Knight of Pleasure - Margaret Mallory My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Margaret Mallory’s Knight of Pleasure was quite a disappointment for me, especially if I compare it with book 1. Even though the historical aspects along with the actions later part of the book were very good, the central characters and plotline left much to be said. Sad, because I was really anticipating Stephen’s book. I wasn’t into the story at least for the 75% of it and was totally thinking about a lower grade, when the climax of the story just blew me away. I wish I had seen this continuation throughout.

As a heroine, Isobel started out as strong, even though burnt by life from an early age. Her father sort of sold her to this really old man, old enough to be her grandfather, in exchange of the money to get back their lands. Isobel always worshiped her father because her mother, after first few years of their marriage, turned a cold woman who understood nothing but prayer and always spoke of ‘her sins’ that she thought brought this disaster (losing the lands and money) upon them. Isobel was sure, now that she thinks back, her father loved her mother, enough to sold her get back the lands, in hopes that her mother would become warm and nice again, which she never did until her dying day. Isobel has a younger brother, Geoffrey, who is a dreamer; a nice and god fearing man. Isobel grew up to learn sword fight and things to defend herself. But she couldn’t really save her 14 yrs old self from this miserable marriage, which lasted 8 yrs. She never conceived and somehow tolerated the old man’s attentions in bed for a time. But she knew she’d get the money after his death and it kept her going. Unfortunately, some greedy bastard duped the old man Hume into thinking he’s his son and Hume bequeathed his everything to that man’. After her husband’s death, Isobel was shocked to find this, as her future was crushing down upon her. The other man, a lecher, had an eye on her always by Isobel couldn’t stand him and she won’t marry him no matter what. After 8 yrs of anger and silence, she can do nothing but ask for her father’s help. Both of them visit Bishop Beaufort, who is also Henry V’s uncle. The Bishop is very interested in this and of course, he sees that beautiful Isobel can be bartered away in a political marriage. So after disappointing them about Hume’s money and lands, he tells them about his next plan. King Henry was, at that moment, in Caen and trying for an alliance (my history is kinda rusty here, sorry for any mistake). A political marriage can help him out. Isobel is disappointed and kinda scared because she doesn’t wanna get married and feel helpless ever again. But the Bishop gives her no choice in this, unless she marries the man who holds her husband’s land. A dejected Isobel sets out with her father to Normandy for her marriage. They were to meet Robert Fass, now the King’s trusty adviser, who would help her navigate through it all.

(After I finish recovering from my swoon over Robert’s charisma... ooh lala)

Stephen was a good boy in Knight of Desire. I was thinking that he’d grow up to be someone different; a nobleman by birth and deed. But that wasn’t the case as I found out. His scene starts with him rising up from a married woman’s bed and some disgusting musings from his part about his sex life, which revolves around the same woman. I was shocked, plain as that. Then, I find him drinking and whoring away, as his life is now. Yes, he’s working for the King to some extent but he’s actually wasting away his life. Neither William nor Catherine is happy about it. Then I find him still utterly besotted with Catherine, even now that he is a grown man and should know better. He’s STILL looking for this perfect woman, someone like Catherine and since he is yet to find that woman, he has submerged himself into various loose women and drink. I was so disappointed in him that it just took the fun away. I felt no respect or affection for him, as I don’t care for rakes/womanizers, who live the life Stephen does. Then he gets the words from Robert that a new bride for a political marriage is coming here and they have to receive her. Before, we find that Robert is still doing his job, as excellent as ever as the King’s adviser and an occasional spy too. Upon hearing about the woman’s identity, Robert knew instantly who it was. He has to, since Isobel’s mother was his onetime lover when he was very young and he was in love with her. Unfortunately, we don’t know what actually happened, other than that he was forced out of his home and lived the life of a itinerant troubadour and a spy until now. He also left that girl pregnant. When I realized Robert’s real relationship with Isobel, it stunned me quite a bit. I just couldn’t visualize him as a father, which he really wasn’t to Isobel at any level. But he was determined to take care of her while she’s here, as a duty long overdue.

Isobel travels alone, only with a twittering maid. So far, she was holding up good and I liked her a lot. She didn’t know if she’ll meet her husband soon after her arrival. One thing I didn’t realize for a long time that Isobel was aware that Robert was her real father. She meets him on the dock, alongside William, Jamie and Stephen. And she’s instantly stuck on Stephen’s easy smile and charming words. From here starts her journey of becoming a TSTL, which was far removed from the woman I met earlier that I was flabbergasted more than once by her musings and actions! Don’t even ask me about Stephen. Anyway, I digress… After she’s settled, Isobel meets the King too, who explains to her about her marriage to a nobleman of Rouen, de Roche. Isobel can hardly reject the King’s order, so she concedes as it’s a duty to her for England. Stephen, on the other hand, couldn’t forget the beautiful Lady Hume. And upon asking about her to Robert, he gets a mild rebuke from him. Robert being a womanizer himself knows where Stephen’s mind is, so he warns Stephen off Isobel. But that doesn’t let Stephen act as her bodyguard of sorts. He would act possessively towards her. When Geoffrey comes for a visit, he mistakes him for de Roche as Isobel flings herself into her brother’s arms. Stephen did some grumbling but when Isobel realized what Stephen thought, she’s pissed. And she’s pissed on his on and off throughout the story, and then she would let him kiss and fondle her... Then she’d berate herself for letting herself carried away with a womanizer like him (she already knew of Stephen’s reputation) but she’d always subsequently daydream away about him as well. Can you tell that I was annoyed and pissed too? I mean just FREAKIN’ made up your mind woman!

Now, in between I got to learn that Stephen is actually a spy for the crown, like Robert. He had some uncanny abilities such as gleaning information that no one else knew, even as a child, so I wasn’t really surprised by this. He, Robert and a courtesan called Claudette were involved in this to some extent. You know I just a love Robert. I also adored Claudette. There were some mysteries surrounding her, just like Robert, which were never revealed. I only knew one of her cousins is a mistress to some mad French king, who doesn’t even know about his mistress! Umm, go figure. King Henry was supposed to marry this French King’s daughter, Katherine (as I said, sorry about my rusty history). Robert and Claudette exchanged easy banters and it seemed like, were good friends. I don’t know if they had any intimate past history, if ever, but they were focused on their mission of getting information. Sadly, I don’t get to see much of them together in the later parts. Stephen, of course, helped them, even if that meant sleeping with some woman they suspect. But he still didn’t really show any sign of changing his rakish behavior. Some of his reputation had to do with his spying (much like Robert’s) but not all of it.

But at the moment, Stephen is all focused on Isobel, even knowing that it’s impossible to have an honorable relationship with her. On the other hand, Isobel, knowing his rakish reputation, tried to tell herself that he’s no good for her. She had trust issue I understood, her father having betrayed her like that. Then one day Stephen finds her in one of the storerooms, practicing sword fight. He offers to train her because Stephen is really famous for his skills with swords. I was glad to know that he had some other skills than how to use his d*ck. Anyway, this starts their daily meeting, which wasn’t helping this unwarranted attraction between them. Sometimes Geoffrey and Jamie would join them but when they didn’t, Stephen and Isobel would end up kissing and fondling. You can guess what Isobel’s reaction was afterwards, as I’ve already mentioned. I found this extremely annoying at times and found myself muttering, ‘C’mon Ms. Author, give me something worthwhile to read. I’ve read too many books with care-free rakes (whom I can neither trust nor love) and TSTL heroines who do all the wrong things and act hypocritical and annoy the hell outta me!’ At least, after sometimes, Stephen was smitten and didn’t hide it but Isobel? Well, you’ll read about it soon.

Anyway, de Roche makes his appearance soon thereafter. Upon summoned by the King, Isobel finds out that her husband is neither old, nor feeble but a strapping handsome young man. But she was already smitten with Stephen, though she won’t admit it outright. I would find her ‘resistance’ appealing, if it was any resistance at all... which it wasn’t. She tries liking de Roche and his serious demeanor but comparing with Stephen’s charm, he fails utterly. On the other hand, Stephen can’t stand de Roche staking his possession where Isobel was concerned. Not even Robert’s repeated warnings help him. Meanwhile, he and William go to Falaise. They are disgusted by the massacre by the English army. They save two young and pretty twin brother and sister from a group of drunken soldiers. They bring Francois and Linnet back. Stephen can take Francois as his squire but Linnet is so beautiful a girl, he’s not sure where to put her. His answer was with Isobel, who was without a lady’s maid at that time. She takes Linnet in without any questions. Linnet was a bit apprehensive at first, but she soon puts her trust on Isobel, experiencing her kindness. These twins, they acted like 32 yrs old all the time, whereas they were 12 at best. Sometimes I couldn’t believe it, when they were spying, being quite reckless and giving advises to elder, more experienced people around them. This uncharacteristic maturity wasn’t very realistic IMO and made me roll my eyes quite a few times.

Among all these, Isobel was also trying to find a common ground here, to see if she can actually go to bed with de Roche. And Stephen, who already once almost made love to her, was sure to give in. On his way to Isobel’s room, he finds Isobel and de Roche in front of the door and de Roche’s hands on her. Stephen just couldn’t take it and goes to drink himself into oblivion. When Claudette and Jamie find him, he didn’t know what he was doing. And in his drunken state, he spills the secrecy of Jamie’s birth. It made Jamie angry and the next morning, he runs to the nearest abbey with Geoffrey, who was already contemplating joining the monks. Isobel, upon hearing, becomes very worried. But when she asks for de Roche’s help, he won’t and gets angry, something he does more often than not. Meanwhile, William hears of Stephen’s blunder from him own mouth. When Isobel informs them that Francois, who was now working in the stables, has seen them ride out to the abbey, they ran after them. Now, Isobel ‘had to’ prove something and so she does the next TSTL thing by riding out secretly after them, wearing Geoffrey’s clothes. Even Linnet asked her not but she didn’t listen and puts herself in danger. Soon, the brothers find her in tow. all of a sudden, they’re attacked by some people. It was a short but bloody battle, where William is badly injured. Stephen does his best to fend the enemies off. Even Isobel fights but she knew she can’t possibly handle all of the men. Somehow, they manage to fend them off and ride off with a gravely injured William to the abbey. Jamie is there and takes charge of his father. William gains back a little health with an old abbot’s help. That night, after coming so close to death, Isobel decides that for once she’ll have what she wants, which is Stephen. No, she won’t marry him mind you, as she made a promise to the King but will sleep with him. That’s what they do the next morning, venturing far from the abbey. Afterwards, Stephen was pretty sure that he’ll marry Isobel and for that, would weather the King’s wrath if needs be. But the fool didn’t know that for Isobel, it was just a onetime thing.

Stephen rides back to the castle to get more men. After he’s gone, the same men who attacked them, attack the abbey. They kill the chief abbot but somehow Jamie and Geoffrey held them off. The head of this group spies of Isobel in men’s clothing, which leaves her scared. Anyway, soon Stephen is there to save the day with his men. With William’s poor condition, somehow they make it back to the castle. The next day, Isobel goes to check on William and finds that Catherine is here. She also finds that Stephen is hopelessly besotted with his beautiful and ‘perfect’ SIL. It hurts Isobel. Ok, why? You were already planning to marry de Roche, so why are you hurt? Afterwards, Stephen tries to talk to her about marriage but Isobel won’t listen to anything he has to say. She’s determined to marry. She even tells him that she can’t trust him because of his womanizing, to which Stephen takes umbrage. How dare she bring those women up! He feels insulted. Huh??! Again I went like, ‘why are you feeling insulted f*cker? Those are the truth and you brought it upon yourself.’ So you can see why I was so on the verge of DNFing this book because I was utterly annoyed by this exasperatingly immature drama from both sides.

Now, to keep their involvement a secret and for the spying, Stephen had to put on his rakish mask and act. As she didn’t know the truth, his actions would of course make Isobel more determined that she won’t be happy with him. That he’d cast her aside sometimes later. But Stephen just couldn’t help himself when Isobel was in the same room, even when Claudette would warn him not to give himself away by staring at her. Isobel didn’t know about Claudette and she broke into an argument with Stephen once, when he was called away from her with a note from Claudette. It was a big misunderstanding. They almost have sex but the fact that she won’t marry him makes Stephen very angry. He asks Isobel to stall the marriage to see if she’s pregnant because he won’t let some other man raise his child. It was praiseworthy of him and I was kinda annoyed at Isobel now. In a rage, Stephen rides out in the night. We already saw that Robert has found some damning evidence of de Roche doing something fishy back in Rouen. Robert was always protective of Isobel for obvious reason and because of that, he was trying to stall the betrothal as well. But the king takes them all by surprise and the very next morning announces the betrothal. Stephen is back in the meantime and what seems to him is that Isobel has betrayed him. Misunderstanding, again... He leaves. She gives up and leaves with de Roche for Rouen. Robert is at a loss for words about what to do next. King Henry has no idea what he has just done.

In Rouen, Isobel finds some of the things aren’t alright, such as, no elderly relative to act as chaperone. Living alone with de Roche would prove to be harmful of her reputation but Isobel trusts him, albeit hesitantly. Then bringing Linnet wasn’t a good idea as de Roche, on occasion, would cast his lusty glance on her. In between, he drops hints that he wants to take their relationship to the next level, and very soon. Isobel stalls him somewhat by lying. De Roche now made her immensely uncomfortable. If she ever felt anything for him wasn’t there anymore. And she missed Stephen. Sometimes later, Stephen is in the city as the King’s representative. He hoped for a glance of Isobel, which he has when she arrives with de Roche. He drops hints, because he wanted to know if she’s pregnant. Stephen was very determined to do just about anything, if she was with child. But the shake of Isobel’s head takes away his dream. Stephen didn’t know that he could hurt that much. The fact that he’s losing her begins to set on him. And from this part, I finally started to enjoy the book because I saw real emotion from both sides now and believed that they both despaired of this horribly unfair situation. I couldn’t really blame Isobel. Her father was a traitor (which is why I think their lands were forfeited in the first place) and she wanted to prove that she can do something for England. She couldn’t have known what was in de Roche’s mind. And I felt the hurt Stephen it. It kinda made me cry, really. One thing Isobel does though, she sends Linnet away with Stephen to save her from de Roche’s hand. Stephen is quite disgusted by her cold behavior but Linnet soon explains him the ‘whys’ behind it all, including the letter Isobel discovered in de Roche’s study that confirms that he’s plotting against the English crown with someone called ‘T’. Now, Stephen is intrigued and a little more than apprehensive himself about Isobel’s safety. Then he gets some more interesting news about de Roche from ‘a friend’ of Claudette who stopped by.

With this, comes the part that was full of actions, something MM executed quite neatly IMO. Isabel sees the man that attacked the abbey and tried to kill them in de Roche’s study. After seeing the man, she’s very scared but tries to keep herself calm and think about how to save herself. She just feels that something is very wrong, and this feeling comes to haunt her in reality too soon for her liking. I can’t possibly express how much I LOVED this last part that hold me glued to the book. This is why I notched up the rating TBH. I loved how Isobel and Stephen worked together to save themselves and England, even though it was a bit gory for me. The sword fight scene was every bit as compelling as the deception part. And the book only gets better and by the time it ended, I felt quite a bit of affection for Stephen because he was determined to die in battle when Isobel still ‘wasn’t sure’ about their relationship. The King, upon learning of the troubles in Rouen, grants Isobel her lands. She’s now a wealthy widow and can live the quiet life she wanted to live in the first place. But can she, now that she has known Stephen? Ugh, but it made me wanna shake her. After all that they’d been together, how could she still be so confused? I also loved the last scene, just the night before Stephen was supposed to march with the King’s army.

I wish that the better part of the book was this good. As I found no fault with MM’s writing style, it could’ve been another splendid read all over like Knight of Desire. I also felt cheated about Robert and Claudette’s relationship, when it ended, it was said that they got married. Bummer! 3.75 stars. Next book is Jamie’s and his heroine is Linnet. Let’s see how that turns out for me.