REVIEW: By the Sword by Alison Stuart
England 1650. In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.
Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.
Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?
Dear Ms. Stuart,
I tend to forget those years between the death of Charles I and the Restoration that didn’t take place until 1660. In between there was lots of time for loss, heartache, more war and destruction as well as … maybe love? Still, given that the political situation was nowhere near resolved and it would be years before that could really start, I should have braced myself for the exhausted emotions I would feel at the end of this book.
The blurb didn’t prepare me for the convoluted inheritance that set Kate and Jonathan on their path to meeting and romance. Jonathan’s grandfather set his bait and trap quite cunningly and against her wishes, Kate falls neatly into them due to her son’s love of this side of his family, Kate’s feeling of duty towards the tenants, her desire to help a fellow woman in need and her seemingly doomed love for Jonathan, the first man since her widowhood who stirs her heart again.
The ravages of war are evident everywhere. The Thornton estate, Seven Ways, was looted and pillaged, the available number of tenants needed to keep the place running is down, Jonathan’s sister and her royalist husband are separated and have lost his property to sequestration, Kate’s father-in-law and husband died in the War as well as Jonathan’s father and family-best-beloved brother. Truly the cost to the country and people has already been staggering so when it’s learned that war and battles will come again, little wonder that most people are weary and more than a little angry. Bound by his word to his King, Jonathan faces the double burden of risking his life and unlooked for possible chance at love in a conflict he already knows is doomed from lack of support.
Kate finds friendship with Jonathan’s sister Nell, a woman who has also known familial loss in this war. Nell’s lot also typifies that of many women of the age. Her husband is in exile and she is neither wife nor widow. Kate, on the other hand, has escaped that other horror for women, being left widowed with no money or place. But even with money and property, she is still left with the burden of managing it all for her underage son. In her though, both Jonathan and his slightly cantankerous grandfather see a woman of strength and purpose – and admire her for it. They are also counting on her holding neither for King nor Parliament and being willing to aid and assist in keeping the family home place in the family.
Jonathan is a hunted man. Not only as a Royalist who remains loyal to his King but for – well a secret from his past that will come home to haunt him. To keep his oath, he has had to forgo the hope of wife and family as he puts his life at the service of King Charles. Perhaps the real mood of the country peeps out when Jonathan needs it and some Yorkists come to his aid when he is in danger of being killed in cold blood.
Kate and Jonathan aren’t looking for love and don’t expect it when they meet. Kate has already lost one loved husband in the horror of battle and Jonathan – he’s convinced an awful thing he did makes him unworthy.They are wary acquaintances, then comrades then friends before taking the final step. Jonathan really is facing death and they might never meet again even should he survive. Kate is a widow not some naïve virgin. I must be getting soft in my older age because their “we might only have one night and we’re going to make the most of it” decision sat alright with me. Though if they think they’re hiding their feelings well from family, they’re soon quickly disabused. The story is certainly making me want to check into Donne’s quoted sonnets.
Kate soon justifies the faith placed in her and wins over the tenants with her deft management of the estate problems as well as how she smothers a potential villain with kindness and precision strikes against his aims to take over. Just when she thinks she’s got a grip on the situation, a raid rebounds on her and Seven Ways and that’s before Jonathan faces his nemesis across a length of steel. Jonathan might have changed from the devil-may-care young man he was at the start of the war but, as his brother-in-law snaps at him, he’s too ready to run away from his personal problems in the guise of a noble martyr.
And Jonathan certainly has enough problems. At one point he laments how many people he’s hurt along the way and I agree with him as, by this time, I was thinking he’s almost toxic. If not for the efforts of those who love him and what seems like a village worth of strangers giving him aid, he’d never have made it. When all is said and done, he’s got a life time’s worth of debts to repay.
Even with that assistance, by the end he’s more like a fugitive run to ground and out of options. I was running possible scenarios in my head as to how this book would finish with Jonathan and Kate together and not on the run but what happened didn’t cross my mind. Though I’m happy no more hiding or war is in his future, it feels more like a “cornered” rather than a triumphant ending. More “alright I’ve had enough” instead of uplifting happy. I hope that in the next book, we see that this lot can ease up and take a breather because this story is one emotional hit after another. There are some stories that, regardless of whether or not I’m presented with a HEA and the resolution would probably be close to reality, I close the book with a feeling of “this is as good as it’s going to get.” This darker tale is one of them. B