This book is a five star for me. The plot and setting are so richly detailed and the characters are so incredibly vivid.
Martine of Rouen (heroine), the illegitimate daughter of a Baron, would have never agreed to marry were it not to help her half-brother and sole protector, Rainulf, whom she adores. Rainulf rescued her from isolation and starvation as small child after Martine’s mother, their father’s mistress, committed suicide. Because of this, she feels she owes him. Martine vows that although she will marry, she will never ever fall in love. She will not experience the torment that her mother did over her father, only to be scorned and turned away.
Rainfulf, a brilliant scholar, priest, and former soldier, is determined to go on a pilgrimage to cleanse his soul – he feels guilty for his role in the Crusades (during which he was held prisoner for many months) and begins to question the authority of the Church. If he is to go on his pilgrimage, however, he must find a suitable marriage for his sister. Rainulf’s best friend, a soldier with whom he was held captive during the Crusade, has the solution.
Sir Thorne Falconer (hero) – an expert in birds of prey – has sworn fealty to the Baron Godfrey. The son of a poor woodsman, Thorne is determined to advance his station in life and gain some land of his own. However, despite being one of the greatest and most respected knights of the realm, he is still just the Baron's falconer.
Then his best friend writes to him that his sister is in need of a husband with land.
Thorne arranges for Martine – a distant cousin of the Queen – to marry Sir Edmond, the son of his overlord. He hopes that the beneficial match will finally earn him the lands he craves.
But what neither Thorne nor Martine expects is to find one another completely and utterly irresistible. And it is not just a physical attraction; they mesh perfectly in nearly every way: both enjoy books, chess, and intellectual pursuits, and both have tortured pasts that cause each a great deal of pain.
With Martine’s betrothal to Sir Edmond official, both she and Thorne know that it is impossible to pursue one another, yet they cannot seem to help it, and manage to find ways to come into contact despite the danger of their feelings.
A series of obstacles come into these characters’ paths: Martine is brutalized to near death by her cruel husband, Thorne is injured in battle, and the evil Bernard (the elder son of Lord Godfrey) is a first-class sadomasochist who really has it out for the hero and heroine. Finally due to her extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs, and her tendency to flout religious convention, Martine is accused of sorcery by the evil Bernard and his lapdog laymen, and nearly burnt at the stake.
These, combined with the internal struggles of the hero and heroine make for a very… VERY difficult path toward their HEA.
Thorne maintains he does not believe in love, although he is unable to explain the powerful emotions and sense of protectiveness Martine stirs in him.
Martine, tortured by her mother’s life and death, believes that all men want from women is to use them and toss them aside. As such, she is angry at herself for falling into Thorne’s ‘trap’ and desperately tries to resist her growing feelings for him. She tries to tell herself that all Thorne cares about is his friendship with her brother and getting land.
Of course, this is not true, but because Thorne cannot admit his own feelings, he gives her no reason to doubt that presumption. Nonetheless, the heroine is exceedingly stubborn, so much so that despite all evidence to the contrary, she carries on her denial of her own feelings and her refusal to believe in Thorne a bit too long.
This book was excellent. I felt like I was truly on a journey with these characters. Patricia Ryan is a master of characterization. But even more, she has a true talent for putting the reader right in the setting. Her excellent descriptions of scenery, objects and clothing involve all of the senses, and give the reader a true sense of being there
that is sometimes lacking in other historical novels. The characters in this book, both primary and secondary, were so vivid and real. I felt their pain, understood them, and loved them.
Thorne is a wonderful hero: one of the best I’ve ever read, and totally swoon-worthy.
Martine – I adored her, but it bothered me that she continually doubted Thorne’s sincerity even after the countless times he proved himself to her. Of course, I do understand that the character has been badly damaged, but I thought it went on a bit too long. This was probably my ONLY annoyance with this amazing book.
Plus, the love scenes (four total) were scorching hot. One of which includes oral sex in the infirmary of a monastery. Talk about daring!
This book is certainly not an inspirational book, but it does carry a lot of religious themes. The main characters are all religious. But this seemed a natural element of the medieval era in which this book takes place, when the Church was embedded into the fabric of everyday life. And in fact, the book shows the very dark side of the Church and how corruption and politics interacted with the Church leadership.
I am looking forward to reading the follow-up to this book, featuring the heroine's brother, Rainulf. As a priest and sworn celibate, Rainulf's romance should be very interesting to read!