The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston has been on my TBR list for a while. I’m not sure where I first heard about it. I thought it was in the comments here, but if so, I can’t find the original recommendation and that’s a pity, because I owe somebody a great big Thank You.
The book is a historical romance, but not as we know it, Jim. Instead of a light, frothy, witty Regency comedy of manners or a rollicking adventure of Napoleonic derring-do, we have a dark, fascinating and deeply satisfying love story set in the late 13th century against a backdrop of power politics and Welsh rebellion against English rule.
The hero is King Edward’s right-hand man and go-to killer, matched against the Welsh daughter of a powerful Marcher family. Ranulf’s a warrior, deeply damaged because traumatic Backstory. Gwenllian’s super-skilled at sword-fighting and healing, the respected leader of the family’s troupe of men, deeply embroiled in the battle for independence courtesy of her politically obsessed mother. Ranulf and Gwenllian are natural enemies thrown together first by circumstance and later by politics as a cunning maneuver to control them both. Inevitably things don’t work out as planned.
Things I loved about The King’s Man:
- The writing is excellent. The story is clearly told and smoothly written, the details, voices, dialogue and world-building so credible that I was quickly transported into Ranulf and Gwenllian’s story and I stayed there to the end of the book.
- The characters are intelligent and highly relatable. Even though they’re smart, they don’t always make smart choices, but there are no moments of mind-melting stupidity or Big Misunderstandings. They are mostly honest, occasionally hurtful and even cruel, though always with reason.
- The heroine is not delicate, not feminine, and not pretty. Not even seems-ugly-but-becomes-pretty-later. Early in the book, the hero thinks of her as homely and stern, and an ugly wench. She does not get a makeover. She does not look prettier in a dress. It doesn’t matter. By the end of the book, the hero is mortified by some of the appalling, almost unforgivable things he’d previously said to her about her appearance, and quite right too.
- The hero is damaged (I do love a damaged alpha), but credibly so given his backstory, which is gradually revealed with a refreshing absence of info-dump . He’s also hot (of course) but neither the author nor the heroine lingers over it. The reader is left to deduce it, which I really appreciate.
- The circumstances that throw Ranulf and Gwenllian together are credible, and the rest of the plot flows naturally from the consequences of the choices they make. They are repeatedly challenged into making difficult and important decisions that change and define them.
- The sex scenes work, in that they are powerful, consistent with the tone of the book, and perfectly in character in the context of the developing relationship between Ranulf and Gwenllian. I love that despite her experience or lack of it, Gwenllian is herself – strong, smart, passionate and not at all girly – in the way she deals with this unexpected development.
- The pacing was just right for my tastes. There was always enough information to keep me anchored in the story, but not so much that I was bored or tempted to skip.
- I totally believed in Ranulf and Gwenllian’s Happy Ever After. (It’s a romance. That’s not a spoiler).
The King’s Man is one of several romances I’ve read lately where there isn’t a single antagonist driving the plot, but strong, fascinating, relatable characters who are put under extreme pressure and who make difficult choices that lead them to grow and change in a satisfying way. I’ve enjoyed these books and they’re making me think harder about the role of the antagonist in my own WIP.
I found so many aspects of The King’s Man to be refreshingly different while staying true to the genre. Elizabeth Kingston is an indie author and I wonder if this gave her the freedom to write characters that might not seem so obviously marketable.
The book and its official blurb are to be found in all the usual places, but I was delighted to find an unofficial, alternative and highly amusing description of the story on the author’s website. Click here to check it out.
So far Elizabeth Kingston has published one other book, A Fallen Lady. Guess what I’m going to be reading this weekend?
So, how about you? What have you read lately and what did you think about it? What’s next on your reading list?