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REVIEW: Rivals for the Crown by Kathleen Givens

Dear Ms. Givens,

Book CoverYour book shows that a nice cover can sell books. I was wandering in Waldenbooks, looking to use a coupon I had and randomly picked up “Rivals for the Crown.” It wasn’t until after I got home and started reading it that I realized this is a sequel to “On a Highland Shore.” I think you did a great job of catching up new readers on what happened in that book (and there’s a lot of history of some of these characters to get caught up on).

You’ve chosen one of the most tumultuous eras in Scottish history as the backdrop — a time when the fate of the nation is at stake. And then added your fictitious twists to that. This book is packed with characters and packed with action as well. Thank God for list of characters, map and geneology chart which you provide — there’re a lot of characters, both those featured in last book and those featured in this one plus historical personages, to keep up with and I would have been lost at times without the guides.

1290: Turmoil erupts when the seven-year-old queen of Scotland perishes en route to claim the crown. Two bitter foes — John Balliol and Robert Bruce — emerge as possible successors, but England’s Edward I has his own designs on Scotland.

In London, Edward has expelled all Jews from his kingdom. Rachel de Anjou is heartbroken to leave behind her best friend, Isabel de Burke, and travel with her family to the Scottish border town of Berwick. Danger is everywhere, but the tall, dark Highlander Kieran MacDonald presents a risk of a different sort.

Isabel, appointed as lady-in-waiting to Edward’s queen, Eleanor, is soon immersed in a world of privilege and peril where she attracts the notice of two men — Henry de Boyer, an English knight, and Rory MacGannon, a Highland warrior and outlaw. Isabel and Rachel are soon reunited in Berwick, but as the enmity between Scotland and England reaches its violent peak, each woman must decide where her loyalty — and her destiny — lies.

You’ve done a good job done with the complicated history (even if it was too crammed at the end) but it’s still a lot to keep straight. I would advise readers to take their time with it. I also think you strike a nice balance in presenting the medieval atmosphere — a few sounds and smells and of course constant cold during the winter but not enough to gross out modern readers. Edward I is presented as man of power with a forceful personality to move mountains. I would have loved to have had more scenes with him and a few with his Queen Eleanor. You say that the English people never liked her much, which follows what I read up on her, yet don’t really tell us why that was. Everyone’s very understanding of the Jewish faith of Rachel and her family: Kieran and Rory, Isabel and her family, others at the inn, Sarah’s Edgar and his family — almost like it doesn’t matter. And I did have problems believing that. The ultimate fate of Rachel’s family and Jocelyn add realism. I can see why Jacob decided to stay in Berwick and having Mangus in love with someone no one can quite fathom and who ultimately decides to do what she did makes it more believable. This works since the book is more historical fiction rather than a strict romance novel.

Isabel
I have to wonder at her staying in Newcastle after Florine starts to blackmail her. True she does have a dilemma about where to go yet she realizes that exposure is just a matter of time. After her last run in with Langton, I would think even the thought of him getting his hands on her again would be enough impetus to leave. She’s also a little bit of a Mary Sue character — every man not already in his own romantic relationship falls for her — French knight Henry, the King’s evil advisor Langton and of course Rory.

And forgive me asking but did Kieran and Rachel get together? The ending was kind of muzzy and I must reread the ending to be sure. Rory and Isabel both love to play the martyr card – they will sacrifice themselves for the good of the other at the drop of a hat. But they did end up making the push to get their relationship back on track in the face of tremendous odds.

Langton
Kind of hard to believe he couldn’t have tracked Isabel down any earlier than he does. You present him as a man with almost absolute power, who can, as he tells her, make or break men with a snap of his fingers. I guess in an age before our modern one of instantaneous knowledge and ability to track someone down, Isabel might have eluded him for a while but I did stop to puzzle it out.

I loved Isabel’s grandmother and her advice tempering what Isabel’s mother tells her about men. They’re not all bad and some are actually wonderful and worth seeking out and having a relationship with. Henry is sort of the most layered character in the book. Everyone else is either good or evil — not too much gray to these people.

Once again the English are the bully boys of the story — I can almost hear Mel Gibson screaming “Freeeeeeedom.” Of course not all Scots are good but the evil ones (men Rory initially fight with when he saves young girl from rape, the Guardians of Scotland who roll over and play lap dog to Edward I) are generally faceless nonentities.

Readers looking for meaty historical fiction filled with lots of saga type stuff ought to check this one out. It’s a nice change from the wallpaper historicals we see more often these days but it does have some flaws. B-

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

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