Title: The Knight and the Rose
Author: Isolde Martyn
Setting: Medieval Romance (1320s England)
Readers who loved Isolde Martyn’s The Maiden and the Unicorn (Our DIK review is here.) have been waiting (patiently or not) for the stateside publication of her next book. Here it is, and it takes the reader for an exciting ride as it follows the story of a forced, falst marriage and how the two parties involved eventually make it a true union.
Lady Johanna Fitzhenry is looking to escape from her husband Fulk de Enderby, who beats her constantly and has not gotten the heir he demands. She manages a bit of freedom when she is summoned to her parents’ home at Conisthorpe, although Fulk has sent along his odious sister Edyth to keep an eye on Johanna. Once at Conisthorpe, Johanna’s mother, Lady Constance, decides to help her daughter and enlists Geraint, a rebel fleeing from the Battle of Boroughbridge who is passing himself off as a scholar named Gervase de Laval.
Neither Johanna nor Geraint initially embrace Constance’s plan, which is to have Geraint and Johanna pretend they were married before her marriage to Fulk. If the plan works, however, it will free Johanna from her brutal marriage. Geraint, whose fellow rebel Edmund is seriously wounded and in Constance’s hands, has no option but to accept.
Since getting the story of their marriage straight is crucial to the ruse, Johanna and Geraint spend much time in each other’s company, which serves to develop the relationship between the two. Johanna may have been beaten and abused by Fulk but she has not become a submissive, meek wallflower. She stands up for herself as much as she can, and at times she is very “mouthy,” but thankfully she is never feistily stupid. Johanna understands that she must go along with her mother’s plan, even though it means surrendering some of her options to a complete stranger. Geraint, in turn, finds that the charade, and his false identity as Johanna’s newly-returned husband allows him a small measure of safety, since he is surrounded by people who would love to turn in a rebel like him. He also finds that his feelings for Johanna go beyond protectiveness and grief at what she has endured, and he comes to realize that he would sacrifice much for her sake.
There is hardly a moment of peace for either Johanna or Geraint – if it’s not the court they need to convince of their marriage, it’s the ever-vicious Fulk who keeps striking at those Johanna loves in order to win her submission, and if that weren’t enough, there are secrets they are both keeping, one of which is the reason why Johanna is starving herself. The hurdles they face are a reflection of the complicated times in which the characters live and not merely plot devices in order to keep the story going. Thankfully, there are also people loyal to the pair aside from Johanna’s mother.
The notes state that Johanna and Geraint’s story is based on a real divorce case, but Ms. Martyn’s skill is not in merely taking a piece of history and working around it to create a book – instead, she is able to transport the reader to another time, to England’s 14th century power struggles, and to weave a story where real life figures like Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer are more than mere cameos.
I am glad that this book was finally published in the United States, and as long as Ms. Martyn continues to write stories of this caliber, I hope her books will be available (in a timely manner!) to her U.S. fans. I know I’ll be looking forward to her next book.