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Jacobite rebellion

REVIEW:  Blood Royal by Diana Norman

REVIEW: Blood Royal by Diana Norman

Blood-Royal1

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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JOINT REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY:  The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

JOINT REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Dear Ms. Kearsley:

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the U.S. release of this book for months. It incorporates characters and settings from two of your previous books, The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. Since I reviewed and recommended the former and Jayne the latter, we thought it would be fun to do a joint review for The Firebird.

Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Firebird
by
Susanna Kearsley

The novel opens in contemporary London, where Nicola Marter works in an art and antiques gallery. Nicola has psychometry, a type of extra-sensory perception that gives her insights into people and events when she touches specific objects. She touches a scarf belonging to a customer and is drawn into the owner’s life and history, which in turn causes her to reconnect with an old friend and not-quite-lover, Rob, who is gifted with even stronger psychic abilities. Together they set off to find proof of the provenance of the customer’s Russian artifact, a carved firebird, which was given to her ancestor, Anna, by Empress Catherine of Russia. Their journey takes them to the Scottish Highlands, Belgium and eventually to Russia, and along the way they and we learn the story of Anna, who we first met in The Winter Sea, as well as that of her parents and the Jacobite community in early 18th-century Russia. As Rob (from the Shadowy Horses) and Nicola uncover Anna’s and the firebird’s secrets, they grow closer together, but their differing attitudes toward their psychic skills and how to manage them threaten to keep them apart once more.

Jayne: It took a while to get into. The modern stuff caught and held my attention much more easily. I thought the historical parts started out fascinating and I was riveted while Anna was still in Scotland, then Ypres and then her escape in Calais but once in Russia, things slowed down. I still found it interesting due to what I was learning – about Jacobites in Russia – and the wealth of period detail, but I did find myself wondering where it was all leading and why it mattered to the story. It did cause me to dig more into Russian history and I spent an enjoyable hour or two brushing up on the Who’s Who of 18th century Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain. Still it took until the end of the novel for it to all tie together and make sense why it was all included and all these people were in the story.

Sunita: I had the same reaction. I didn’t read anything about the book before I started, so I expected more of it to be set in Scotland and less in Russia. I enjoyed the Russian setting, but I agree with you that it was paced in a leisurely way. Every once in a while someone would be introduced and I wasn’t sure why, but then the plot would reveal their importance. I was impressed at the way Kearsley integrated the real and the fictional characters; until I read the author’s note I was never sure which characters were real or not (apart from the obvious ones).

Jayne: If you could have psychometry would you want it and how public would you go with it? Nicola is more hesitant to let outsiders know of her abilities partly due to what her Russian grandfather endured at the hands of the Soviets before he escaped to the West and partly due to not wanting to be thought a freak or put her job at risk. Which turns out to be the major conflict she and Rob have. He can’t imagine not being open and honest about what he can do as he views it as a major part of who he is. I have to say that I doubt I’d want anyone to know what I could do just because of the risk and fate of Nicola’s grandfather. If any Powers that Be cottoned on to Rob’s abilities I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t try and take advantage of them.

Sunita: I though that aspect wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly at the end. After a lifetime of hiding her gift, Nicola made the change pretty abruptly, and there were almost no consequences. I understand that the choice she faced about Rob forced the issue, but I would have liked to see more of the aftermath, especially with her grandfather.

The structure of the present and past storylines was very much like The Winter Sea, a book I adored. Since in this book Nicola and Rob knew each other beforehand, their friendship and attraction doesn’t have to be set up in the same way, and I liked that we were immersed from the beginning. It’s also a good example of how you can get a lot of information from a single POV. We only see Rob through Nicola’s perspective, but I didn’t feel that I was shortchanged in understanding his thoughts and feelings.

Jayne: Yep, totally agree with you on all of this. I was struck by Nicola’s assessment of Anna’s maturity at age 17 but also by the decision Anna makes at age 9 when faced with possible capture by English agents who might have used her to influence her family and sway them from the Jacobite cause. How many modern girls at 9 would be willing to deny anything and everyone they know in order to keep those people safe? Anna shows her fighter’s ancestry in being willing to head into exile and keep her secrets close all those years.

Sunita: I thought Anna at 9 was a terrific character. I don’t read a lot of books with children as the protagonists, so I don’t have many points of comparison, but she seemed smart without being overly precocious. She had great instincts, but she also made mistakes typical of a child of her age.

I appreciated as well that even though she had to move from one setting to another several times in order to ensure her safety, the adults took her into their homes and were loving and caring to her. This was not a child in jeopardy story, but a story about a child (and then a young woman) living in a dangerous time.

Jayne: I was delighted that not all the Scotsmen in the story at Highlanders. Let’s hear it for the Lowlanders! And that Rob takes Nicola to task about James VII’s correct numbering. He also provides her with some of the reasons why people were willing to fight to see James VIII be King – they fought for honor and the justice of seeing a King they felt was born to his position regain it.

Sunita: Yes, it’s the anti-Scottish Historical Romance! There’s a great exchange in the story, when Nicola and Rob are eating ice cream in St. Petersburg:

Rob turned his collar up against the wind and took a bite of ice cream. “You might want to get a warmer sort of ritual. With cocoa, like.”

“I thought you Scots were hardy.”

“Hardy, hell. I’m from the Borders. St. Petersburg would be at the same latitude as Thurso, on the northern tip of Scotland. It’s all Hielanmen up there, they like the cold.”

Jayne: LOL, I laughed at that line too. Rob and Nicola not only share a physical connection and attraction but a mental one as well. Imagine their kisses!

Sunita: Kearsley never has explicit sex scenes, but the emotional intensity comes through. When Nicola and Rob finally get together, it’s very satisfying. And I loved that she shows you how their emotions overwhelm their words and how their thoughts are intensifying and reflecting their physical desires.

Jayne: I love the way that the early Firebird fairy tales Nicola tells Rob end up foreshadowing what happens with the two of them. What they sought was not what they ended up with but everyone will be happy and will have gained something they hadn’t initially looked for.

Sunita: Oh, good catch! I think that readers who enjoy the intermingling of fairy tales and legends in their fiction will really like this part.

Jayne: I was left with two happy endings both of which I adored. But at times it was slow going to get through some of the parts in historical Russia. Grade: B

Sunita: I agree. Like the Guy Gavriel Kay book I reviewed recently, this book required attention and concentration. It’s not at all a difficult read, but there’s a lot going on and it’s immersive. But it really pays off for the reader. If you’ve read The Winter Sea and/or The Shadowy Horses, you’ll really enjoy returning to the characters and locations. But if you haven’t, you’ll still have no trouble following what’s going on here. Grade: A-

We have several region specific giveaways for this book given that Susanna Kearsley is published by three different publishers around the world. Please pay attention to the giveaway’s geo restrictions:

Kearsley Giveaway

The giveaways are provided by Sourcebooks, Allison & Busby, Simon & Schuster Canada, and Audible.

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