given many proofs of her, not just competent, but superior skills with the sword. I rarely felt there was a deeper connection other than the physical between the two, until very near the end. I also found the character of Christian’s brother Guy to be problematical. He is really all over the place – one moment preying sexually on Avisa, the next being kind; whining and cowering only to fight bravely. I don’t think he is so much a complex character, as an unformed one and I felt I never had a handle on him.
I love this rarely explored time period and found the concept of Eleanor’s Abbey a fascinating one, and can recommend this book with some reservations. Avisa is an unusual and worthy heroine; I just think she deserved a better hero.