Reclaimed by Her Rebel Knight
I picked up Jenni Fletcher’s Reclaimed by Her Rebel Knight because of the setting (1215, amidst the uprisings by the barons to force King John into signing the Magna Carta). Ultimately, while there are some absolutely wonderful and refreshing rejections of tropes in this book, the setting itself – and more to the point, the completely anachronistic attitudes of the characters – kept it from being the read I was hoping for.
Sir Matthew Wintour and Lady Constance married when she was fourteen and he was nineteen, and he immediately left for King John’s campaigns in France. He returned five years later to collect Constance – but more than that, to work for a charter to limit the power of the despotic king. Constance, meanwhile, feels that Matthew has been rather despotic himself, having shipped her off to her uncle and aunt immediately after the wedding and now, years later, sweeping in to demand her immediate relocation.
The best part of this book is that several times, it sets itself up for forced plot-extending clichés and then refuses to indulge in them. For example, rather than pout, Constance tells her husband directly that she resented being sent away from her home at Lacelby after their marriage. Matthew apologizes, but explains that his villainous father would never have permitted a fourteen-year-old to run an estate he considered part of his territory, and says he might have been a danger to Constance herself as well.
His father lives at an estate called Wintercott, and I enjoyed the gothic-y environment there. The best subversion occurs around the death of Blanche, Matthew’s stepmother, who was the same age as Matthew. This revelation occurs early in the book, so it’s not a spoiler, but it probably would detract from reading the Wintercott scenes to know it. If you want that delightful revelation, skip the rest of this paragraph, but otherwise: I have never, ever read a novel where the hero’s horrible tragic loss was of a woman he just… liked. He wasn’t in love with her. He just thought Blanche was a kind, fun young woman who deserved better. I had NO IDEA romance novel men could care about women as friends! STOP ALL PRESSES EVERYWHERE WHILE THIS BULLETIN GOES OUT!
Unfortunately, the last quarter of the book collapses, and the ending requires nearly everybody to be TSTL. Matthew leaves no instructions for his guards regarding his father (he says, “I never thought you’d stoop so low!”, which is ludicrous given that the man regularly stoops low enough to use the doggy door). Constance believes the word of an established manipulator and liar. Said manipulator and liar provokes a physical fight with a man half his age. Everyone fights incredibly poorly. It’s eye-rolling.
For all that I enjoyed Constance and Matthew talking honestly about their problems, the problems and their attitudes towards them felt implausible for a medieval couple. I struggled to believe that a medieval wife would be outraged that her husband dictated her residence, for instance, or would consider herself wrongfully abandoned because her husband went to fight for the King in France. The only reference to religion is an offhand comment that John will write to the Pope about the barons, which is a significant omission in a book about the origin of power.
In addition to modern content, we have modern word choice:
“What about me? What about us?… You know, just for once you could at least pretend to care what I think!”
“Don’t Constance me! Ever since we got married, you’ve made all the decisions!… You’re as big a tyrant as the King or your father!”
LIKE OMIGOD YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.
There were a number of things I liked – even loved – about this book, especially the challenging of cliché. But because I weight the mindset heavily in historicals, it failed for me there, and I didn’t like the wildly modern voice. However, if you’re someone for whom those aren’t dealbreakers (you don’t really want to be immersed in the misogyny etc. of the time), then give this a go.