A Love For All Seasons
Well, A Love for All Seasons is definitely different. More historical fiction than romantic fiction, it focuses on the lives of those outside the realm of the knight, and follows the lives of the two protagonists from childhood through adulthood.
Denise Domning has a penchant for writing differently than other romance authors. So, it is not surprising that she would have such a different take on the medieval romance, which generally features nobility. It was a pleasant surprise to read a medieval featuring those from the merchant and peasant classes.
Unfortunately, while it was intriguing to learn more about these people, it wore rather thin. Life was not particularly kind to just plain folks in the Middle Ages. Still, their day-to-day existence was the most interesting part of the book. Somehow the author managed to make the background of the book more fascinating than the love story itself.
Perhaps that is too harsh. But the use of the flashback in telling the story, and the fact that we watch the lead characters grow up from the ages of 8 and 11 to thirty-something led me to the conclusion that, as a piece of historical fiction, this book succeeds better. As a piece of romantic fiction, this book mostly fails. And when I say the book succeeds somewhat better as historical fiction, it still falls short of being a good read.
This book focuses on Johanna of Stanrudde, the daughter of a wealthy merchant in a country town, and Robert of Blacklea, a boy who has been cast out of his home after the man who raised him discovers he is a bastard. Upon being disowned, the young Robert is taken in by Johanna’s father to be apprenticed. At the time, Johanna is 8 and Robert is 11.
While Johanna’s father was, on whole, a good man, he was also a calculating one, betrothing his young daughter to Katel, the adult and eldest son of a very wealthy London merchant, in order to better his business ties. Daddy should have known something was rotten with Katel when he was thrown over for his bastard younger brother and kicked out of London. And, even after he discovered Katel’s nasty streak, he was still determined to see his will done and the marriage take place.
The friendship Johanna and Robert shared while growing up flares into passion as her father lies on his deathbed. Her father, however, is still determined that the “merger” go through. The old man sees no “out” for the situation. His plan, which Robert tearfully agrees to, is to make it appear as though Robert has betrayed Johanna for money so that she won’t go into her new marriage harboring any lost love. And, though daddy professes to love Robert and Johanna, he has added a coda to his will. To prevent Robert from returning to reclaim Johanna later, his will states that should she commit adultery, her fortune and that of any children to be born will go completely to Katel.
Johanna’s father dies and immediately thereafter, Katel forces the marriage and begins to spend her father’s fortune. Johanna gives birth to the obligatory heir and apparently suffers through torment (the intervening 16 years are not mentioned in detail, just alluded to and talked about). Katel’s evilness and greed know no bounds and he schemes a way to use that evilness to feed his greed. For his scheme to work, both Johanna and Robert will have to be sacrificed.
If this all sounds confusing, it is. It is made even more so, and seems remote as well because it all unfolds in that flash-back format. Everything unfolds either so slowly or is only alluded to so that it is difficult to muster much feeling for the players in this tale.
That is a shame because Robert is written masterfully. He is intelligent, brave, handsome, and flesh-and-blood. His beliefs in the behaviors and sins as dictated by the powerful Church ring true. When he believes he has sinned by kissing the betrothed of a fellow man, he just knows he’s going to be punished by God. When he loses his virginity, he confesses and pays his penance. And when he lays with Johanna and they make vows to each other for God’s ears, he believes they will be heard.
Johanna, on the other hand, is more difficult to grasp. Partly because she is 8 years old when we meet her, she seems very childish for much of the story. I have no doubt many of her reactions are “right” given her context in time and place, but for too long she accepts her impending marriage to Katel. Historically accurate, yes, but is this romantic? No!
This reviewer also objected to the plot device of using arguing as a form of verbal foreplay. This can be very effective, but in this book, it failed. It was simply unbelievable that the anger Johanna felt (upon learning Robert kept her father’s illness from her while she was off at the convent) could turn into lust. This sadness might have made her angry. But anger based on sadness does not equate with lust in my book.
To wrap things up then, how good is this book? Frankly, not very. Robert and Johanna only see each other through lover’s eyes for maybe a third of the story. The logic used by Johanna’s father to “save” his daughter is almost ludicrously convoluted. The revenge plotted by evil Katel is too Byzantine to follow easily. And while Robert was an interesting hero to read, his being written as a “real” man cannot sustain the story.
If you are looking for a medieval that is gripping and romantic, skip this one and try instead this author’s Winter’s Heat. It’ll be worth the search.