*author provided a copy of the book for review.
A beautiful young widow suspected of murdering her elderly husband is forced by the King of England into marriage to a hot-blooded knight determined to discover the truth.
Alden starts this medieval romance with a bang. Sir Marcus Blackwell has ordered his second in command to drag Lady Ann down to their wedding naked if he has to. She isn’t quite naked when Thomas D’Agostine accomplished his mission, but she is bound, bruised, and wearing underclothes that leave little to the imagination. She’s also not the hag, Marcus expected.
Marcus is also something of a surprise to Lady Ann. Having been brutalized by her first husband, who died under bloody and unexplained circumstances, she expects a sadistic monster who will likely have her hanged as soon as the wedding is consummated. Even if he doesn’t, she figures he’ll just take her land and breed her for heirs like some sow. The nickname that followed him home from the crusades–The Beast of Thornhill–doesn’t help.
Getting past these initial mistaken impressions of one another is a huge endeavor, and it’s not even the biggest obstacle they face. England in 1276 is a lethal environment. There’s a church infested with evil men hungry for two things: gold and witches to burn. For Lady Ann the former is likely to lead to the latter. When the local bishop isn’t causing trouble, there’s Ann’s half-witted sheep-stealing neighbor eager to align himself with Marcus’s villainous father. And to top it all off, every time Marcus uncovers one of his complicated wife’s secrets, there are two or three more to contend with. And that’s not counting the Venetian glassblower.
The period details are well chosen to immerse us in the setting without burying us there. Marcus and Ann share enough genuine chemistry to make up for the overwrought fits of temper they each indulge in now and again. Lady Ann is vulnerable, frightened and yet has an iron core. Sir Marcus is a generally honorable guy in search of a little peace and domesticity after years of bloodletting on foreign battlefields. We want them to trust each other, and it kills us that every step forward on that score is followed by two steps back. But that’s what keeps us turning the pages.
I did find a couple of rough transitions. Most are minor. One was majorly irritating. On one of the occasions when Marcus is following Ann to learn more about her wicked ways, they end up at a mysterious cottage. Then the scene is over and we don’t find out until later that he witnessed her in an amazing knife fighting training session with another woman. We should have BEEN there, seeing it with him. Not listening to him confront her about it later. Sure, we get some good details, but it’s all second hand.
There’s a lot of physical violence toward Lady Ann. When it’s a villain knocking her around, I can accept it as part of the story. That behavior from Sir Marcus and Thomas D’Agostine, even if Ann’s being difficult, made me think less of them. Yes, it was a brutal time period. But both men should have been above such reactions. I think true chivalry would’ve demanded it, even if it took every ounce of control in the men’s bodies. In my experience, a hero with hand problems only works in those mega-long bodice rippers, where the reformed hero has enough time to erase our memory of the creep. My opinion of Marcus managed to survive. But Thomas left me annoyed and wishing the Turks had succeeded in gutting him.
On the whole, though, if you like passionate, emotionally charged historical romance, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR KNIGHT is the book for you.