My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’ve been waiting for Knight of Love by Catherine LaRoche for a long time. Now that I’ve finished, gotta ask myself; did it live up to my expectations? I have to say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. What I can honestly say is that I still have no complaints about ClR’s writing style as it was as splendid as ever.
But first, let me tell you about Master of Love, which is not really connected, except for some of the recurring characters. It was Callista’s story. An orphaned bluestocking and a book-dealer, she finds herself in financial jeopardy. Fortunately, she gets an offer that just might help changing her situation. This also leads her to meet the rich and superbly handsome ‘Master of Love’ Viscount Avery, Dominick or Dom, which changes her life forever. The Ton has an impression that Dom is an air-headed lord. Not Really! Dom has a brilliant mind that he has hidden under a rakish reputation carefully cultivated to fool people to stave off heartbreaks and ridicule. I mean who cares about a scholarly Lord who loves writing Philosophical texts, right? When an uncle leaves him with a huge library full of books that needs to be cataloged, Callista is hired. Her graceful bearing catches Dom’s attention the very first day. Sparks fly whenever they meet. After all the ups and downs, love and adoration win the day. I really enjoyed their interactions; they were a couple I felt were meant to be together right from the start.
Lenora, the h of of this book, is one of Callista’s friends. We meet two other friends of hers, including Bea, an heiress and charity enthusiast. All 4 of them, known since childhood, have formed a strong bond through their mothers, who introduced charity called ‘The Society of Love’. After years, Bea has managed to revive it when she came into her inheritance. An annual ball linked to it had been hugely popular among the Ton. It provides entertainment and the money raised from it goes to various charities they support.
The daughter of a Duke, Lenora was at that time engaged to be married to a German Prince. The contract was signed officially, Lenora had no say in it. She was rather trained since her childhood to resign to this sort of things. But in Master of Love, she was secretly full of hope that her Prince would be the One for her. Sadly we find that things don’t look very pleasant for her. Lenora is bound to a poll, being lashed by the men of said Prince for being ‘disobedient’ in front of an audience, namely the villagers of Rotenburg! Prince Kurt is an evil autocrat who runs his little kingdom under a tight fist, definitely not what Lenora ever dreamed of as a prospective husband.
When her parents left, they genuinely thought Lenora would be safe as a girl could be. If only they knew! Kurt didn’t take much time to show his real face, abusing Lenora both physically and emotionally. The hints went as far as sexual harassment. He means to ‘rule’ anything that he ‘possess’, and Lenora is a possession to him. She’d be the kind of obedient wife he wants her to be. He even made it sure that she’s always guarded by his minions. There’s no way she can even send words to her parents about what’s going on inside the Schloss.
After her punishment, Lenora feels unsteady in pain, yet she tries her best to cling to her already shredded dignity. As she was trying to get off the podium, failing miserably, a hulking giant of a man takes her gently in her arms. He introduces himself as the new blacksmith of the village. In pain, Lenora doesn’t notice much, except for, of course, his tall and muscular body and a pair of startlingly lovely blue eyes. Inside the castle, the man takes charge in an instant and sees her settled before he vanishes just the way he appeared when she needed a friendly soul in this God forbidden place.
While recuperating, Lenora forms an escape plan. She HAS TO escape no matter what! Kurt is the same with everyone, you can say he treats his people like rats because he’s a ‘Prince’ and has all the rights to do so! Additionally, this story is set against the backdrop of the German Revolutions of 1848 (or so I’ve surmised) and things, at that point, are going downhill fast. There are rebels in midst of Kurt’s subjects and a rogue band is triggering rebellions in various parts of the greater Germany; their cause, the rights of the common people. Like many of his peers, Kurt doesn’t believe in that so-called right. At that moment, they’re busy with holding meetings, to come up with ways to quell these rebellions. This gives Lenora the perfect opportunity to evade Kurt as he seemed too busy to bestow her with his ‘special’ attentions.
But easier said than done. Lenora though keeps stuffing provisions here and there, saving whatever meager amount of coins she had that time for her escape. At her secret request, a man, whose boy Lenora saved from Kurt’s cruelty, comes to her rescue out of gratefulness. It’s very apparent that majority do not care for their ‘Prince’. Lenora escapes, dressing herself as a boy, only she doesn’t know where to go. Her first plan was to seek out the British ambassador. Surely she’ll get some help from there. Yet she gets caught on her way by a rebel soldier. At first, I thought it was Kurt’s men as they were scouring the countryside in search of her, the broadsides telling everyone that the rebels have kidnapped his ‘beloved fiancée’! Unfortunately, the rebel soldier, when he figures out that this is not a boy but a full-grown woman, recognizes her. He decides to keep his ‘catch’ in hopes that they can get something out of Kurt in return. They can even use her if necessary! Kurt is not popular, so as her fiancée Lenora is the same to them.
At the camp, they keep talking about a man, their leader Lenora presumed. The man is called Der Wolfram (The Wolfram) or Freiherr (a Free Lord). Lenora decides she needs to confront this Wolfram because she was becoming afraid of the rebels. When, finally, the man in question arrives, he gives Lenora déjà vu. Did she see him somewhere? He’s huge! Tall and well-formed all over, yet dirty and bloodied from the recent skirmish. When their camp doctor shaves him and cuts his hair for better treatment, memory floods in full force. She instantly recognizes those blue eyes. Lenora is suddenly angry, at her current state, at her fate, at Kurt... and now at this man she thought to be different than the rest.
It was Wolfram’s reaction to Lenora’s capture that caught me, <i>and</i> Lenora by total surprise. He’s surprised and excited, scolding his men for treating her so badly. He jumps up and comes to her, takes her off of her bindings and then kisses her hands tenderly! Lenora is kinda speechless, but she’s angry, so she gives him exactly what she thinks of Wolfram and his rowdy band of rebels. But no matter how rude she is, Wolfram seems genuinely happy. He starts calling her ‘Princess’ (which she’s not), begins treating her as one. Well, Lenora can certainly appreciate good manners... but that’s not the point. Wolfram needs to tell her what the hell is going on!
When a fresh and buttoned-up Wolfram comes to his tent, where Lenora currently is, she’s again amazed by his size. She also discovers that he’s actually quite good-looking, in a rough, masculine sort of way. They’ve already confirmed that not only Wolfram is a Knight of the noble Wolfraven family here, his mother being a German Princess, but also, he’s the Earl of Ravensworth. He speaks fluent English too. Wolfram remains the epitome of gentlemanliness, until he offers something that makes Lenora speechless in angry disbelief. Wolfram is convinced that he’s in love with her, that she’s his soul mate! Not only that, he’s determined to save her, not the way she requested him to, which is to get her a passage in England but by marrying her immediately! Oh no, that won’t do at all! How can a practical girl like Lenora believe in this clap-trap? Besides she has just escaped an abominable fiancé, who shook her trust in men pretty badly. She’s not going down that path again! Lenora wants to go home, and that’s that.
Alas, you can’t make the stubborn oaf move from his decision either. It seems like he’s a man walking on clouds, floating on his own ideas. Wolfram is pretty sure that the change is coming, and soon. Worse still, he’s a romantic at heart, as his cousin, another rebel of the group, Lord Becker confirms to Lenora later. But no matter how ‘touched in the head’ Lenora thinks him to be, everyone in their ragtag group absolutely loves and honors Wolfram. This kinda devotion is hard to crack, so Lenora resigns to no help coming from that region. She’s, then, pretty much forced to marry Wolfram in a hasty ceremony. Lenora is supremely unhappy. She keeps saying this marriage will never hold in the eyes of the law because of the situation. Wolfram tries to explain to her why this is necessary; because she’s married now, Kurt can’t assert his right on her any longer, neither can he take her back.
Wolfram, on the other hand, is so happy, good God even I thought he’s crazy, when the lady in question doesn’t even care for him. Not that much at any case. He’s just over the moon to be marrying his Princess, the one he fell in love with at first sight on that fateful day. Her strength and defiance in that situation completely stole his heart. He’s trying hard to convince Lenora that this is the best for them, though it’s not really working. Whatever Lenora thinks, Wolfram has been most earnest in his vow. He meant everything, including the fact that all his worldly goods go to Lenora in case he perishes sooner rather than later.
I mean, yah, I can see why Lenora was so confounded by this guy. Who can believe this, right? After her plight, at first, I couldn’t even blame Lenora, though I knew that there is nothing bad lurks in Wolfram. He’s a man unlike most Romance heroes I generally read. It’s been repeated throughout that he’s ridiculously romantic and unbelievably chivalrous. Best thing was, when the story ended, I believed in it all. There was something so special about him that I couldn’t deny.
After this comes that ‘infamous’ wedding night. I know there are some hue and cry about it being ‘rape’. Yes, literally speaking, it probably was but to me it was more in the lines of ‘what you make of it’. Wolfram didn’t abuse or torture her. He was gentle all the way. The difference was her ‘no’ to the whole process. When Lenora, later, would take the chance to pinch Wolfram about it, he’d wince and hate himself for making her go through it. Yet he truly believed that Lenora needed this in case Kurt catches her. Without a doubt he’d have her checked by a physician. So to confirm her marital state, the consummation (discarding her virginity) was absolutely necessary.
I didn’t ponder over it much cause things were moving fast. Lenora was planning her escape every step of the way as they move through the turbulence of the rebellion. She finds that Wolfram is very popular among the common people. He, too, genuinely cares about them. After one particularly bloody skirmish, where she gets to show her archery skill, they take refuge in a village. The villagers are very helpful but Wolfram finds himself with fever, result of a bad injury. But he makes sure that his men are settled and tended for. Then Lenora takes over tending to Wolfram. Though she keeps telling herself that she has no business being interested in this man, while tending, his big, beautiful nude body distracts her. She finds herself exploring him in a way no lady ever should. Seeing him injured and the thought of his death also upsets her. Um, what the hell? Since she was making so much fuss about how she doesn’t care for him etc., and knowing she has planned to leave soon, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at that.
When Wolfram wakes weak, the news of Lenora’s escape makes him furious. He rants at Becker for letting her get away. But Becker isn’t a dumbo, he had someone follow her. The information doesn’t help allay Wolfram’s worries. Apparently, Lenora is headed for Schloss Dremen! Wolfram knows that the Count is against the rebellion. There’s every possibility that he has heard of Lenora and won’t hesitate to hand her over to Kurt! Even in this state, Wolfram remembers his vows of protecting her. To save his Princess, he rides for Dremen to offer himself in exchange of Lenora’s passage to England; a fact Lenora doesn’t come to know until much later.
When she reaches Dremen, Lenora was pretty sure she has found a safe haven. When the Count, a family friend, tells her that her passage has been secured, Lenora heaves a sigh of relief. Though she keeps thinking of Wolfram, she must leave for England no matter. Then suddenly, she learns that Wolfram has found out her ‘hideaway’ and is here now. Although she’s scared that he’s here to take her away, when she confronts him later, Wolfram confirms that the arrangement for her passage had been made with his help. At night, they even made crazy love; for Lenora it being that ‘one last time’ before she leaves him forever. *eyeroll* Since I knew what Wolfram has done, I begin to become irritated at her exuberance in leaving Germany... and her ‘unwanted’ husband.
It’s when she has travelled much further is when on a chance eavesdropping Lenora learns of Wolfram’s plan, that he’s now held by Kurt and destined for a death sentence. She’s instantly worried for him and begins weighing in her options. Umm, I’m surprised that you even cared Lenora! When she asks her escort, a very respectable elderly man, about this he repeats my line to her... almost. Why does she bother, now that she is so close to her ‘freedom’? When Lenora asks herself, she finds that she has come to care for that oaf in the course of their insane journey together. She decides on a plan; to hand herself over to Kurt and buy time until Becker and his help arrive in their rescue before all is lost.
A far-fetched plan for sure, especially when Becker outright refuses to help her. But they also want Wolfram saved, hence Lenora returns to Rottenburg, where she never thought she’d have to return again. A glance at Wolfram’s badly bruised and battered body tears at her but Lenora acts as if she doesn’t care. She tries to be the subjugated fiancée that Kurt prefers to avoid any suspicion. Lenora also tells him that she plans to break this farce of a marriage, also in the hearing range of Wolfram. The poor guy is heartbroken at that, a fact even Lenora could assess just by looking at his battered face. :( She’s torn but the plan must work. Fortunately, Lenora finds necessary help inside the Schloss, thanks to the servants’ utter dissatisfaction with their a$$hole of a master.
I liked these parts, thinking Lenora was finally in love because of how far she was willing to go with Kurt to save Wolfram. Their plan finally works, and though things end in a big mess with Kurt being killed by Lenora, they’re free. It gave me hope that after so much chaos and conflicts in their relationship, at last they’d be together. I would’ve loved to see Lenora taking care of Wolfram next as he was very badly injured from the abuse. Instead, I found that the timeline skips a couple of months, with Lenora being in England all this time. She has left Germany right after that day. Wolfram also didn’t want her around in case she’s charged with murder. What I found most frustrating is this, though in between she has kept track of Wolfram, (I felt) she was ashamed of talking about him in terms of their marriage and intimacy. No one really knows what happened to her as she never told anyone the exact story.
Eventually, they meet again in a London Ball. Lenora has learned that Wolfram is in England after months of recuperating, thanks to Becker’s secret missive. But when she sees him again, things don’t look good. Wolfram is rather pale and comparably thin with a limp on one leg. I wanted more warmth from Lenora where he was concerned. Sadly, she has always been somewhat distant. So I wasn’t surprised when she begins perusing him again, in secret of course, to end her ‘unwanted marriage’. Wolfram is definitely not happy to see her. I personally couldn’t blame him at all after being rejected over and over again. But it’s also true that he absolutely can’t help holding her in his arms and kissing her senseless... or make himself senseless in the process. LOL And though the love and yearning have never faded, this time, he concurs. Lenora will have her wish fulfilled.
Now, this gets Lenora in a tizzy. She was so adamant about getting rid of her marriage, when Wolfram finally says ‘yes’, it doesn’t sit well with her. NOW she’s the one confused. She can’t live in this marriage, yet she doesn’t want to... I don’t know, forget Wolfram either. Oh Lord save me!
Lenora finds Bea and Callista and confides in them about her ordeal. Then they begin forming a plan. Question is, does she want to continue on as Wolfram’s wife, because if she makes this official, there’s no turning back. She gets crabby replies from Wolfram to her messages, though he concedes about the proposed house-party on his estate. At length, when Lenora arrives there, Wolfram is still trying to put some distance between them. But her MIL is very happy to welcome her. I was hoping for a superb reconciliation with some mind-blowing sex, unfortunately, there was none. Just when they were beginning to re-think their status, poor Wolfram is arrested again because of his role in the rebellion in Germany. *sigh*
The ending was fine, mind you, because Lenora is FINALLY driven by desperation. She realizes she doesn’t wanna lose Wolfram ever. Things she does and the lengths she goes to free her husband (yes, she acknowledges him as such publicly), I wish I had seen that determination much earlier. Her sudden appearance leaves Wolfram suspicious, angry, yet secretly hopeful. I believe her ‘demonstration’ in the cell where he was kept *wink* and in the courtroom, leads Wolfram to realize something that makes him the happiest man alive. That he can now he can call Lenora his own. :p
I really wish the story wasn’t rushed the way it was and Lenora-Wolf’s relationship was given some more chapters to have a slow build it obviously needed. Have to mention that I found romance sorely lacking due to all the dilemma and disagreements. Then Lenora’s sudden change of mind felt abrupt. Being a practical English girl, was she just overwhelmed by Wolf’s undying devotion? I never quite really understood just how she could be away from him after what they have been through together.
In a whole, I felt frustrated a couple of times while reading Knight of Love. However, I did like the Historical aspect of the story. 4 stars, I think this definitely could’ve been better.
This ARC was provided to me by Simon and Schuster/Pocket Star via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.