I had hopes. Oh, how I had hopes. But alas, my Lady Defiant was a little too (urk) defiant for me.
Oriel Robinson is twenty years of age and living with her detested relatives in the northern boondocks of Elizabethan England. As a great heiress, she receives many suitors in their corner of the island, but chases them all off, preferring her scholarly life with her great-uncle. Then one day, a certain Nicholas “Blade” Fitzstephen, of grey eyes and angel’s voice, comes calling with his father and Oriel is entranced – until she overhears her erstwhile suitor insulting her looks, upon which she defends herself with dignity, and resolves to put him out of her mind.
Blade Fitzstephen, queen’s spy, has lived in France for many years to escape his father’s legacy of violence. He and his mother were both abused by him and, as Blade grew older, he recognized the same inflammatory violence in himself and determined to keep this violence in check by (can you guess?) never marrying (a gajillion points if you got it). But he can’t get Oriel out of his head, and when he has to return to her home to gather information about a plot to replace Queen Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots, their mutual attraction takes hold of him with a vengeance.
The good news is that historically, this is a very interesting book. I don’t know much about Tudor England, but it seems as if Ms. Robinson did her research. The intrigue revolves around a possible marriage between Anne Boleyn and a Henry Percy that predates Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII, and I found the legal background very interesting. The integration of fact with fiction was effortless, and the writing smooth. I also have to applaud Ms. Robinson for her mostly-accurate French (a pet peeve of mine – if you’re going to put foreign languages in your novels, can you at least get them right?), Elizabethan French notwithstanding. And lastly, props to Ms. Robinson for being the first American romance author I’ve encountered who writes British historicals and uses British spellings. All in all, the attention to historical detail was very satisfying.
But, but, but. I’m so frickin’ tired of reading about heroines who stupidly rush into hostage/blackmail/ransom/violent/etc. situations because they think they can help. I’m so sick of heroines being “defiant” merely because they were given an order. Oriel started out naively charming during the first half: Protected and inexperienced but dignified enough to stand on her own two feet. But once the adventures started, her TSTL behaviour became boring.
Blade is a little better, but not by much. He’s twenty-six and lives in Tudor England, which partially excuses some immature and domineering behavior on his part, and is a charming and engaging fellow of his time. He also has his reasons for Not Wanting To Marry which are kinda-sorta-maybe understandable the first time he says he wants Oriel but doesn’t want to marry her. But not the second time. Or the third time. Or (for crying out loud) the fourth time when he literally runs away from Oriel. Together Oriel and Blade actually make a nice couple when Oriel is not being Defiant and Blade is not being faux-tortured – they have good chemistry as well as common interests, and strike sparks when their really unflattering sides are sublimated and they become normal human beings. But to this reviewer’s regret, by the end of the book they had departed the realm of human normality.
The DIK review of Lady Gallant (of which this book is the sequel) prompted me to search out Suzanne Robinson in the library, but I really should have paid more attention to the fact that the reviewer of Lady Gallant noted that the heroine was, indeed, gallant. Guess I won’t be reading Lady Hellfire.