In Jenni Fletcher’s Besieged and Betrothed, readers get to witness what happens when one king dies and two claimants to the throne fight for dominance. I’m reading for the romance rather than a history lesson, so I didn’t factcheck the story, but the history presented does give an interesting backdrop to what is otherwise a fairly standard historical romance.
The story opens with Lothar the Frank, warrior for Empress Matilda, arriving at Castle Haword, which is currently loyal to the Empress’ cousin and enemy, Stephen of Blois. It’s basically a royal mess (pun fully intended), and Lothar, ever-loyal to the Empress, comes on the scene to find the castle under siege by the rather nasty Sir Guian, while the exhausted castelain, Juliana Danville, attempts to hold her home.
Juliana’s father had been loyal to the Empress, but after he fell against Stephen in battle, Juliana swore her loyalty to Stephen. Much to the confusion of those on the side of the Empress, Juliana has held Haword successfully against Sir Guian (and held her own against his less than chivalrous advances against her person), but she and her men are at their end. There is no way for things to fall in her favor, so Juliana reluctantly agrees to surrender to Lothar in an attempt at a trap. Juliana’s actions are a bid to delay until reinforcements from Stephen arrive. It’s a clever move, but one that ultimately doesn’t work, and Castle Haword falls. Over the course of the next few days, Lothar also finds himself betrothed to Juliana.
Juliana and Lothar have definitely had a rocky start, but they are drawn to each other from the beginning, and Lothar changes his plans more than once in an attempt to protect Juliana. It’s really rather sweet. As a reader, I thoroughly appreciated that Lothar still recognizes and acknowledges her abilities, both in caring for her castle and people, and her fighting abilities (it’s a bit of an Eowyn moment, one where ‘the women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them’). He accepts Juliana in a way that few in her life have, especially those in power.
I will say that there is definitely a bit of ‘modern woman’ syndrome going on here. Juliana is pretty awesome, but she reads as a twenty-first century woman more than anything resembling a twelfth century one. This doesn’t really bother me personally, but to those who lean more toward historical accuracy, it could be problematic.
What did bother me was the way the Juliana and Lothar constantly, constantly, don’t actually talk to each other. The tired old trope of miscommunication is alive and well here, and getting on my ever-loving last nerve. It’s a popular thing in romance novels, even now, for one character to have some secret or belief or what-have-you, which he/she just can’t bother to tell the other character. It’s so freaking frustrating it makes me want to scream.
This novel is definitely enjoyable, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. I’d read this author again, particularly if she doesn’t make huge miscommunications a pet plot point.
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