Title: The Conqueror
Series: The de Warenne Dynasty #1
Like a pagan god, Rolfe the Relentless rode into Castle Aelfgar to claim it as his prize--and Lady Alice as his bride. Lauded for his bravery in France, in England he was the hated enemy. Once ensconced in his new domain, Rolfe became determined to tame the Saxon beauty Ceidre, Alice's illegitimate sister, whose spirit and sensuality make him risk treason to have her--not Lady Alice--in his bed...
Mysterious and seductive, she was no lady but a spy for the rebel cause of her noble half brothers. Refusing to bow to this arrogant warrior who ignited her forbidden passion, Ceidre was swept into a dangerous liaison tied to the fate of England and kings. Yet with his kisses on her lips, his skillful hands on her body, she would have to struggle not to surrender to... The Conqueror.
Reading a bodice ripper - a medieval bodice ripper, no less - requires some mental preparation on my part. I have to be willing to suspend copious amounts of disbelief, and keep in mind that people could be callous, women were not treated like human beings, and that violence and rape was practically a way of life (at least no one cared to defend the rapee from the rapist). Oh, and the language was a lot bawdier then - at least all the medieval bodice rippers I've read have bawdy language. Once I get there, then I can leave my outrage at the door and just enjoy the story for what it is.
Even so, this one was a bit hard to take at times. Rolfe de Warenne is one of William the Bastard's (that's conqueror to you :D) most trusted knights. After a successful campaign to control Saxon England, William rewards Rolfe's services with some Saxon Lord's holdings. He is to marry the dude's daughter to cement his claim. So he and his knights ride in triumphantly and wreak havoc. Rolfe sees a girl he fancies and attempts to forcibly take her, only to be informed that was his wife-to-be. [It was a case of mistaken identity. Caedre was the half-sister of the wife-to-be].
The almost-rape in the very beginning left me reeling. I mean, it was very much in character for that time but still! Well anyway, we continue on to meet Alice, the wife-to-be who's a bitter vindictive woman, probably because she learned it from her mom. See, her dad didn't love Alice's mother. He'd married her as an afterthought to prevent himself from going after the baseborn woman whom he loved - Caedre's mom. but everyone talked of it as if Alice's mom had been bitter for no good reason. Would you not be bitter too, in her shoes? Things like that bothered me. Again, I understand that is how things were- women were not given any consideration - but still.
There were also many moments where I felt the heroine was exceedingly TSTL, because she did things anyone with a modicum of sense wouldn't do, like telling your sister, who so obviously hates you, that yo are committing treason. The hero spent a good amount of time thinking with not-his-head, and then would be surprised when things went wrong because of that. He also acted with casual callousness a lot of the time, but see my very first paragraph for the disclaimer. Smh.
I still did give this three stars though, because I very much enjoyed the drama and the angst - this was one very angsty tale impossible love. Rolfe desperately wants Caedre, to the point that he is open about it and everyone knows it. She rebuffs his advances 1. because he is to be married to her sister, and 2. she's been an outcast since she was born, what with being a bastard child, being cross-eyed and being able to heal with herbs. No one has ever wanted her. He wants her, he can't have her. I don't think I've ever read a medieval romance where the heroine was actively rebuffing the hero's advances or the hero was so open about his desire; I enjoyed that aspect very much.
And the various obstacles - mostly man-made - that kept popping up in their path just made me want to groan - it seemed like they were never going to get together! When Rolfe decided to marry Caedre off, I was speechless, but then that's when things took an interesting turn (IMO it was rather ingenuous execution on Ms. Joyce's part), i.e. that's when all the smexing began, and boy was there boatloads of it! Ms. Joyce had gone 60-70% of the novel without any smex, and she seemed bound and determined to make up for that. It kick-started off with a rape, which again, I had to grit my teeth and remind myself that it was in keeping with the time period and our characters, but it still grated. What didn't didn't gel well with me was Caedre's arousal right after she'd been raped. But oh well. I'd suspended disbelief for so long, I was willing and able to go with the flow.
At the heart of it, I truly did enjoy Rolfe and Caedre's story. Good bodice ripper. Recommended - if you like that sort of book, and if you are willing to suspend disbelief.