Jilly: Good Book Squee – The King’s Man

The King's Man by Elizabeth KingstonHave you read anything interesting lately? As you’ve no doubt deduced from the title above, this week I read a book I enjoyed so much I’d like to spend today’s post making Good Book Noise about it.

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?

14 thoughts on “Jilly: Good Book Squee – The King’s Man

  1. Jilly – I love the description on her website; makes her and the book sound very appealing. I’ll keep it in mind for the next time I’m “in the mood for Intense and not Lighthearted.”

    I’ve been reading my way through my electronic TBR pile, thanks to so time spent waiting around in airports. Most of the books have been unremarkable – exactly worth the $0 I spent for them.

    From my physical TBR pile I just finished Julia Quinn’s Because of Miss Bridgerton, which had me thinking about the role of the antagonist as well. I enjoyed the story, but it really didn’t have conflict or an antagonist. It was more a case of enjoyable characters being put into Situations, and growing as a result. Seems to contradict the conflict-lock / antagonist / definite goal methodology that we’ve all learned. I guess there really is no single answer.

    Currently I’m reading Kristan Higgins If You Only Knew. I’ve been looking forward to reading it since I heard Kristan do a reading from it before RWA in New York. I’m only about 100 pages in, so it’s too early to have any real opinions about it.

    • I have Julia Quinn’s Miss Bridgerton on my TBR pile, too (saving it for an upcoming road trip). I’ll be interested to see how I like the “no antagonist” thing.

  2. Gosh, I love her description! And it’s very strange timing, too. Somewhere, I was reading a review or blogpost about how women are often unwritten out of historical fiction. Even in romances, there might be one woman, and no more, sometimes. This writer was particularly incensed by some book written in Wales with no strong women, even though at that time it was historically accurate for women to be leaders and strong in their own community.

    (-: I’m so happy you found a historical with one of those strong women!

    And my take-away today is that line from Elizabeth Kingston where she said that the story was allowed to be dumb, it was allowed to be rough, but it wasn’t allowed to be unfinished.

    I was wrestling with my manuscript, and I’d put the first scene in the other main character’s perspective, just to see what happened. God, this is lousy, I thought while I was writing it. But when I went back the next day, I realized it was not too bad at all. I don’t know why we writers sometimes get that false judgement thing going on. We can be writing the Greatest Thing Since Ergot Bread, and then find out the next day it’s a bunch of feverish crap. Or, on the other hand, we’re Slogging through the Slough of Despond, and the next day, it’s more like a romp through a slightly damp field with a big black dog. Not at all what we thought it was going to be.

    I’ve got Wolf Hall on my TBR list. It was on the short-list of several SFF award programs as an alternative history. I think there’s room for things that don’t quite fit genre out there. The big trick is finding someone who is willing to take a chance.

    • I really love her description too! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an author’s irreverent take on their book – it was a fun snippet that made me feel engaged with the author and her book. I wish more authors did it – I’d definitely check out their websites if I was thinking of buying one of their brainchildren.

      PS I thought ergot bread was poisonous? 🙂 .

      • I thought ergot bread was the one that acted like LSD and gave you hallucinations and made you dance the St. Vitus dance . . . and the next day you realize that all that stuff was just a dream (unless you think it was witches, which would be a horrible thing, but in this day and age, nobody would believe you).

        I think you can die from it, too, as you said. But my writing hasn’t been that horrible lately.

        It’s been such a strange week this week . . . a lot of stress on the work front, and I keep thinking story, but I haven’t been able to get much on the paper because . . . the sun is rising at something like 4:30 in the morning, and I can’t sleep, despite the blackout curtains. I think that’s the main reason. When I do write, it sometimes is a bit . . . uncontrolled.

        Maybe I should check my bread for strange molds. It’s not rye bread, so it can’t be ergot.

        • Maybe you should just go with the St Vitus writing and see what happens? I really enjoyed your Brother Francis snippet in Elizabeth’s Friday Writing Sprints 😀 .

  3. Argh! Jilly! We must talk. I’ve been relying on your recommendations, and I am currently in the middle of one of those Pennyroyal Green books by Julie Ann Long, thanks to you, which I’m enjoying a lot, so I’m all excited about this one, too. I go to Elizabeth Kingston’s web site and read her informal description—terrific! So energizing!—and then I go to the Amazon page and Look Inside, and…yawn. It’s all sittin’ and thinkin’, except he’s really lyin’ there on his bed of pain and hallucinatin’. And either way, yeah, no. I’m *sure* it gets better, because you’ve described it and it sounds terrific and you like it, but I can’t get past the opening, so I have to give it a pass. Bummer!

    • Well, damn, Kay. Bummer indeed. I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but sorry the Look Inside didn’t hit the spot for you. It’s a long way from Pennyroyal Green, that’s for sure.

      And another reminder (as if we needed one) of the make-or-break nature of the first few pages. I try not to think about that too much, or I’d never write anything.

    • Well, I was going to read this, but since I LOVE audiobooks and I have a 9-day, 3000 mile road trip coming up, I’m downloading it! I’ll just have to make sure my kids have their headphones on for the racy parts!

    • Justine’s been raving about audiobooks for the longest time – and this sounds like a great one to start with. It’s not long to RWA National now, and London-San Diego is a l-o-n-g journey. Might be the perfect time to give them a try.

      I also found this great Youtube clip of Laura and Nicholas Boulton in the recording studio. Very fun, and gosh, his voice! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZgJXvTJip4

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