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Diana Norman

REVIEW:  Blood Royal by Diana Norman

REVIEW: Blood Royal by Diana Norman

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Forced by Sir Robert Walpole into a distasteful marriage and then ruined by her husband’s speculation in the South Sea Bubble, Lady Cecily Fitzhenry vows revenge on the Prime Minister and all his myrmidons – including the creaking Hanoverian court and an obscure Scottish lawyer, Archibald Cameron.Nothing if not spirited, Lady Cecily turns her hand to highway robbery and spying while transforming her sole remaining asset, an old tavern on the Great North Road, into a great coaching inn…and eventually Lady Cecily salvages her country and herself in ways she had never imagined…

Dear Readers,

I’m slowly working my way through the remaining Diana Norman books I have unread. The key word here is slowly as I don’t want to run out of them too soon. When I checked at Kobo last year to see if any of her older books had been released in eformat, I was honestly not expecting any but the newer ones and her Ariana Franklin books to be available. Imagine my Snoopy-Happy-Dancing surprise when I saw “Blood Royal” and “The Vizard Mask” listed and then noticed the very reasonable price. I was as exuberant as a litter of Golden Retriever puppies chasing a tennis ball. Now which one to read. Since Jennie had already done a short write up of “Mask,” “Blood Royal” it was.

Our heroine, Lady Cecily, is a distant descendant of the characters in “The Morning Gift” though you certainly don’t have to read that one first as it’s a medieval and this is a Georgian. Or should I say Jacobean, depending on which way your politics of the day swayed? First thing I’ll say about Lady Cecily is she’ll drive you crazy at times.

Cecily is a mix of Makepeace Hedley and Diana, Lady Stacpoole. As with Makepeace, she is plunged to the lowest level of financial desperation when she loses almost everything to her elderly husband’s speculation with her money in the South Sea Bubble. As with Diana, she undergoes a sea change in attitude towards the underclass/working class with whom she suddenly has to live and work. Liberty is at stake as well as the fate of a nation.

Cecily is also a snob. She is of the class for whom idleness is an art and emotion a dirty word. Her nose can be higher in the air than a giraffe and heaven help anyone she thinks pities her forced marriage to a parvenu and her enforced kinship with an unfortunate sister in law. She’s also fixated on a young man she met years ago and blinded to the attributes of a man who has loved her and put up with her for years. She can be a mess.

Just to rehash so it’s completely understood, Cecily is not an immediately likable person at times. In fact, a lot of times. She has a blood line that goes back to the Norman Invasion – and the pride of it that goes with that – a fortune and a fair face. Her whole life, she’s had it all and she doesn’t take well to losing society’s regard with her forced marriage to a jumped up tradesman and ultimately the total loss of her place when they lose it all. But Cecily’s got guts, gumption and a practical nature she never dreamed she had. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Maybe her blood does account for something as she displays determination in spades.

Cecily’s saving grace is the fact that her education under the care of Mary Astell has allowed her to view the lower classes with less disdain than the usual aristocrat. It’s not that Cecily is all hail-bumpkin-well-met, remember she’s got an abundance of snobbery, but that she’s seen them as human beings in the past and learns to do so again.

But Cecily also learns from what happens to her. She’s been down and out and remembers that when faced with people in need. She initially justifies her turn on the pad by seeing her loathed enemy Sir Robert Walpole in everyone she robs only to realize that these are people from whom she might be taking their last hope, the final possessions they own. In the chained, escaped slave “Quick” she sees a man in a country that would deem him merely chattel. In the Packer brothers, she discovers the working class who will tirelessly try to help those they feel respect them as human beings. Oh, yes, Cecily learns and in doing so becomes a complete and better person.

Another thing I love about Norman’s books is how the working class are portrayed. They aren’t ‘tug your forelock, just happy to serve their betters’ people. They are real and are shown as people with depth, concerns and issues. Sometimes they’re good and at other times might not always have paid the tax on that imported brandy from France but I can’t help but enjoy reading about them.

The law and respect for it against the tyranny it can help curb, is woven through the story as with so many of Norman/Franklin’s books. Cecily sees it being used as a bludgeon on the people of England by Walpole and his cronies but it’s Archibald Cameron, a barrister from Scotland, who begins to teach her that it can also reign in the power of those who would crush others for their own gain. English Common Law – you gotta love it.

When a slaver threatens two people dear to Cecily, Archibald and the people of her inn, we get a glimpse of the plight of most of the black people of England who are not viewed as anything but chattel. I was literally holding my breath and reading each page as fast as I could until they were momentarily saved. In Archie’s rousing in court defense of one of them, we see their fight for justice that wouldn’t ultimately arrive until 1830.

It’s during his arguments to save Quick that I saw two things. One – a literary view of “Garrow’s Law” and Two – Lady Cecily finally falling in love with her now husband, Archie. I love that it’s his intelligence and skill as a barrister she finds sexy. His declaration of love is pretty good too.

He looked up. ‘You want me to say it? I’ll say it. If the hosts of hell were swarming ashore, I’d still have plucked ye from the arms of the Devil himself.’

Sigh.

How does Cecily save her nation? Well, in a way that would make her ancestors proud. She might not swing a sword but as she says, a 40 pound weight dropped from 100 feet does have an impact. Sorry, but you just have to read how she does it.

I hope this review will encourage people to try Norman/Franklin’s books and that will encourage her estate to release her other hard to find out-of-print books. It might start a little slowly and brushing up on the 1716 Jacobean uprising and the South Sea Bubble won’t hurt but it builds to a crescendo and is well worth the effort. B+

~Jayne

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REVIEW: A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

REVIEW: A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

A Murderous Procession by Ariana FranklinDear Ms. Franklin,

I knew there’s a reason why I love doing this blog. It’s so I can get my hands on the copy of your latest book, “A Murderous Procession” before it hits market shelves. Even though it’s book 4 of the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, Adelia and Co are in fine form, this time for a road mystery. Too bad there’s an insane murderer there with them.

Princess Joanna of England is being married off to the King of Sicily and her father, Henry II, insists that his borrowed Mistress of the Art of Death, Adelia Aguilar, go along for the ride. No really, he insists. And when Henry wants something done, he gets it. To ensure that she comes back, he’s going to keep Adelia’s young daughter, Allie, in England. As well as sending Adelia’s lover and father of her child, Rowley Bishop of Saint Albans, along with the cavalcade. To top things off, Henry is sending a doozy of a wedding prezzie for his future s-i-l. Excalibur itself. You won’t find that on just anyone’s Bridal Registry.

So off they go, across the Channel in ships captained by the Irishman O’Donnell, then across Plantagenet held land in France – which always seems to be in some form of rebellion against Henry and usually lead by his sons, and all the way Adelia and her people are plagued by mishaps that just keep getting worse. Ulf and Mansur, and finally Rowley once somebody tells him, are convinced that there’s nothing random about these incidents but it takes Adelia longer to buy into the program. Will they discover who’s been setting them up for murder? Or will Scarry finally get his revenge for the death of his vile lover?

I love the way the book opens with a friendly little competition between two pastoral English villages. Let’s hope that their modern counterparts now forgo the kicking, kneeing and gouging displayed by the villagers. And that was just the women. Adelia and Mansur have now been in England for 7 years and by this time, they’re growing roots and developing deep ties. It’s nice to see them fairly settled. I also liked seeing Allie still interested in animals though her father is thinking of her future and determined to see her learn the feminine arts. At least that’s the excuse Rowley pulls out when Adelia learns of her latest assignment.

These two are still at each other, hammer and tongs, though obviously still in love. It seems believable that given their strong personalities and the fact that Rowley is still a Bishop, their interactions sometimes end up stormy. And Rowley is still a King’s man, first and foremost which also is still irritating to Adelia. But I like the way that she and Mansur, as they travel through other lands and kingdoms, come to see how rare is the peace that they’ve come to take for granted during their stay in England. Henry might be a f*cking force of nature whom you don’t want to cross but he does keep his tax paying subjects alive.

As well, the growing power of the Church, which Henry is trying to muzzle in England, rears its ugly head during the journey. Kudos for including the actual conflicts of the time and place to make me happy that organized religion is no longer compulsory nor limited to only one form of worship. The scenes in Aveyron chilled me to the bone. The escape scenes from Aveyron had my pulse pounding. The inclusion of the ramifications of the operation Adelia performed is also a neat nod to what brides and grooms faced on the wedding night.

I was glad to see Adelia using her forensic skills again even if one time it was to solve the death of a goat. I was sad to see how the men in her life could override her desires, though it was to keep her safe, and stifle her doctor’s voice. The frustration women must have felt, to have their voices and opinions mean little more to most men then the buzzing of moths, jumps off the page.

There are a few things which I didn’t like about the book. I got tired of Scarry’s POV parts. It’s established early on, and readers who’ve read “Grave Goods” ought to remember, that he’s evil so why the need to hammer it home? And even though I pretty much guessed her reasoning, Adelia’s refusal to believe that someone might be after her, despite all evidence to the contrary, got tiring. But then once she believed, why did she pull that TSTL little excursion in Palermo? Yes, it leads to an exciting chase through the backstreets of the city, but Good Lord! what was she thinking?

However, the ending is a fabulous cliffhanger and as I closed the book, I howled at the year long wait we face to have the questions answered and see what happens next. My feeling is that Allie will play a larger role as Adelia and Rowley grapple with her future. Is it better to educate her mind in a world that won’t accept this in women? Especially as Adelia is learning firsthand that the world that did accept her is fading fast. If only Adelia’s IQ hadn’t dropped at the end, this would be in the A range but as it is, it’s a B+.

~Jayne

| Book Page | Kindle | Amazon (Hardcover at $9.99) | Nook ($12.99) | BN | Borders | WalMart (9.98)
Sony | Mobipocket for $25.95

Why this book is being sold at Mobipocket for $25.95, I have no idea. This is a hardcover published by one of the Agency Five. It appears that the publisher price is $12.99 at most places like Sony and Nook but you can also order it for $9.99 at Amazon in print form.