Get it at Amazonfrom our B+ review: Ranulf Ombrier, Lord of Morency, is known throughout the land as King Edward’s man, his enforcer, a man as ruthless as his master and one for whom no deed is too foul. At the beginning of the book, Ranulf awakens in a strange bed in a strange room and looks up to see what he thinks is an angel tending him. He has been severely wounded in a skirmish with a group of knights from Ruardean, a formidable stronghold on the Welsh Marches, and gradually comes to realise that he has been close to death. A death he would actively welcome as a way of finally escaping the memories that haunt him. His ‘angel’ is Gwellian of Ruardean, a young woman who has been groomed since birth to be ready to lead the people of Wales in an uprising against the King. But having to constantly be what her domineering mother wants, to prove herself to be stronger and faster than the men around her, to inspire and lead is exhausting, and all Gwenllian really wants is to be left alone with her herbs and plants to further her knowledge of the healing arts. But her men respect her and look up to her, and no matter how much she wishes things to be different, they are what they are, and she accepts the weight of command to which she has been bred. Because of her unusual upbringing and military training, Gwenllian believes herself lacking as a woman – tall and leanly muscled, she knows she is unprepossessing and has none of the feminine accomplishments that ladies of her status are expected to have acquired. While Ranulf is healing, he is rude and dismissive towards Gwenllian, seeing nothing in her of his ‘angel’ and wondering how he could ever have taken such an unattractive woman for such a thing. His taunts and barbs eventually lead to an armed confrontation between them – and when Gwenllian bests him, Ranulf becomes even more resentful. Yet even at this early stage in the story, and after such an inauspicious beginning, there is the sense that there is something growing between them, that these are two kindred spirits who are drawn to each other in spite of their wariness and distrust. The King’s Man is very much a character driven story, in spite of the turbulent times in which it is set. The pacing allows time for the (at first) reluctant attraction between Ranulf and Gwenllian to build to an almost incendiary degree, and for the author to gradually reveal more and more about what makes them tick. Both characters have serious hang-ups; Ranulf was brought up by a cruel, ruthless man who never subjected Ranulf to the abuses he heaped upon everyone else, leaving him ashamed of the fact that he had loved his foster-father even as he had been ultimately driven to murder him. And Gwenllian has always been a pawn in the strategy of others, never allowed to live for herself or be herself – even her name is not truly her own, having been given to her because of the expectations that she would take on the mantle of her legendary namesake, the Welsh princess who led an army against the Normans more than a century earlier. The romance between Ranulf and Gwenllian is intense, passionate and refreshingly free of so many of the tropes and stereotypes that abound in historical romance. I admit I was a little sceptical of the idea of Gwenllian as ‘warrior woman’, especially as women of the time were so powerless; but Ms Kingston has written her in such a way as to make it plausible and easy to accept.
Grade: B+Check Review