By Royal Command
If you love Medievals, definitely check out By Royal Command. Set in Anglo-Saxon England, a very colorful and under-utilized time period, this novel caught my interest from the dark and moody beginning and held it to the very end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quite good.
As the novel opens, we immediately get a glimpse into heroine Katrin’s plight. Young and widowed, she is lady of what appears to be a desolate, sparsely populated holding in the north. Cut off from much of the world around her, she must find a way for the household to survive, as well as keep a watchful eye for the ever present threat of Viking invaders. It’s a grim existence, but at least her holdings lie far away from court so that she does not have to encounter her uncle, King Ethelred, known to history as Ethelred the Unready.
This changes when the Viking Eomond and his men come to the keep, bearing orders from the king. As the king’s niece, Katrin is a valuable pawn, so he has called her to court. She knows immediately that he plans to make yet another politically advantageous marriage for her. Her first marriage brought no happiness and she does not trust Ethelred, so Katrin doesn’t exactly jump at the prospect of a journey to court. Nevertheless, after some sparring, Eomond prevails and Katrin finds her way to court. On the journey, Katrin and Eomond also find themselves growing more and more attracted to one another. For a woman married off in her early teens to a man whom she never loved, this is a new experience. However, Eomond is a landless knight who has sworn fealty to the king while Katrin is a niece destined for a political alliance. Not surprisingly, this causes tension.
The tension does not abate at court, even after Ethelred announces that he intends for Katrin to marry Rafael le Senay, Baron of Belmaine and younger brother of the Earl of Argent, a region whose resources and support Ethelred covets. Given that Rafael had been intended for the church, Katrin and everyone else around her expects a monkish man little interested in marriage, but when Katrin finally meets Rafael, she finds a man both handsome and intelligent, who is most definitely interested in consummating a marriage with her.
If you do not enjoy love triangles, this may not be the book for you. However, for me this ended up being one of the better love triangle stories I’ve ever read. It has a bittersweet quality at times, but it also had an ending I could believe. Eomond and Rafael are both strong characters, and I found much to enjoy in both. Eomond more closely fits the alpha hero mold, with his tendency to be somewhat overbearing and overtly strong. Sometimes he goes too far for comfort when sparring with Katrin, but there is believable chemistry between these two. Usually, I can’t stand relationships that seem to swing back and forth between love scenes and power struggles between the leads, but with Katrin and Eomond, it basically works. Rafael also shows great strength and intelligence, but lacks that overbearing, almost macho quality I would associate with an alpha hero. With his various talents and intelligent repartee, he actually reminds me most of Westley from The Princess Bride. I especially loved some of his conversations with Katrin.
Since both men are definitely set up as hero material, the fact that the author keeps readers guessing for quite a bit who Katrin’s hero will be certainly kept me reading. In addition to enjoying the heroes, I also loved the vivid setting and the heroine’s journey as a character. In some ways, Katrin has a certain sense of maturity about her. After all, she enjoys a high position in society and she has had to run a keep independently. However, she was also married very young and has lived in isolation, so she definitely lacks some understanding with regard to relationships. She can be bratty at times in the first part of the story, but throughout the book we see her grow as a person as well as learning to trust other people. In addition, because both of the men in this book are possible heroes, the choice Katrin must make is a wrenching one, and readers experience that emotional journey with her. Even though women had almost no power to chart their own destinies in early 11th century England, Katrin’s story shows her taking on her circumstances and making the best life possible for herself. It may not be kickass in the typical sense, but it definitely takes guts and resolve.
Beyond the characters, the plot itself is filled with twists and turns. Katrin begins her story in a remote keep, spends time at the royal court with all of its intrigues, and then finds herself sent by the king to Argent for a marriage. There she finds even more plotting and intrigues. In fact, it may look like I’ve given lots and lots of plot summary here, but this review really only scratches the surface of what goes on in this book.
With a vivid and sometimes dark setting, By Royal Command ends up being both an unusual and enjoyable Medieval romance. At times, the pacing felt a little rushed, but Katrin’s love triangle still held my interest and the political wrangling in the background of this story makes for fascinating reading. Little is known about Ethelred as a person or about some of the personalities at his court, but the author fills in the blanks to create an unforgettable picture of what may have been. If you enjoy meatier historicals, this is one to try.