Rivals for the Crown
While the title Rivals for the Crown adequately captures the major historical backdrop for this book, it somehow does not do complete justice to the rich tapestry formed by the lives of Isabel de Burke, Rachel de Anjou, Henry de Boyer, Rory MacGannon, and Kieran MacDonald. From the opening scene in which the reader is dropped into the middle of Edward I’s expulsion of Jews from England to the closing chapters set against the rise of William Wallace, these characters face major events that change their lives and provide an exhilarating and movingly romantic historical saga.
Forced to leave England, Rachel de Anjou is torn from her friend Isabel de Burke as her family is forced to travel north to Scotland in search of a less hostile place to live. The family opens an inn in the busy port of Berwick, and soon Rachel meets Kieran MacDonald. Though shy, the Scotsman is struck by Rachel’s beauty and, despite the differences in their religion, she makes an indelible impression upon him.
Though Rachel’s family seeks peace, Scotland itself faces great upheaval. The heiress to the throne, the Maid of Norway, has died en route to the country and now multiple claimants to the throne seek to press their cases. Edward I, the English king, has also grown strong and has his own aims for control of Scotland. Kieran MacDonald and his cousin Rory find themselves caught up in the political upheaval, with their travels taking them to London where they encounter Rachel’s lost friend Isabel, now a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Though Isabel has already caught the eye of a young knight at Court, Rory finds himself drawn to her as well. As political events grow ever more dangerous, Rachel and Isabel will also find themselves forced to make decisions about their alliances and about whom they will love.
Though it definitely has some meltingly romantic moments, this book reads more like historical fiction rather than what has become standard for historical romance today. Instead of following the modern model of showing the couple constantly together and concerned with little other than each other, this story spans two countries, many years, and all manner of historical occurences. The main characters care deeply for each other, but they also have family relationships, religious ties, and other concerns in their lives. In many ways, this makes the reading experience much richer. The characters have fuller lives that not only result in their stolen moments together being all the sweeter, but also make them feel more real, with the vivid world they inhabit taking on a life of its own for the reader.
For all its strengths, the book suffers a few flaws as well. First of all, some of the characters’ attitudes seemed a trifle too modern. Religion is mentioned often (as one would expect in a Medieval with any pretension to accuracy), but the differences between Christians and Jews are minimized and glossed over to a degree that is more 21st century than 13th. In addition, the differences in cultures between the main characters are almost a nonissue – something I could see happening in modern times but not in the 13th century.
Still, even with the anachronistic features of the story, Rivals for the Crownis an engaging read. Those who enjoy vast historical sagas will likely welcome this book. The characters are quite likable, and Givens’ Medieval world comes to life so colorfully that it will linger in the mind long after the last page is turned.