TBR Day -- Dark Champion / Jo Beverley. 1993

This is officially the last day of Keishon's TBR challenge for 2008. I actually managed to complete an entry for each month (July's was by the skin of my teeth). Before I start my review I want to thank Keishon for a fun challenge. Not only did I make a literal dent in my TBR pile, but I found some other very interesting blogs that are now in my reader's subscription log. I can thank those blogs for some additional excellent reading this year as I tracked down several other books that were mentioned. Now that I almost exclusively only buy ebooks, it is no lie to say my physical TBR is smaller than it used to be. Thanks, Keishon! Now, on to this month's review.

I actually started another book for this month's TBR pick. But I wasn't loving it. I wasn't hating it, but it didn't grab me. I wanted to read something that would grab me, so I put the first book aside and reached for this one. Excellent choice as it turned out. From the initial grusome scene I was hooked by this medieval tale set in 1101 when Henry I was solidifying his hold over England.

Here's the blurb from Jo Beverley's web site:
Imogen of Carrisford is a great heiress placed in peril by her father's sudden death. When her castle is overrun by a brutal neighbor, she flees to the only possible help, FitzRoger of Cleeve, even though he is known as a harsh man.

FitzRoger efficiently retakes her castle, but then Imogen seems to have no choice but to marry him, especially as the king supports the match. Thus begins a power struggle between them, complicated by greedy enemies, and leading them both into deadly danger.

Imogen is a young woman of 16 or 17 who has been greatly sheltered from the realities of life by a loving father who dies unexpectedly. As her father's only heir, she immediately becomes the target of ruthless men who would take her and her father's wealth to use for their own ambitions. The book opens when her castle is under attack. A quick-thinking servant hides the two of them and helps her escape to the one person who could help her regain her holdings. Imogen is young, naive, and immature. She's not used to seeing the kind of brutality she now has to face nor is she used to asking for help. I found many of Imogen's actions consistent with those of a young person who has to grow up in a hurry. While she is admirably determined to do what is best for her people, she makes some mistakes at first and has to learn to do better. In other words, she's very real to me in that she doesn't transform into a woman of grace and maturity overnight. She has to grow into the role she's been thrust into.

FitzRoger is known as the bastard son of Cleeve, so he's considered an upstart and an unknown quantity. But he's also in very good graces with the King, and he's really the best person for Imogen to turn to when she needs justice done. FitzRoger agrees to help her, but stipulates that they must marry so that he has legitimate rights to her holdings. Imogen is reluctant to turn herself and her treasure over to someone she barely knows. But seeing no other options, she agrees. FitzRoger does indeed retake her castle for her and gives her the means to help restore order.

Interestingly, this book is told almost entirely from Imogen's POV. There are a handful of sections from FitzRoger's POV, but they're few and far between. Normally that would probably bother me more, because I really do like multiple POVs. But Imogen needs to grow so much as a person, that I could appreciate her view of the world and how she has to change to fit into it. By staying in Imogen's head, we are given a good look at a noble woman's life in medieval times. Women had few options and were indeed more property than persons. While intellectually Imogen understands her role, emotionally she struggles with what she must give up for safety and security. Fortunately she finds a hero who wants to love her and is willing to give her some ground.

A large part of the book is the dance between the two of them as they settle into marriage and negotiate their relationship with one another. It's fascinating to watch them and here is where Ms. Beverley is such a masterful storyteller. Part of this dance includes what the King of England wants and the politics of the day. For an American like myself who does not know British history very well, Ms. Beverley manages to convey a sense of the day without overwhelming me with details, or, conversely, assuming that I know more than I do. Medieval life was brutal, rough and dirty. She doesn't romanticize it, but does allow for romance to blossom. As it does, events come to a head because the original villians still need to be brought to justice. As events move to a climax Imogen and FitzRoger have to make some difficult choices. But since this is a book with a HEA, they emerge triumphantly on the other side.

While originally published in 1993, it was reissued in 2006 as a special promotion for $4.99 (U.S.). It may still be available at that price. If so, I highly recommend it. How nice to end the year on a high note.


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