Desert Isle Keeper
Lady Christiana Fitzwaryn is offended to discover that her guardian, King Edward III, has betrothed her to a merchant. If she knew the whole story behind that betrothal she’d be a lot more than just offended, I promise you. By Arrangement by Madeline Hunter is a rather dark, deeply romantic tale of secrets and lies, conspiracies and plots, and one Big Misunderstanding. I enjoyed it immensely.
Christiana goes to see the merchant, David de Abyndon, and the discovery that he is young, gorgeous and rich doesn’t stop her from pleading to be released from the betrothal. Instead she tells David that she has given her heart and body to another man. But David unexpectedly shrugs off this information, saying only that he is determined to have her. This is Christiana’s first hint that there’s far more to this arranged marriage than meets the eye.
This novel is packed with good stuff. Beyond all the secrets, there’s the class conflict between the merchants of London and the knights and ladies of the king’s court. There’s the depiction of King Edward, a canny and unscrupulous monarch if there ever was one, and his way of using the tenets of chivalry to mold his knights into a malleable fighting force. There’s the bloody and ruinous 100 Years’ War, which subtly (and eventually explicitly) underlies all the action. There’s the way Christiana’s unrequited love for another man painfully echoes the defining experience of David’s life. By Arrangement is richly textured, historically fascinating, and filled with surprises.
Amidst all this gorgeous complexity, David and Christiana’s contentious relationship enjoys center stage. Christiana is not a complex character, but she’s still a very realistically drawn one. We clearly see her grow from a naïve teenager into a woman of great courage. David is another story entirely – a manipulative, cunning, and driven man who more than once comes within centimeters of being a complete villain instead of a hero. David’s secrets emerge slowly, still surprising me up to the last chapter. He is transformed and redeemed by his love for Christiana, but in spite of this I have a feeling that her marriage to this guy is never going to be a comfortable one. If you like complex heroes, you’ll want to pick up this book just to make David’s acquaintance.
I do have a couple of minor criticisms of this book, but neither of them is strong enough to keep it off my keeper shelf. One is that the scenes that develop the sexual tension between our hero and heroine are rather purple. In spite of all the frantic whirlwinds of caresses, though, I found the love scenes to be extremely hot, probably because of the intense emotional need that Ms. Hunter succeeds in bringing to them. Also, there’s that Big Misunderstanding. This is a plot device that doesn’t bother me as much as it does some people. In this book, I think that the Misunderstanding is plausible for the characters and it works to advance the plot.
By Arrangement is a tightly-plotted, emotionally powerful romance with a good historical feel and great characterization. It’s not for readers who like their romance light and their heroes angst-free. But if you liked My Beloved by Karen Ranney and Wicked by Jill Barnett, I don’t think you’ll want to miss Madeline Hunter’s By Arrangement.