Friday, August 29, 2008

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught *****

ahhhhh - another personal favorite added to my list! What a wonderful story this was - with knights in shining armor, feisty but not too foolhardy heroines, a touch of suspense and a tear-worthy ending and epilogue! It's got laugh-out-loud funny moments, witty dialogue and lots of tender moments as well - everything I love in a good story.

A Kingdom of Dreams is the "prequel" to the beloved Whitney, My Love - a long-standing title on the Top 100 lists. I liked Whitney enough to rate it 4 stars, but liked its sequel Until You more and Kingdom even more than that.

Royce Westmoreland, first Duke of Claymore, is a wonderful hero - he's the much-feared Black Wolf whose reputation keeps children away from the woods where legend has him lurking and waiting to eat them. He's a fearsome warrior, fighting to keep King Henry and England safe from marauding armies, and he's on a mission to conquer Merrick Keep in Scotland.

Jennifer Merrick is the only daughter of Laird Merrick, who also has 3 stepsons and a stepdaughter Brenna. Jennifer, by rights, is a countess on her mother's side and should inherit the laird-ship, but her father decides to grant it to the eldest stepson instead. Jennifer is a bit of a hoyden, facing down the stepbrother in a jousting tournament (by lifting the face mask at the very last minute and sticking out her tongue at him, causing him to fall off the horse in surprise). At the ripe old age of 17, she's already refused two offers of marriage to older men and is almost a spinster for the time. To keep her safe and prevent her from any more mischief, her father sends her to live as a novice/nun in a nearby abbey, and later sends the stepsister as well.

The sisters are wandering home from the village when Jenny decides she would like to take the long way - think The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music here. Brenna is the goody-two-shoes of the pair, but stays with Jenny as they take a different, and less safe way. Royce's brother Stefan kidnaps them as hostages and takes them to Royce.

Brenna is ever the good girl, but Jenny looks for ways to make mischief and escape - the scenes where she "mends" Royce's clothing had me laughing out loud. She manages to come up with a good plan - she steals some of the clothing so she and Brenna can dress as boys, steals 2 horses and leaves the men looking in the wrong places. Her courage and daring impress Royce as much as make him mad - of course, it doesn't help his reputation much to have 2 girls outwit the Black Wolf!

When he gets them back, and takes them to one of his homes, Brenna becomes ill, and Royce strikes a bargain - he will let Brenna go if Jenny will sleep with him. Because she will do anything for her sister, for her family, for her people, she agrees. She even admits to him that she has a built a "kingdom of dreams" - a place where everyone will see her as heroic and good. It's the opposite of how her family and clan feel, because her no-good stepbrothers have spread lies about her, turning them against her. Royce is truly touched by this side of Jenny, and is already falling in love with her.

The story is told in a way that makes it suspenseful - we start on the day of their marriage, with Jenny trying to strike a bargain with God - anything to keep from having to marry this Barbarian! Then we learn their journey to this point as a flashbackk, 7 weeks earlier, when the girls are first kidnapped. When Jenny reveals her "kingdom of dreams", Royce reveals to her his own dream - good food, a life with no more fighting, a family. Their dreams aren't so far apart - except for Jenny's youth and inexperience, which make her take risks to keep her family and clan thinking well of her, even when they are not the least bit deserving.

The emotions she feels, the feeling of being betrayed, the desire to be loved and accepted - I felt each of these while I read the story. She makes choices which have consequences she didn't foresee, based on the falsehood that her father will love her and show her the respect she deserves. That was so sad and made the ending so much more a triumph, when her true kingdom is revealed.

Well, I don't know if I've conveyed how touching, and funny, and wonderful, and fastastic this story is, but I'm putting it in my Favorites lists and it's a 5-star-keeper for me.

1 comment:

Cindy W said...

To me, this should be #1 on the AAR top 100. This book was perfection, need I say more?