My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
The Black Night’s Reward by Marliss Melton and Sydney Jane Baily is the second book of the Warriors of York series. Much like book 1, this one had plenty of everything going on to have me glued to it. This book wasn’t short by any means with more than 400 pages! However, I hadn’t noticed the page count until I was almost finished, so yep, I enjoyed it almost as much as book 1.
Both books are set a few years apart in the Anglo-Norman era in England, when battles and blood were the way of life... or so it seemed. Book 1, The Slayer’s Redemption, is of Christian De La Croix’s, who had earned a name as a blood-thirsty, warmonger lord but it had a lot to do with gossip. In fact, Christian didn’t fight more than any lord would fight their enemies to secure their territory and the people they care for. However, Christian was also the by blow of a Danish heathen, a mercenary who used to terrorize that part of England once upon a time. It wasn’t until much later, when he’d already been trained by his brute of a father in such a way that almost destroyed any softness in him, that Christian learned the man’s relationship with him. He was cruel, mean. He had raped Christian’s mother. So the story of his birth is as painful as the life that has been his since then. To avenge his mother, Christian killed his father and his other family, which was probably one of the main incidents behind his dubious reputation.
When Christian was recruited by the Baron of Helmsley, then was married to his saintly daughter, Genrose, he thought finally he had a place to settle down. But then tragedy struck, when, within a year of their marriage, Genrose not only lost her parents but also died giving birth to Christian’s son. It would seem that fate had no interest to be kind to Christian. But, at that moment, what was more important to him, was to save his son, Simon, by finding a wet-nurse. Clarisse Du Boise wasn’t just happening by when Christian’s man found her and brought her to the castle. No, she couldn’t feed the baby herself as she had never had one, but she’ll find a way. At that time Clarisse had more pressing needs; namely to save her family. Her mother and sisters were going to be killed by their evil step-father if she can’t kill his number one enemy, Sir Christian. Clarisse was so desperate that she would’ve gotten inside the castle to accomplish the deed by any means possible; even if it meant under a ruse and lying through her teeth.
Soon though, she knew Christian was not what people said about him. He was just a father scared of losing his only family, his infant son and he needed help pronto. Clarisse would help him anyway because she was not only getting fonder of him but also had began loving little Simon who was given to her care after her arrival. She will have to save her family in another way, though she didn’t have much time. Clarisse was in a lot of trouble and she needed a divine intervention... would Sir Christian be her savior? Or would he get rid of her once her ruse is revealed to the world?
I absolutely adored book 1 because there was not a single boring moment in it. The pages just flew by because I was so intent on knowing what’s gonna happen next! It was no wonder I jumped into book 2, which is Clarisse’s sister Merry’s.
Now, it was no doubt that Merry Du Boise has had a sad life. A glimpse of which is given in book 1— how a brutish Scot named Ferguson ruined her family one night, when he was invited in by their gentle father after a request for shelter. Their father was brutally killed in front of their eyes, their mother abused and then, Ferguson claimed their castle Heathersgill. Merry was only in her early teens and had to make up various ruse to save herself from the Ferguson’s men, who were as disgusting as their leader and had their eyes on her.
We met Merry in book 1 briefly. By then, Clarisse was around 20/21 and Merry was 17 or something. She was rude to everyone except for her family, especially any men. She apparently hated Christian so much that she put a curse on his...uh, manhood. It’s funny when you read it, but it’s not when you know what she’d witnessed and why she was SO scared of men. While Clarisse had to witness their father’s gruesome execution, Merry had followed Ferguson when he’d taken their mother to the upper floor of the keep. I’d leave you to imagine what she had witnessed at that young age. Needless to say, Merry has not been the same ever since. She was an introvert, too emotional and this broke her inside. Soon she found help and affection in the form of the village healer Sarah, who, in turn found a treasure in Merry. She was a natural-born healer. Sarah trained her so she could be there, not only learning what she had to offer but also, it meant, Merry spend less time in the keep, away from Ferguson’s men.
Though Clarisse managed to escape, found love and married, Merry’s life was not so easy. Well, of course Clarisse had her own cross to bear but Christian had already fallen for her even before knowing why she was send to Helmsley, so Christian never denied his help to Clarisse. But in the years that have passed ever since, Merry was caught in a mire of misfortune. One thing led to another, and soon she was marked as a witch. I can only imagine the life women lived at that time, it was so horrible!! Thinking it’ll help her, her mother Jeannette and Clarisse send Merry to an Abbey. But that was no refuge for her; in fact, not for anyone. The Abbess of that place was one nasty bitch and abused every nun under her power, specially the beginners. Merry was a thorn in her side because she refused to back down even when she was punished many ways for her supposed ill behavior.
Merry being a healer and a condemned witch didn’t help matters. Agnes made up things to make her life hell. Then one day, when she killed a young girl, Merry had to do something to teach the nasty bitch a lesson. But she got caught. After that Agnes had enough to condemn her to be a witch, a heretic, a would-be murderer. Merry was going to be executed by burning at the stake. She’d given up all hope and decided to brave the inevitable as best as she could, is when Merry finds a tall, dark haired man as her savior. He comes in Robin Hood style and steals her away from the burning stake in such a fashion that it stunned everyone present, including Merry!
Lord Luke D’Aubigny was on his way to do some duties dumped on him by King Henry. We get a glimpse of Luke’s life earlier, which revealed that he was a bastard too. His father was one of the crusaders who took a Saracen mistress and Luke was the result of that relationship. Luke knew his father was an Englishman and that good things are waiting for them in England. Unfortunately, his father dies suddenly, leaving him and his mother alone, in poverty. Soon they were completely abandoned her mother’s family as well. If his grandfather hadn’t rescued him from that gutter when he did, Luke would’ve never amounted to anything, let alone become one of the King’s trusted right-hand men, soon to inherit one of the most sought-after lands in all of England. His grandfather is the Earl of Arundel and his father was his only heir, which makes Luke a direct heir to the Earldom when his grandfather passes. He was also called The Phoenix. Why? I’d leave it for you to find out. Right now, Luke is also engaged to one of King’s cousins as commissioned by the King himself. By all means, Luke’s life is well-planned; his path to glory perfectly laid out. Nevertheless, soon he’ll find that fate has an entirely different plan for him that will turn his world upside down in the form of a small, fiery haired woman who was never supposed to be any part of his life’s plans to begin with.
But when Luke asked for shelter in the Abbey for his tired men, and was denied, he knew felt something was wrong. Everything about that Abbey smelled rotten so he went to investigate, and found a nun being burned alive. Apparently the Abbess herself became the judge and jury to condemn the woman, which is not how things work in King Henry’s England. Luke knew he had to save her and that’s exactly what he did. Along the way, not only he had to content himself with the odd woman’s behavior but also, his men’s superstitious drivel. All it took was a whisper of “a witch” in the air. :/ Luke was not happy to say the least. He had a plan, some duties to finish then head off to Arundel where his grandfather lay dying. He needed to be there ASAP, yet now he has an added responsibility to find this woman’s relatives or at the least some shelter where she’d be safe.
Merry didn’t make matters easy for Luke, but I understood her problem stemming from distrust and insecurity. Because I knew her backstory. She was like a hunted animal, probably been for the most of her life so how can she act naturally when she has to ride with a troop comprising all men? But gradually, she begins to see that Luke was educated and not superstitious. He was also kind and believed her when she revealed what really took place in the Abbey. But she had no place in the world she could go to, especially within her relatives who haven’t even communicated in the years she’d spend in the Abbey. Despite her reluctance, Merry knew her best chance was to either find her mother in Heathersgill or find Clarisse and go under protection of the infamous Slayer of Helmsley Christian De La Croix, her BIL.
Luke was quite impressed when he found that Christian was Merry’s BIL, however his keep lay far away so he decides to first try Heathersgill. Unfortunately, Merry’s mother and her new husband refused to give her shelter. They were very wary of Church’s actions. Talk was already around that they’ve put a hefty reward on her head. Heathersgill simply didn’t have enough men to offer protection. Merry already knew what would be the outcome, yet it didn’t hurt her any less when she was told to go find Christian. Luke was extremely irritated because in the past couple of days, he’d come to be fond of Merry. He knew she’s just a woman, utterly misunderstood. Her reputation as a healer didn’t help her much. But she refused to back down when someone needed her help. And she did find trouble waiting for her more than a few times while doing so. Poor girl! :(
Luke decides it’s better to head towards the destination he was headed to to complete the duty the crown. He had no time for Helmsley then. He gave Merry the option to choose if she’d like to go with him. By then Merry knew the way things were, she wouldn’t survive a day anywhere alone without Luke’s protection. And she kinda liked him despite her utter dislike for the male species in general. So she accompanies him to that other keep where Luke was supposed to be tearing down some unauthorized (by the crown) establishments. There, Merry finds both friends and more than a few dangers. It was as if her life was in such a quagmire of all sorts of bad luck that she didn’t know how to get out of it. Worse was, she did nothing to garner any of these. Yet she was suffering all the same. The only thing that kept her going was Luke. She was obsessed with him by that time; by his dark good-looks, with his kindness towards her. The fact was no men has ever shown her this much kindness, showered her with this much attention, making her feel special. She knew Luke felt something for her but she already knew of his betrothal. Either way, who is crazy enough to bind themselves with a condemned woman, who’d probably be caught any day now and die painfully? Yet Luke was always stalwart in his protection of her. And if his kisses showed anything, she knew there could be something between them. She had already confided in him about her fears which led them to become intimate. But is there a way for them to be together overcoming all the hurdles put in front of them? Merry didn’t know, neither did Luke.
Even going to Christian’s keep didn’t help Merry cause word broke the moment she was inside the keep and people were swarming in to catch her in hopes of the reward. Though I REALLY enjoyed seeing Clarisse and Christian together, I was sad to see that Christian wasn’t sure he wanted to have Merry in his keep. No doubt he was thinking of the safety of the people in his care, including his own family. It’s totally understandable, yet so tragic for Merry that it broke my heart. It seemed simply NO ONE wanted her around, maybe except for Luke. Then things suddenly changes the course of her life again when she discovers herself with Luke’s child. What will she do now? Though she tries to hide it for a few weeks, Clarisse finds out and confronts Luke to make it all legit. I also thought Merry deserved no less! Yet I knew Luke had so much of his future depending on it, because it will surely change the course of his life drastically. I couldn’t have blamed him if he wanted to back off. He wanted Merry, wanted to be with her but he was also scared that all his life’s work will be lost. Arundel will be out of his hand if he crosses the King which was a very valid fear. BUT, he had decided to get entangled with Merry and he acknowledged she deserved better so he had to face his responsibility. Luke simply couldn’t turn away from Merry and their future offspring. He knew what it was to live as a bastard; none of his children will ever know that hardship!
One thing that bugged me here was the fact that it did take Christian’s, let’s say ‘subtle encouragement’ (by that I mean threat), for Luke to make up his mind. Clarisse twists it up a bit, making Merry think Luke loves her just as much as she does, that this marriage would finally be her dream come true. When her illusion breaks as they journey towards Arundel, I was rather mad at Clarisse for giving her a false hope. It hurt Merry to know the truth of Luke’s decision but now she was stuck with him. He was literally the line between life and death for her.
Things would only get complicated from there as you’d find in the next chapters because getting married only made things difficult for Merry and Luke. At times it was heartbreaking, and I felt for them both sometimes worrying the worst would happen. That the church or the King would be successful in ruining their lives. Thankfully, our H and h do finally find happiness after weathering the many storms coming their way, and I must say that it was a rather satisfying ending. Even after 400+ pages, I wanted to read more because Merry and Luke had so little happy times in the story, with one danger or the other dogging their steps. Absolutely recommended if you’re looking for a good medieval romance on a lazy afternoon or spend the weekend. 4 solid stars.
Right now, I’m eagerly waiting for book 3, which would be Clarisse and Merry’s sister Katherine’s. She was seen here briefly. I can’t wait to find out more about her because she was quite young when Clarisse’s story took place. In that sense, Katherine wasn’t a character much explored in either of the installments.
Note that this book was originally published as By Starlight by Marliss Moon.