Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale ****

This was a hard book to read and digest, with much of the dialogue written in a sort of pseudo-Middle-English-speak to give it the flavor of medieval thought and speech. In addition, the author used different forms of English to convey speech in Italian and French. I felt like my brain was being taxed the entire time.

Also, it was so hard to feel anything positive for the heroine. Melanthe was English by birth, but married into an Italian family at age 12, to a man many years older, and then a widow. There were 3 Italian families represented - I think - as being enemies each of the other, and many of the characters were aligned with one of the 3, Riata, Monteverde (Melanthe's husband) and Navona.

Allegreto Navona is a youth of 16 traveling with Melanthe to England so that she could claim her father's lands and then return to Gian, his father, to be his wife. Allegreto is an assassin and is also portrayed as a eunuch so that he can stay close to Melanthe at all times, even in bed. (How she never knew the truth, I'm not sure...)

The hero is Ruck, an English knight - the Green Knight - who swore his loyalty to Melanthe when he and she were just 17. He was accompanying his wife Isabelle to become a nun, when Melanthe - already a princess - saved his life by telling the religious leaders he wasn't chaste, that he was staring at her and having lustful thoughts about her. Although he had loved Isabelle, he didn't understand her - she was portrayed as either having a gift or being insane, having visions and prophecies. By not being chaste enough for the religious leaders, he wasn't allowed to join his wife - which eventually saved his life.

It was all pretty confusing, to be honest. 13 years go by, and Ruck has managed to become an anonymous knight - something about not having proof of his birth/ownership of his father's property since everyone in his family died in the plague. He was concerned if he said where he was from and what his name was, it would come to the attention of the king that his family's lands were without owner and they would be taken. He meets Melanthe again, and again swears his loyalty to her - only this time he announces it so everyone knows (whereas before this, it was just in his own heart and mind).

Melanthe, in truth, is scared to death of everyone, and mostly for good reason. Her husband taught her not to trust anyone, and from him she learned to be aloof and disdainful in manner, as a way to save herself. She pits her servants one against the other as a way to keep them from harming her, and for them to be ever afraid of her and each other. When Ruck leads a small party of her servants and her into England, she pretends to be struck with the plague - and she and Ruck are abandoned by the entire party. At this point, when it's just the 2 of them, she is alternately in his debt and falling for him, and playing him for a fool. It was very hard to feel sympathy for her, even though you were meant to believe she was constantly in fear of her life even from Ruck.

They make their way not to her lands, but to his, where for a time they live as husband and wife, an idyllic life where she is loved by his people and seems to have relaxed and started to enjoy life. Unfortunately, Ruck is now never sure when she is telling the truth, and when she is acting (aka Lying). He keeps thinking that she will want to leave and go to her own lands and people - and therein lies his mistake. When he sends a youth to her property to see if it's safe, the youth is caught up in the web of intrigue to find her and bind her to Gian Navona again.

So not only was it hard to read because of the language issues, it was hard to be sympathetic for this lying, wheeling-and-dealing heroine who pretty much shot herself in the foot everytime she opened her dang mouth! Poor naive Ruck was truly led on a not-so-merry chase to save her from everyone including herself.

I think I would classify Ruck as a Besotted Hero - after all, he was able to remain celibate for 13 years in his pursuit of her! And even not knowing her, not understanding her, he never gave up on her, and followed her into the snake pit that was her home, where Gian and Allegreto and Cara and nameless others meant her harm - and from where she did everything she could to push Ruck away, meaning to save him again. He was more faithful, more patient than any hero I've read about so far. For that, and for the artistry of the prose (as hard as it was to digest) I give the story 4 stars. It's the first in a 2-book series (Serial Reader's Challenge) and it's an AAR Top 100 of 2007 which also puts it in the Spring 2009 Challenge under that category!

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