I’m not sure what happened with Anne Stuart. Her books used to be fabulous, but her latest efforts have been quite disappointing. Hidden Honor is better than some of Anne Stuart’s more recent books, but still not up to par with my old favorites. This one was done in by the heroine. Normally I enjoy Stuart’s heroines; however, the heroine here literally set my teeth on edge.
Elizabeth of Bredon grew up with uncaring, overbearing, and obnoxious men. Her father and her half-brothers give her little to appreciate in the male species and she cannot wait to be rid of them. Her decision to become a nun will remove them from her life, permanently. It’s her bad luck that Prince William and his escort of holy friars will escort her to the nunnery.
The rumors concerning the bastard Prince William are not at all flattering. They say that he has accidentally killed at least two women, the last a daughter of a prominent noble. The girl’s father demanded reparation, but King John has a soft spot for his bastard son, and the prince’s only penance will be the trip to the Shrine of St. Anne to receive cleansing for his sins. Elizabeth finds Prince William extremely disturbing, especially since he is the first man she has met who realizes she is not the meek and slightly stupid girl she pretends to be around her father and brothers. The sweet-faced brother Matthew with the beguiling blue eyes almost causes her to rethink her decision to become a nun, however.
The old adage, “Nothing is what it seems” certainly rings true in this book. It’s no secret to the reader that Prince William is actually Brother Peter, a former crusader turned monk. The “sweet” Brother Matthew is the debauched bastard Prince in disguise. There is no love lost between William and Peter, and they play a dangerous game with Elizabeth placed in the middle. Peter feels guilty over his part in the crusades and firmly dons a hair shirt to perform his penance. Prince William, with far more blood on his hands, has absolutely no soul and believes he has done nothing wrong, ever.
Peter’s character is as tortured as the author’s previous heroes, but in a different way; whereas many of Stuart’s heroes are dishonorable and proud of it, Peter keenly feels the loss of his honor from the crusades. He truly believes his attraction to Elizabeth will be the final straw sending him to hell. He works hard to protect her from William’s machinations, but refuses to tell her his real identity, even when the truth is definitely necessary.
For her part, Elizabeth simply infuriated me. She claims to be an excellent judge of character, yet when another woman joins the group and immediately recognizes that “Brother” Matthew is not at all saintly, Elizabeth continues to believe – against all clear evidence – that he is sweet and innocent. Her idiocy continues nearly to the end of the book. Her character is called “spirited,” but to me it was continual TSTL behavior. Naivete notwithstanding, this lady is just plain dumb at times. For example, Peter never drops his role as Prince William with her and Elizabeth continually argues outright with him in front of other people. Hello? This is the (supposed) prince of England she fights with!
More interesting, unfortunately for Elizabeth and Peter (and the reader as well), is the relationship between Joanna and Adrian. Joanna is the mistress to a powerful noble and Adrian is a knight ostensibly guarding Prince William. He too is disguised as a monk and is an old friend of Peter’s. He worries about his friend’s developing relationship with Elizabeth. Joanna’s resilience and world weariness is a much needed foil to Elizabeth’s cloying innocence.
The ending frustrated in the extreme. Of course Elizabeth and Peter achieve their happy ending, but in medieval England, what happens when a monk suddenly and publicly breaks his vows? In a world where religion and politics and governance are intricately tied, how does he just walk away? Peter also gave up his worldly possessions to the church after returning from the crusades and Elizabeth certainly has nothing from her father, so the inevitable “How will they live, where will they go?” questions kept looming in my head.
The medieval offerings in the romance world tend to be few and far between these days, and this is not the worst one out there, however, it’s certainly not this author’s best work, or even her best medieval. Fans of either this author or medieval books might want to take a look, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.