Through a Dark Mist
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.
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I love romance novels - all kinds.
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I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
|Review Date:||July 24, 2020|
|Book Type:||Medieval Romance|
|Review Tags:||1200s | Historical Romance | Medieval Trilogy | Robin Hood Trilogy | Robin Hood trope|
Have you read any Elizabeth Chadwick? Several of her books are reviewed here. Not quite as over-the-top as the Canham’s appear to be, but if you are looking for books that recreate believable characters within a realistic medieval world that pulls you right into the story, I think you will enjoy them.
I’d categorise Chadwick’s books as historical fiction with romatic elements – I love her work, but the focus is not normally on the romances in her books. Same with Sharon Penman, who is another favourite of mine. Both definitely worth reading though.
I haven’t read anything by either of these authors! But I do LIKE romance in my historical fiction. Would you say the romance is on par with the Sebastian St. Cyr novels? Anything less and I’m probably not interested. Or, at least, not interested right now.
Most of the books I’ve read by both authors are based on historical figures, so when there are romances, they naturally follow the known outcomes. There is romance, but the HEA is dependent on what actually happened IRL. My favourite book of Penman’s is still The Sunne in Splendour, which is about Richard III, so no HEA there!! Chadwick has written a series about WIlliam Marshall, FYI.
Penman’s most romantic book is Here Be Dragons and it is a favorite “romance” of mine. I love her other books too, its just that this one works for me as a romance.
Chadwick’s two books about William Marshal are also SO well done. The first The Greatest Knight ends pretty happily (from a romance reader’s point of view). The second volume is more straight historical fiction although his wife is presented as playing a significant role throughout their life together. (Worth reading, IMO, but not especially a “romance”.)
If you are a fan of the time period and know anything about the tempestuous relationship between Eleanor of Acquitaine and Henry II and all of their off-spring, the idea that there was any person who could find a way to survive all of them, with his knight’s “honor” in tact is pretty amazing.
Canham always swam against the flow of the river when she was putting books out – I remember she once put out a romance with an unhappy ending and people were up in arms.
If I might say, in my defense *g* the book you’re referring to with the unhappy ending is The Pride of Lions and at the time of publication it was supposed to be followed a month later by the sequel, The Blood of Roses. I had argued with the editor over the decion to split the story into two books instead of one, but a 900 page romance novel was vetoed by the publisher for cost reasons. So i agreed to rework it into two books with the guarantee that the sequel would come out a month later with a large advertising campaign. Unfortunately, the publishing company, Paperjacks, went bankrupt and the company…Knightsbridge…that bought out the book lists was run by crooks, so even though they published the Blood of Roses a year later, they too went bankrupt and most copies of the book were recalled. It took another eight years or so before I won the rights back and was able to talk Dell into reissuing both books on a promise that I would write a third Highland novel, which was Midnight Honor.
And BTW, I am still “putting out books” albeit at a slower pace. The Mark of the Rose was released in December, the fourth book related to the medieval series.
Thank you for the great review!
Thank you for stopping by! Big fan here. And it is always so interesting to hear about the differences between what an author intends and what gets published. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to have a publisher tell you that your novel would only be released as separate books – especially into the romance market! Personally, I like to see the rules broken once in a while and for books to slip in and out of genre lanes as readers discover them. But it seems pretty clear that a title has to work in its expected lane or “readers” can be pretty unforgiving. I’m just glad the books (and series) made it, and continue to find its readers; and you are continuing to write!
Oh, thank you for commenting!
I loved the book in question – I just remember the whole controversy that went on in romancelandia about it! I had no idea the book had been split into parts for publication! Thank you for clarifying.
And I’m so glad you’re not retired! I got some bad information RE that. You do good work and I’m gonna go grab The Mark of the Rose when I get paid next.
If you want to review it, we’ll buy it for you!
Oh, I’d love that!
Have emailed you!
Thank you so much for commenting here! I remember reading back a few decades ago when it was impossible for readers to get any sort of information on books, background and why things were done the way they were.
I remember Elizabeth Lowell had a series where she alluded to the next brother and book and it just never materialized. It wasn’t until she had a website years later that she could tell readers that it was publishing related.
It must have been very frustrating to have the control taken away from you when plotting your books. I hope with self publishing and more options now you are able to design your stories and sequels in the way you envisioned them!
Thank you so much for being here!
OMG I AM SO EXCITED TO SEE YOU HERE MS. CANHAM!! I’m currently between homes, and super bummed by everything going on in the world and our relocation to a new state. Your books are a welcome and wonderful escape. I’m happy to hear you are still publishing; The Pride of Lions is in my queue…and it’s calling my name. Thank you so much for these terrific stories!
I’m glad you enjoyed this Em, since I’m one of its recommenders (oh, the pressure ;-)!
Thanks Em, for reviewing some more medievals, I love them as well. I enjoy immersing myself in a time that is so different from now, and I don’t mind them being un-PC. I am over reading about dukes and the strict rules of etiquette in regencies. I have just finished reading all of Elizabeth Kingston’s medievals. They were great.
Kingston is the best. These are just as dark…but lighter, too. Does that make sense?
I reviewed the trilogy & I will probably review a few more medievals – I just picked up the newest Hunter. I’m definitely reviewing the dud mentioned early in this review. I think we gave it a DIK. My grade is significantly lower. Ha!
Oooooooo!–What book is the dud?
A Knight in Shining Armor, by Jude Deveraux. Come on! IT’S AWFUL. I was so excited to read it, and well. Nope.
Deveraux was quite popular back in the day (the first AAR review is dated 1997) but her characters and plots never did it for me. I came to romances well past her heyday and didn’t make it past the first 2 or 3 titles. I await your more contemporary look, Em!
Wow. I read the DIK review of it here, so now I’m really looking forward to your take on this book.
Well to be fair it’s Elizabethan not medieval and it’s really more of a comtemporary in a lot of ways. Half of it takes place in the 90’s and the second part is her being modern back in Elizabethan England. A lot of people didn’t like the ending. I haven’t read it in years and years but I liked it a lot back in the day. It was unusual for it’s time and I think it inspired a lot of subsequent romances.
I fell in love in with AKiSA and I fell in love with romance through it. I read it in french because I’m a french gal’ and was a teen and didn’t read in english at the time. And in the french version, Nicolas had an accent and a way of speaking very odd and very in contrast with modern Dougless. I was thrilled with the TT aspect of the book. I fell in love with Nicolas, dreamed of being in Dougless’place, of visiting Scotland, and literally falling upon a knight who would sweep me off my feet and off my time to live a really beautiful and passionate love story. *swoon*. I was disappointed with the ending at first and then I thought what a better way to end a book like that. I read it a few years back, in english this time, and it didn’t have the same appeal. Maybe because it didn’t have that same contrast in language (or I didn’t feel it as much in english) or just maybe because I was all grown up and have read many more and better romances since. But it will always have a special place for me, like every first love I guess.
And the dud is…?