Through a Dark Mist
Grade : B+

I'm currently having a love affair with medieval romances, and two recent blog posts (HERE and HERE) only fueled the fire.  Friends, I’m also squarely in the Shana Abe camp:

... if you insist upon immersing yourself in the nitty-gritty of everyday medieval life (and let me warn you, it isn’t pretty), go buy a history book. I, for one, would rather focus on the magic of the story, the slow and inevitable intertwining of the lives of the hero and heroine: their troubles, frustrations, attractions and their ultimate mutual joy in each other against a backdrop of great, sweeping ideals.

Me too.  I want swashbuckling heroes, damsels in distress, knights, sword fights, lust, betrayal, murder, adventure, and smoldering sensuality.  Yes, these medievals frequently find me wincing at the treatment of women (among other things), and are way beyond politically incorrect.  Reader, they’re wildly different from Regencies, my life, and the depressing reality on the news every day, and I can’t quit them.  They’re fun and totally addictive.

After EXTENSIVE research (wink), I recently spent a small fortune on medievals and made a false start with a major dud.  Since I’ve read a few of Marsha Canham’s pirate-themed historicals (which I enjoyed for many of the same reasons I love medievals), I had high hopes for her 1990s twist on Robin Hood.  However, let me quickly disabuse you of a similar thought.  This trilogy (which includes versions of the characters central to the mythology: Robin Hood, Little John, Maid Marian, the Friar, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Prince/King John), is a prequel of sorts to the Robin Hood legend, and the last novel (The Last Arrow) eventually leads to Sherwood Forest.  If you’re looking for the Disney version of Robin Hood stealing from the rich to feed the poor, it’s there - vaguely.

Through a Dark Mist opens with a prologue set in the future in which Lady Servanne de Briscourt is an exhausted, hungry, dirty and cold prisoner of the Baron de Gournay.  Desperate and convinced she’s going to die, she wishes she’d heeded her lover Lucien’s warnings about de Gournay.  Her despair is interrupted by the sound of laughter outside the cell, and convinced it’s yet another trick by de Gournay to strip her of her sanity, she retreats to the corner.  But when an intruder enters and removes his hood, she recognizes her savior - Lucien.  Their passionate reconciliation ends when Lucien’s friend Alaric hisses a reminder that they’re in the middle of an escape attempt.  The trio flee, but spot the guards heading to intercept them.  Alaric remains behind to watch their flank and Lucien rushes Servanne down the cliff to a boat waiting to whisk them away to safety.  When the scene ends, it appears all is lost; Servanne is pinned by an arrow to the boat, Lucien has been hit by a bolt from a crossbow, and Alaric is on his knees on the beach.

Then we go back in time to the beginning of the story. Orphaned as a young girl, Servanne was made a ward of King Richard.  When she was only fifteen years old, the King left to fight the Holy Wars, and married her off to the aging Sir Hubert de Briscourt for a substantial consideration.  When Hubert died, Servanne inherited his vast fiefdom of arable land holdings in Lincolnshire.  Now Servanne is betrothed to Lord Lucien Wardieu, Baron de Gournay, the Dragon of Bloodmoor Keep.  In Servanne’s imagination, Lord Lucien is -

young, handsome, virile … the kind of husband one dreamed about and envisioned behind tightly closed eyelids...

He’s also a stranger.

Servanne was under no illusions as to why he had petitioned the king for her hand— indeed, she thanked God with every breath that a portion of the vast fiefdom she had inherited upon Sir Hubert’s death, was coveted arable adjoining the baron’s own landholdings in Lincoln.

She’s making her way to Bloodmoor under heavy escort, via the Lincoln forest, when her happy daydreaming is interrupted by the whonk of an arrow and the agonized cry of a nearby guard.  After a brief skirmish, the caravan is trapped and the escort forced to lay down their weapons.  A dark-haired villain emerges from the woods introducing himself as the Black Wolf of Lincoln… and Lucien Wardieu, Baron de Gournay.

Mon Dieu!  Who is the real Lucien Wardieu?!  Ms. Canham is deliberately vague in the prologue, and Lady Servanne daydreams about a blond Lucien.  Fortunately, the author doesn’t belabor the subterfuge for long.  The Black Wolf delivers his ransom demand while his outlaws claim the weapons and anything of value, and then the group (with the female captives) retreats deeper into the forest.  Servanne refuses to believe the handsome villain could possibly be the true Sir Lucien and ignores his attempts to engage her (alternately cajoling and bullying her), but we know better!  He struggles not to take any liberties with his beautiful, fiery captive, and reader, the struggle is real.  He’s plotting to use her as a pawn and he doesn’t have time for love. Ahem.  When his feelings for Servanne begin to make him doubt their revenge plans, Alaric convinces Lucien to stay the course despite his misgivings.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the actual villains.  Etienne Wardieu is Lucien’s vicious and sadistic younger bastard brother.  He attacked and left Lucien for dead while on Crusade and then assumed his identity.  His mistress is the perverted and brutal Nicolaa de la Haye (married to the Sheriff of Lincoln, and a former lover of Lucien’s).  Villains through and through, they’re a match made in hell.  Turns out, Servanne is a pawn in their nefarious plans, too!  When Nicolaa (who knows her lover is an imposter) uses her ‘skills’ (the naughty kind) to try and discover what the Black Wolf is up to, things take a turn.

Oh, friends.  Look, this is popular fiction - not literary fiction - and escapism at its best.  Everyone in romancelandia knows the Black Wolf is the hero of this story, and that Servanne is destined to be his lady.  They can barely resist their attraction to each other, and they give into their lust shortly after declaring their mutual disdain.  Servanne struggles to resist the smoldering, handsome outlaw, and Lucien keeps forgetting she’s his captive and a pawn in his dastardly plot (plus, there’s another super secret rescue mission in play).  There’s lust and purple prose and improbable meetings under waterfalls and it’s all ridiculous and wonderful.   While they’re falling in love, we’re also introduced to Lucien’s band of outlaws, including former monk Alaric FitzAthelstan (our friar), the mischievous dwarf Sparrow, and secretly female Gillian "Gil" Golden (a deadly, vengeance-driven female archer subbing in for Will Scarlet), who play significant roles in the future stories, too.

If you're looking for a hero to sweep you off your feet (and maybe chain you up when you speak your mind), THIS is your book.  Need an escape from our depressing world?  Read Through a Dark Mist.  Sexy, slightly bonkers crazy, unapologetically un-PC, and fun, and I can’t wait to crack open book two.

Buy it at: Amazon

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Reviewed by Em Wittmann
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 24, 2020

Publication Date: 06/2011

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Em Wittmann

I love romance novels - all kinds. I love music - some kinds. I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
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