The first book I read by Jo Beverley was The Shattered Rose. I loved it, and was hoping Lord of Midnight would be as good. I was not disappointed, and you won't be either; this is a first-class read. Ms. Beverley really knows how to tell a story, how to keep a reader interested, and she doesn't flinch when it comes to asking, and answering, the hard questions.
Renald de Lisle is not just an ordinary warrior, he's the king's champion. This means he is skilled enough and brave enough to fight one-on-one in an ordeal by battle in the name of the king. The outcome of such a contest is considered, in effect, the direct word of God. It is just such a test that Renald volunteers for when an ordeal by battle is scheduled to determine whether or not Lord Clarence of Summerbourne has commited treason. In the course of the battle, the older Clarence is slaughtered by Renald, an outcome for which Renald feels no guilt. For his part in the king's service, Renald is given Summerbourne castle and is ordered to marry one of the three available ladies in residence there.
Claire adores her gentle, scholarly father. When Renald shows up bearing Clarence's body, Claire does not know it was Renald who killed him, and that's just the way Renald wants it. Renald tells Claire that he must marry her or one of Clarence's sisters (twin beauties only two years older than Claire), and it is up to them to decide which one it will be. While Renald pretends not to care who will be his bride, one look at Claire, and he moves heaven and earth to fix the outcome. Desperately trying to avoid being the bride, however, Claire writes a note to her Aunt Felice to convince her she should marry Renald. The events surrounding this note, and the note itself, are absolutely fabulous. Very funny, very wry, very sweet - all part of the great charm of this book.
There is a lot that goes on in this story, but rather than re-tell the tale, I'd prefer to spend the time explaining why I liked Lord of Midnight so much.
Renald de Lisle is wonderful; one of the best hero's I've read. He's a warrior, but he's also a gentle man and falls for Claire like a ton of bricks. He's very wise, loyal, and deep-feeling. He knows that when Claire discovers it was he who killed her beloved father, he might lose her. But it's a chance he's willing to take, for the reason he chose to be the one to execute Clarence rings true. The examination of his feelings are tender moments in this story and describe a very real man with a heavy conscience who tried to do what he felt was best, even though it may lose him the thing dearest to his heart: Claire.
Claire Summerbourne is an equally wonderful heroine. She has many endearing qualities and is the perfect match for Renald. When she discovers it was Renald who killed her father, she hates him and cannot understand the injustice of it all. But Renald gives her time to think things through, and, being an intelligent woman who wants to love this man, indeed, she already does, she listens to him and reasons for herself why Renald did what he thought best for all concerned. I realized early on why Renald had done what he did, and waited for the moment when Claire would understand, too. When she finally comes to terms with it all, it was very gratifying.
Jo Beverley poses hard questions about love, God, relationships, trust, human nature, and doesn't veer away from the answers. Life stinks sometimes, and it's how we cope with what we are handed that is the measure of who we are, our humanity, our ability to understand, and forgive if we can.
Funny, touching, emotional, questioning, examining, passionate - it's all here, and it all pushes the limits, wonderfully. The bedroom banter is some of the best I've ever read. Ms. Beverley pushes the limits here, too, and I applaud her for it. Speaking of hot sex, the next time you go to a banquet, be sure to sit at the table with the long tablecloths (smirk). Take a lesson from Lord of Midnight, and you'll have a most satisfying evening (whew!).
A great read - don't miss it.
-- Marianne Stillings
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Don't miss the author's DIK reviews of Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett and Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer