When I was about sixteen, I had a friend who ran away from home. Life there had become unbearable, so she decided to leave. Everybody was asleep. She crept out into the night and began walking. When she got about half-a-mile from home, she stopped and looked around. She began to think. She had no money. She had nowhere to go. She was under age and knew that if she were caught, which she most likely would be, they’d send her home again to face the wrath of the people she had sought to leave. Or, she’d be found by the wrong people and even worse things would happen. She turned around and went back home. Not a particularly happy solution, but a reasonable one, given the circumstances.
The heroine of Knight Triumphant is not as smart as my friend. She spends every waking moment thinking about escape. More than half the book is devoted to her planning, plotting, or running. Nothing else seems to be on her mind. Had it not been for this unrelenting and irritating plot device, this would have been a much better read. As it was, Knight Triumphant hits some highs and some lows and ends up with a second half that is much better than the first.
Englishwoman Lady Igrainia of Langley has just lost her beloved husband, Afton, to the plague. To top it all off, Sir Eric Graham, Scottish warrior loyal to Robert Bruce, has taken over her castle and has made her a prisoner. He has just lost his wife, Margot, and their young daughter, to the same plague, the difference being, his wife and child were prisoners in the dungeons of Langley at the time. Eric blames Igrainia for their deaths, although she had done her best to save them.
Igrainia is young and beautiful and is now lady of a castle stronghold. As such, she has become a pawn for whomever Kind Edward I (The Hammer of the Scots) wishes to marry her off to. Igrainia does not wish to remarry, but realizes she must in order to keep the castle in English hands, for Langley is in the Scottish borderlands.
Eric has different plans for Igrainia and Langley. Under orders from Robert Bruce, newly crowned king of Scotland, Eric marries Igrainia against her will. But he does not bed her. He despises her far too much for that.
It is a constant battle of wills between Eric and Igrainia from the moment they meet. When Eric is not warning Igrainia not to escape, she is thinking about escaping. She does actually escape several times and is recaptured again each time. Eric doesn’t trust her, and with good reason. This unremitting escape device got old so fast, I was turning pages just to get past it. I had to turn many, many pages to get past it, but when I did, the book was nearly half over. This is a long book, so there was still quite a ways to go in which something other than escape was the topic of the day.
Igrainia finally realizes the men she wanted to run to are more horrible than the man she wants to run from. She settles for trying to find her younger brother, who has just become earl upon the death of their father. Even though he is only seventeen, she must look to him to protect her. But when she is finally reunited with him, she discovers that she has run smack into her worst nightmare. Somehow, she must escape! I believe I did actually scream out loud at this point.
Knight Triumphant is very dark. The story opens during a plague (a vividly described plague). Then we are embroiled in battles (vividly described battles). The tone is dark and dank, filled with grief, loss, remorse, and regret. Both Eric and Igrainia are truly people of their times (vividly described times). The author has portrayed her Medieval setting very well and I felt saturated by the atmosphere. These characters do live in the Middle Ages and the reader can feel it, and anybody who thinks they want to be a Medieval princess and live in a castle is nuts.
The problems I had with this book were few, but they did influence my ultimate evaluation. Igrainia’s never-ending escape-think wore on me. Also, she is either plotting her escape, or she is yelling. Men twice her size and weight can’t seem to keep a hold on her to prevent her from jumping in where she doesn’t belong. Eric falls in love with her, but I can’t say I really understood why. She is a shrew with him, except for when they are having very satisfying sex. And they do (have very satisfying sex). It is their nighttime relationship that begins to bind them, even while they each still miss their lost loved ones.
Eric is a good hero. He is intelligent and reasonable, but he is truly a man of his era. Killing and death are things he grew to accept long ago, and isn’t afraid to face either. Eric and Igrainia make a strong pair and give a solid foundation to the rest of the story. (If Igrainia just didn’t yell so much.) Also, it is to this author’s credit that she made both Margot and Afton real and much loved by their widowed partners. It is because they were so well-loved that Eric and Igrainia are able to find new love with each other.
Historically, I couldn’t find a flaw in the research, although at 512 pages, much of what was said was said, and said again. The book could have been shorter by at least a third and still have accomplished what it set out to do. This is the fourth in Shannon Drake’s Graham series, although you won’t have to have read the previous three to enjoy (if that’s the right word) this book. None of the characters from the other books are even mentioned in Knight Triumphant.
Did I like this book? Honestly? It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did appreciate it and I did learn from it. With the exceptions I’ve named above, it was very well written. And no purple prose! The love scenes were very nice. If you are a fan of historically accurate Medieval romance (and if Igrainia doesn’t give you a migrainia), then this is the book for you.