The Warlord - Elizabeth Elliott My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

I decided to try Elizabeth Elliott’s earlier books when I got approved for an ARC of her very recent publication. I just wanted to sample her writing and I’m very happy that I did. I must admit that I loved her writing and The Warlord is one of those books that will always have the ability to warm your heart, no matter what. I say this because, honestly, for the first half, I was very annoyed with the heroine, Tess’s TSTL activities and the hero, Kenric’s uber caveman behavior aka ‘me-man-you-listen-woman’! It’s not always bad, but even then I wanted to smash something because I was so frustrated and thought this is going to end up as one of those boring reads for me. But on the second half, it turned utterly marvelous! Everything sort of turned around and the book slapped me hard on the face for even trying to look down upon it! My exact feelings because everything, everything was just soooo goooood! I’ll try to elaborate it all in my review.

Tess is an orphan who has lived the last 5 yrs on the mercy of her step father, MacLeith and his cruel son Gordon. MacLeith married Tess’s mother very soon after her father died and took the barony of Remmington, along with the big, impenetrable castle and valuable lands. Tess has been beat and abused by both and I’m not sure how she was finally able to escape with so much strength left in her. Kinda unbelievable but heck, I read on. MacLeith forcibly betrothed her to Gordon, whom everyone knows to be a gay. Gordon has no intentions of consummating the marriage but for an heir, he’ll let his men f*ck Tess to get her pregnant. From this hellhole, somehow, her uncle Ian saved her. What Tess didn’t know that Ian had Baron Kenric of Montague, the Butcher of Welsh, as her betrothed, supported by the reigning King Edward I. She also didn’t know as they were escaping, Kenric was waiting with his close friend and fellow warrior, Roger Fitz Alan to help them in the dark. But as they meet, Tess takes them as normal soldiers. Then they are taken to a close by abbey for the marriage. There is where Tess learns of Kenric being the butcher of Welsh and argues with Ian that she would never marry him. She heard the ridiculous rumors such as he eats babies for breakfast and so on, and believed them wholeheartedly. This is where my annoyance with Tess began. But I will come to that soon after I talk about Kenric.

Kenric has had a cold childhood. He knew he was a bastard of Edward. His mother was the King’s mistress when they were young and was married off as soon as she fell pregnant. His stepfather, whose name he took later, never liked or cared for him. Kenric had been distant from his family always. But he excelled at war and fighting and as time passed by, he proved to be an unbeatable and worthy warrior for Edward. Now, the King never acknowledged him but it was very apparent from their appearance who Kenric was. And the King certainly cared for Kenric’s fealty to him. He has proven himself in the crusades (as we see in the prologue that how cold and ruthless Kenric can be if the occasion warrants it). But it was the fight in Welsh is which gave him the title of the Butcher. Later we got to know that most of it was made up because even though lives were lost there, Kenric didn’t do anything that appalling (i.e, killing of many women and children), considering it was another bloody war. He just did his duty, as he has done on scores of occasions before it. But the title stuck with him and so were the gory stories of him doing all sorts of creepy things to his enemies. Then came the twist of his so-called ‘birth right’. Kenric’s stepfather hated him not only because he was a bastard but also, as his ‘first born’, Kenric became his heir. On the other hand, his legitimate son, Guy, younger to Kenric by 6/7 yrs would never inherit Montague as long as Kenric lives. His stepfather even tried to have him killed, as it was seen in the prologue. His half and Guy’s elder sister, Helena, also can’t stand him. But it’s mostly because of the rumors and poisons her father wove in them. We don’t see Guy in this book, unless by mention because he was away.

After the death of the Baron, Kenric becomes the next baron. And the King tells him that he should take a wife and gives him Tess of Remmington, who is said to be one of the most beautiful women there is. He also gets Remmington, as Tess is the legitimate heir of the place; when he can flush MacLeith out of course. So in the darkness, when Kenric and Roger spies on Ian coming out of Remmington with someone bulky and short, Kenric snorts with the big joke the King has played on it. I didn’t like his or Roger’s thought on how ‘homely’ this prize is going to be but it was funny in an odd way. But I guess, Kenric never thought of himself as a handsome guy; rather dark, big and brooding with wound marks all over his body as trophies of his numerous campaigns. He even has a big gash mark on one of his cheeks. So, to Kenric, the King should’ve given him someone at least pleasing to look upon if he wanted to show him any gratitude of any sort for being useful in those campaigns. Anyway, honestly, I found Kenric quite cold in those first chapters. But I liked Roger immensely. He was very endearing and funny, the charming and handsome rogue who has a way with the ladies.

Anyway, in Kelso abbey is where the mystery of the bulky lady is revealed. Tess was carrying sacks full of her meager belongings under her cloak, which made her look like that. And one look upon Tess’s fair hair and violet eyes, Kenric is a goner! Then again, even though Tess is quite ignorant about her unearthly good looks (imagine my eye roll when every time some men would goggle at her, she would think of something negative!), Kenric knew she would be his no matter what. And while he heard her argue with her uncle in Gaelic (they’re Scots), not knowing Kenric knows the language, Kenric contemplates how soon he can get her to bed. She is not like any other woman he’d ever slept with. Tess is like a ray of sunshine in his dark world. Later Tess acts as if she has given in and they get married, but in her mind, Tess is determined to escape as soon as she gets the first opportunity and run to the King, not knowing that King knows of this union and that Kenric is his illegitimate son. So, score no 2 why I begin to get annoyed at Tess and trust me, she sorely tried my patience in that first half!

Kenric takes his bride, determined to visit Montague and consummate the marriage there. He wants her to settle down there, like it or not. And he contemplates how he’d make love to her in bed, despite the fact that the Butcher doesn’t ever get attached or emotional about women. It was just so unheard of! He is incredibly caring of Tess, which she appreciates a lot but never forgetting her plan of escaping him. As they reach Montague, Tess is coming down with fever from the last beating she took from Gordon. It was quite common for her to be bruised and sick for a while after one of those beatings but she’ll emerge well enough every time (more eye roll), without many scars to mar her beauty (eye roll galore!). Anyway, her first impression of Montague was just… dirty! Lol Because the keep was dirty. She meets Helen, who welcomes her half-brother coldly and then goes away. It was very apparent that as the chatelaine, Helen did nothing to improve the castle. It was dirty and dank, soldiers who ate in the great hall made it look like a big waste container! As they try to eat, the food they found was every bit as unpalatable. Tess contemplates changing those things, even as she contemplates her next move to escape. hair pull That night, she makes the first of many of her stupid attempts to escape, which almost killed her. Kenric, the next day, upon hearing it, gets worried and brought out a search party. Without no provisions of any sort, she was hoping to get to London (don’t even ask!). They find her cold and on the verge of losing her consciousness. Now I wanted to brain Kenric on the head because he had no idea she had a fever. Later though, it was revealed but as he asks Roger and another of his soldiers to have a look on her back, to qualify his words in the court, Tess takes it as Kenric’s way to tell her he’d get rid of her soon. It hurts her, even though all she wanted was to escape. I don’t know but Tess thought her life less important that her people in Remmington. When Kenric wages war on McLeith, they are bound to be killed. She doesn’t want anyone to be killed and so, she’ll sacrifice herself. She would pledge the king to send her to a nunnery. Justifiable reason? I don’t know but this was so ingrained in Tess, she was just… even when she knew later that her actions would hurt Kenric, she tried escaping him. That was NOT justifiable to me! Anyway, Tess was unconscious with fever and Kenric took care of her. On the process, through her feverish state, he learns a lot of things, that she finds him attractive, that she can see flashes of future. Kenric learns a lot about this unusual power of hers but he never judged her for it. It was revealed later that Tess inherited this trait from the maternal side her family.

Now, they don’t consummate the marriage for a while but Tess kept on learning to cruise her way through the castle. She tries gaining confidence of the servants, who also disliked Kenric. It did make her angry when she heard of Kenric’s real identity from one of Helena’s ignorant rant on Kenric’s ‘evil’ soul because he is a bastard. Yes, Tess also tried to be close to Helena as well, just to know what’s going on. Then she learned that going to Edward might not help her cause after all. So Tess bide her time and worked inside the castle to make it look better. Then their relationship improves too as Tess finds less and less to dislike in Kenric, because even though he is called the Butcher and has a surly demeanor, with her he’s different. He’s kind and caring, even loving if you stretch it! And his kisses certainly doesn’t appall but appeal to her immensely. So they consummate their marriage soon enough. Kenric was in heaven because he wanted Tess for such a long time and waited patiently. You could tell the guy is already smitten with his wife. Roger would poke fun at him for being so light and in a good mood. But he can’t help it after making love to Tess and finding that she doesn’t find his touch appalling at all. Kenric knew what Helena told Tess about his illegitimacy and he was sure Tess would run, but that wasn’t the case. And Tess confused me too. Sometimes I could see the glimpse of a lot smarter heroine than the one was usually there. She would vehemently support Kenric, then again, would trust in Helena’s poisonous words.

In between, Kenric had something to attend and before he went away, he Tess the permission to act as the castle chatelaine. Tess made some drastic changes, which on the surface looked like disasters. And when Simon, the elder, trusty soldier who had the tedious responsibility to guard Tess along with Kenric’s square Evard, sent for him, Kenric was livid. How dare she wreak such havoc? Even I was on the verge of kicking Tess. But it was soon found, as Simon later explains to Kenric, that her actions had some very positive results too. But Kenric was livid anyway because to him, she tried to defy his commands. As I said, uber-caveman. Honestly, at times I thought Kenric could’ve tried explaining things better, rather than assuming so much! Then there was this scene, immensely annoying, as Kenric gives her a thorough lecture, while she, ugh, she contemplates on how to escape, again, throughout the whole thing! And it was after the consummation of their marriage which Tess found absolutely amazing with Kenric and was up for it anytime he asked for! I mean WTF woman? But, you know why she was again contemplating escape? Another of Helen’s ignorant lectures on how Kenric became the Butcher. I have NO idea how Tess believed all those things Helen said and how could she plan escape while she supported Kenric’s illegitimacy. No idea at all.

As Kenric heard of Helen’s tirade himself as they caught them by surprise, he asks Roger to ‘court’ her. Helen is livid because it was fitting as Roger was also a bastard. You’ll be amaze to see this cold and calculating relationship with the siblings because behind this idea was Kenric’s wish to know Helen’s next move. Helen always wanted to install Guy in Kenric’s place as the rightful heir. It was not that Kenric hated his siblings and I didn’t think Helen was that poisonous (ignorant more likely) and hated Kenric as well but even then, this was kinda odd. The only buffer was Roger’s charming and roguish persona. I thought it would be a really fun relationship to watch because I knew the words opposites attract was so perfect for Roger and Helen. I really wished there were more scenes of the courting between these two but sadly, none was there. Soon, Roger himself is in love with Helen and asks for her hand in marriage, stunning Kenric. He even calls Roger crazy because he never thought it’ll turn this way. He warns Roger that one day he might find himself killed in his sleep. But Roger was a goner because the real Helen underneath was not as cold and calculating as he’d found out. The scene that ensues after the announcement of their betrothal, between Helen and Roger was sort of priceless. I again felt cheated of some great scenes between these two.

Amidst all these, Tess suddenly realizes she’s falling in love. But that won’t do for her. So, one day, after a great night together, Tess decides it’s time to make another escape attempt. Now, I wouldn’t have been pissed at her if that wasn’t a time that marked some remarkable progress in their relationship. I think she even told him she loved him as they made love. How could she do that in the dawn I have no idea! The stupidest thing of all to do! As she made her way outside, Kenric woke up suddenly, not finding Tess with him. And then he spies her from the window. It broke my heart to see how his world became dark again when he realized what she meant to do. The regular guards, Evard and Simon weren’t there because when Kenric was with Tess, the guard was lowered most of the times. Kenric is furious and thinks whatever she said the night before were lies. Poor, poor babe! :( But before she could escape, Tess is brought in by Kenric’s men. She’s taken to the solar, which was later converted as a makeshift room and Kenric decides she’ll stay here from now on. He can’t even look at her now, it breaks his heart. It was very obvious that even thought Kenric didn’t say the words out loud, he was hopelessly besotted, in love with his wayward wife, who apparently wants to run away from him at the first opportunity.

Afterwards, I must say, starts the best part of the book. Kenric keeps Tess locked away, tries his utmost best to hate her and try and condemn her but the Butcher is finally fallen so hard, he doesn’t know what to do anymore. And Tess becomes silent and withdrawn. It was such an emotional turmoil of the bittersweet kind! They stay apart but Kenric would demand reports from the servants who attended her or Helen, who was by now an ally and totally in love with Roger. Helen was still scared of her brother but didn’t hate him anymore. And later when he couldn’t stay away anymore, he found a new way to torture himself, as Simon’s musing tells us, by visiting Tess at night and watched her for hours while she was asleep, often loosening her braided hair the way he loved to see it. That was just, beyond words for me to explain. It felt so good to read these parts. *sigh* But Tess didn’t really know any of these. Soon after her imprisonment, she found out she’s pregnant. She had no idea how this news would play out so she kept quiet. But with her morning sickness she lost weight. So did Kenric. One day, the King’s messenger comes with news and Kenric decides to let Tess go. He thought this is for the best, that ending the marriage would make her happy. But by then, Tess has decided that without Kenric, nothing in the world means anything to her, not even her beloved Remmington. I think this was about the best thing Tess did all over the book, along with saving Kenric’s life once (still in captivity) when she had a vision. It was some scene, how she escaped the guards and ran to Kenric, who at that time was on the verge of starting a spur with an Italian knight, Roberto. But Roberto was a mercenary and was sent to kill Kenric. The whole scene was full of action, with a bitter ending. I felt pity for Roberto reading the way he died.

When Tess learns of Kenric’s decision of letting her go, she decides to face her feelings and let them be known. She was determined to make amends and be with Kenric, if he’ll have her still. That scene, where they speak of their mutual feelings, was so full of longing and love and sadness... WOW. Loved it. Loved everything that happened afterwards too. After all sorts of sweet and bittersweet revelations (their feelings, to Tess’s reasons for why she thought it’s better to end the marriage and the baby on the way etc.), it was time to face the King in court. They knew that charges were brought against Kenric by the MacLeiths of kidnapping Tess and forcing her to marry him. Marrying another man’s betrothed was a serious crime. The court scenes were really good too. Loved how they weathered the whole thing, as Gordon and Kenric face off in front of the King and the Church. I was literally holding my breath... After their victory there, Kenric visits Remmington to finally fight the MacLeith. He was crazy mad at this SOB for how he treated Tess. Although the gory and gloomy aftermaths couldn’t be avoided, still everything, I thought, turned out great. There was also a solution for Guy so that he can inherit Montague. Clever I say!

The ending and the epilogue was utterly amazing and I kept thinking where these two people were in the first half? I forgave Tess and was glad that Kenric was finally happy with a big family. He once thought he’d never marry and have his own family but now he knew what he would’ve been missing if he never did and all I could do was to sigh. 4.25 stars. Next up is Guy’s book. Even though he never made an appearance here, the epilogue makes a hint of the trouble Guy’s in right now. Now, if he’s half as good as Kenric, I’ll be a happy clam!