The King's Pleasure
This book was not just the king’s pleasure, but mine, too. However, while it is packed with historical detail and is too hot to handle, it is based on a silly Big Misunderstanding, which takes 350 pages to clear up. So, my pleasure was partially spoiled by intermittent grunts of frustration.
In the 14th Century, Castle Aville, in the duchy of Aquitane, defies the English, and the castle and its countess fall into the hands of Edward III, who readily avails himself of the spoils of war. The ensuing daughter, Danielle, is raised to be loyal to France, but is the ward of the English king. She is forced into a betrothal with Adrien MacLachlan, a Scotsman who is one of Edward’s most prominent knights. The intent is to keep her rich holdings from falling into enemy hands. When faced with suspected betrayal, Adrien forces Danielle to go through with their marriage. But Danielle’s vow to King Jean must be kept, even at the cost of her marriage.
Adrien has so many things going for him. He’s a chivalrous knight, a bold Scotsman, and is able to keep Danielle howling all night. On the flip side, he is quick to believe the worst of his wife and isn’t the best of communicators. I was able to overlook his repeated rapes of his wife, since it was the consequence of the fury and distrust that characterized their relationship. Please note that overlook does not imply accept. It simply means I could keep reading without gagging.
Danielle switches back and forth between imperious and childish. One moment she is a mature countess of the land, the next she is stuck in the I-must-keep-my-land-at-all-cost mode. Her ability to worsen any given situation with a few choice words was interesting at first, but felt somewhat childish as the book progressed. Personally, I have a problem with couples who fight all day and make passionate love all night, especially if there are suggestions of coercion and forced seduction. Danielle is a prime example of the orgiastic rape victim, which made her loose my sympathy a little at a time.
The King’s Pleasure is a thick historical tapestry, replete with real characters, such as Edward III. The story centers round Danielle’s divided loyalties, of how she will keep her vows to both France and England, yet remain true to her husband. The cause of all that misery and misunderstanding is probably supposed to be poignant. Considering how many innocents who became involved over the years as Danielle refused to surrender, much of that poignancy was lost on me.
I would have appreciated having a map to consult, when the action takes place in such distant locations as Scotland, London and Aquitane. A map enables you to catch such funny things such as that overnight ride from Calais to Aville, somewhere in Aquitane – a distance of betwen two- and three-hundred miles. Now that’s horsepower!
These quibbles aside, I enjoyed The King’s Pleasure. I glom onto history-intense reads, like a yuppie cuddles his cellular phone. Also, the variety of locations gave the story some depth, that I too often find missing in historicals – one of the few things I miss about the old epic bodice rippers.
While rape is an issue with some readers, I found it tolerable in this context. The basis of the plot was more of an issue with me, since the whole book sprung from one mishearing. If your belief system is fairly suspendable, and you can stomach in-context rape, this is a very good read.