Welsh Blades, Book 3
Heat Factor: Not super hot. Not particularly cool either.
Character Chemistry: I’m given indicators that they complete each other, so I guess it must be so.
Plot: A journey home
Overall: Wasn’t convinced, but 180° + good writing = good read
I feel I should confess that the worst grade I ever got was on an English paper discussing motifs. It was Shakespeare, too, because of course it was. I still have absolutely no idea what I could have done differently to get a better grade, and that paper was a hard fail. Like, it was double digits, but not by a lot. It’s been almost 20 years and it still smarts. So this one’s for those of you who, like me, enjoy reading and do not enjoy technical analysis of books:
This book is fantastically well written. Kingston uses metaphors (and motifs, I’m sure…if I knew what those were from a literary standpoint) to great effect as she weaves a story rich with history.
From the beginning, I could tell the writing was great and the story pretty well researched. (I am not a medieval history buff, but I am pretty well acquainted with Norman Britain thanks to my podcast preferences.) (The History of England Podcast by David Crowther, if you’re interested. It’s delightful.) But I was not digging it. I was maybe 40% through my ARC when I stumbled upon an article on new romance coming out this spring. The author of this article identified Desire Lines as one of only three recommended books and described this romance as magical (italics hers), and I was like, really? What am I missing? The first half of the book is basically a silent journey with flashbacks to Gryff’s youth for context. I was trying to think of how I would describe the character chemistry at this point and was toying with something like: “the main characters were pretty much moving silently parallel to each other page after page.” Things are developing, but not quickly and not in an obvious direction…
Let me provide some background. As I intimated above, the setting is medieval England and Wales. Nan and Gryff are our protagonists. We know that Gryff is the son of a Welsh noble, and if you know anything about medieval Britain, you know that, for Wales, the struggle is real. Therefore, at age 12, Gryff is given as hostage to King Edward I (really to another Norman lord) as a result of his father’s rebellion. He’s still a Welsh lordling living in the home of a Norman lord, but the Normans are not particularly kind to him, and he is never sure how he will be used by Edward. This fear leads him to run away from his “home” when Wales begins another open rebellion. He hides at a monastery until events unfold that result in him being tied to a tree, starving, cowering, watching as the men who kidnapped him are methodically dispatched by a tiny, beautiful, deadly woman. This is how we meet Nan, about whom we know almost nothing for multiple chapters. She doesn’t care to speak. But she takes care of Gryff and they journey along together. In fact, she is a commoner who serves the Lord and Lady of Welsh Blades book 1. She’s got goals. She’ll also wreck any man who tries to touch her. We wonder how exactly this romance is going to work.
What’s important is that Gryff’s Welsh homeland is famous for its falcons, and he is a trained falconer (if you don’t speak medieval, this is a big deal). Nan is extremely pragmatic and apt to wield her knives swiftly and well. They both have a lot of issues from their youths. This book is Angsty-with-a-capital-A.
I think the moment I knew this book was going to be literary work for me was only a handful of pages in when Gryff is first learning falconry and catches his falcon to train:
“How long until she is tame?”
“You will both be trained, but [it] is only you who will be tamed, little fool….You could raise her from the egg and still she would not think you her master. Never will she truly need you. She will stay with you so long as it suits her. But she will never be tame.”
Flash forward to fierce Nan destroying a bunch of grown men bandits by herself, and if you didn’t get it from the quote above, you really need to get it now: Nan is a falcon. Gryff is a falconer. Hmm.
So there I was, aware that the writing was really something special, yet not enthusiastic about what I was actually reading. I didn’t know what to think about this bizarre mental juxtaposition. Maybe it is just that when writing a medieval setting, authors (including Kingston here) tend to favor a formal, somewhat detached writing style with slightly odd phrasing in dialog so we readers feel more removed from our own modern world. It makes sense because these people would have been speaking Middle English or Welsh, both of which would be pretty unintelligible to the average reader. But it does cause a certain detachment emotionally as well.
So what happened? About 50% of the way through the book, things really get going! Gryff finds an old friend, and at the same time Nan thinks she’s reached the end of her journey only to discover that what she thought was the end wasn’t what she thought at all. And when she realizes her journey is going to take her somewhere she hadn’t planned for, things get to the slightly detached medieval equivalent of sizzling. The book switched from a sort of “where is this going?” to a “how fast can we get there?” I’m not one for the angst, but this book was, if not magical-with-italics, then certainly marvelous-without-italics.
There are legitimate problems keeping these two apart from the beginning, so Nan’s pragmatism is perfectly suited to both the conflict and the period. Gryff transitions from a cowering wreck to a likeable, patient, imperfect hero. Gryff is great, but Nan is just awesome. Also imperfect. But her life is her own, she’s got friends in the right places and mad skills to keep it that way, and a romantic journey just makes her life better rather than fixing her problems or changing her. It’s marvelous.
I said at 40% I still wasn’t sure this book was going to pull through. At 50% things really got going. At 60%, Nan is trying to communicate her past and its resulting emotions to Gryff:
“There is enough hate in my heart to burn down the world entire.” Her voice shook, her throat ached from the effort required to to scream it. She looked at his profile and gathered the rough fabric of her dress tight into her fists until her fingers grew numb. “But you are in the world,” she said. “You are in my heart.”
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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