Sunday, July 10, 2011

Defiant, by Kris Kennedy - Review

Best New (to me) Author This Year
It's true, I do adore a good medieval.  I just do, as I have previously documented.  For escapist fantasy, there's nothing quite like the romance of castles and kings, and chivalrous warriors with those long sexy swords.

And the romance shelves these days just don't have enough of them.  Particularly ones where no one turns into a wolf or sprouts fangs.  Not that I don't love my paranormals, but you know.  Sometimes you just need a good Knight.

Defiant is what AAR refers to as a "road romance" - most of the story takes place while the hero and heroine are traveling together. This is a great device for throwing them together in more intimacy than a usual relationship might encounter, and especially in an historical setting, where sleeping and eating and the actual travel are more primitive.

In Defiant, the hero and heroine are both chasing after a priest who has become something of a pawn in the political machinations of King John, who, as we in the 21st century all know, is one of Western history's Ultimate Bad Guys.  The hero's motives appear to be Bad, while the heroine seeks only to protect the priest.

As the story unfolds however, there are generous hints that Jamie Lost's badness is ambiguous, as are his motives.  This is my very favorite kind of hero, I think. (Also, has there been a better hero name, ever?  I think not.)

Narrative Voice
(Wow, that's a terrible subtitle.  But I can't think of what else to put there).  I haven't fallen in love with a narrative voice like this since my first Joanna Bourne experience.  Like Annique, Eva has a French sensibility, political acuity, and is surprisingly good in a fight, although she's not quite the ninja that Annique is.  Near the beginning:
[the priest says:]

"I would not hand you a flower from a garden. I will surely not give you what may be the most powerful bargaining chip in these negotiations. Who knows whom you might sell it to next?"

To his credit, the bishop's shiny face flushed a bright red. "So be it, Peter of London," he snapped. "Ever have you brought these things on yourself."

He reached for the door, but by then, Eva had completed her slow circling of the room and come up behind. She reached out, her blade up, and placed it against the front of his throat.

The bishop froze.

"Now hush," she murmured. "You have brought this on yourself."

Not exactly a Mary Sue!  Another reason I love medievals - they somehow lend themselves better to really intense drama than Regency or Victorian eras.  Life was more brutal, politics more precarious, and while medieval European women may in reality have been just as cloistered and limited as in later centuries, it's somehow more believable when their fictional counterparts throw off convention and really wade into the action.

Things That Blow My Mind
There is an absolutely amazing passage in the book that starts out: "The heart hangs over a pit.  Strung up like a sacrifice, it swings in the winds of the world..." and really, that little piece of prose, about four paragraphs long, almost stopped my own heart. I started to excerpt it here, but for the first time, I've decided not to pull out this choice bit because you, readers, deserve to come upon it in context and  have your own breath knocked out of you. It's not a plot spoiler, but I think it would be an experience spoiler.

That Paralysis Thing Again
I'm still struggling with the paralyzed perfectionism that I wrote about awhile back. Seriously, I started this review more than a month ago.  And I just got stuck, because I didn't want to fail to do it justice.  I don't know how to finish this review; how to put a nice conclusion on it and make the whole thing feel cohesive.  And then I didn't want to post about other books because I really thought I should finish this one first.  Auggh.

So even though this seems unfinished to me, I'm going to post it anyway.

Bottom Line
I loved this book, and I would recommend it to a) everyone; b) everyone, especially medieval fans; c) everyone, especially Joanne Bourne fans.


ChrisS said...

Thanks for your review. I can't wait to read this book.

Abby said...

Every editor hopes that readers will love the books they work on, but not all of us are lucky enough to receive such eloquent proof of it! I had the privilege of working with Kris on DEFIANT, and I'm so glad you share my opinion of her wonderful work. Thank you for such a thoughtful, gracious and enthusiastic review!

(Word verification: shnooed. What drunken medieval ladies used to confine their wayward tresses.)

Nicola O. said...

Abby, thank you for your hard work! an editor who is doing a fantastic job is mostly invisible to the reader, so I hope you're getting your propers from the people who know better.

This was a lovely book to read, and it's clearly well-edited. Good job.

Chris, you are so welcome! There are earlier books, but I didn't have that sense of "what happened" that you do sometimes when you jump into a later book. I think the earlier ones are only loosely related, if at all. (Conquerer has something to do with the same estates as Defiant, but Irish Warrior looks completely separate)


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