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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Medieval Soap Opera Good, Clean, Courtly Fun

(Image from Deseret Book)

Although I don't read a lot of books about the Medieval times (let alone a romance), I just couldn't pass up Loyalty's Web by Joyce DiPastena. It's not the cover that grabbed me, nor the plot summary (although it did sound intriguing), but the author herself. DiPastena is LDS, an Arizonan and just a fascinating person all around. She holds a Bachelor's in history, with an emphasis on medieval history - a course of study I never even knew existed. She also earned a Master's in library science. With a book lovin' expert on the Middle Ages at the helm, I figured I couldn't go wrong with Loyalty's Web. Even if it is a romance.

The story is grounded in real history: It's 1176 and England's King Henry II is struggling to control his ambitious sons, all of whom are vying for control of lands promised to them by their father. Since the peaceful division envisioned by Henry involved one brother bowing to another, jealousy and anger ensued. The Angevin empire (which, according to Wikipedia, stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland at its peak), presented an especially difficult problem for the king. Here's where the fiction begins: When Loyalty's Web opens, the king has issued a peace treaty in an attempt to rein in his rebellious son Richard. He's sent the Earl of Gunthar to the Poitou region of France to ensure compliance with the treaty, especially among wealthy land barons who support Richard's position. While there, the earl will wed the beautiful Clothilde de Laurant, a strategic move that will bind Laurant to the king.

Almost immediately, the king's plan goes awry: Someone (or several someones) is trying to kill the earl; Gunthar's no more impressed with the fragile Clothilde than she is with him; and Helene, Clothilde's older sister, is being blackmailed into undermining the earl's mission.

While Clothilde's many graces make her the desired sister, it is Helene who is the true heroine of the story. Unlike her sister, she's neither beautiful nor graceful. What she does possess is intelligence, bravery and loyalty. It's the fire in her eyes that catches the attention of Gunthar, the earl. Helene knows such a powerful man can only be teasing her with his flattery, but she can't get him off her mind. As if she has nothing else to think about. With a spy on the loose in the castle, her own impending nuptials to escape, and a childhood friend locked in the tower, she has plenty to occupy her brain. Her schemes will bring her in direct conflict with Gunthar's orders, which will not please the earl one bit. Still, Gunthar and Helene come to an agreement: They need to work together in order to flush out the traitor inside the Laurant castle. Both are fiercely loyal - Gunthar to the king, Helene to her family and friends - something that will stand firmly in the way of their mutual attraction. Will the pair find a way to be together? Is Gunthar just amusing himself by exploiting Helene's naivetee? Can Helene wed another when her heart belongs to the earl? Can Gunthar and Helene find the spy in time? Or are they all doomed to suffer the king's vengeance?

The plot becomes complicated and confusing, with lots of political detail as well as a large cast of characters. It took me a chapter or so to get into the story, but once I did, I did in a big way. The story's action-packed, with lots of courtly intrigue, romance and family tension to keep it chugging along. We know from the beginning that Gunthar and Helene belong together, but DiPastena manages to instill enough doubt that the reader is kept guessing right up until the finale. Unfortunately, that doesn't hold true with the spy mystery - I realized the traitor's identity right away. Still, though, I enjoyed the story, especially the feisty, but tender relationship between Gunthar and Helene. Loyalty's Web has some issues - all in all, though, it's a fun, gripping tale that will keep you entertained until the last sentence. It's not my usual fare, but I enjoyed it anyway. Romance and all.

The Laurant sisters' story continues in Illuminations of the Heart, now available at Deseret Book and Stay tuned for my review - coming soon!

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and very mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Joyce DiPastena kindly sent me a copy of Loyalty's Web to review. Thanks, Joyce!

1 comment:

  1. Loyalty's web has been weaved in words in an engaging and beautiful manner...It once occupied the best sellers listing on an online bookstore site - A1Books and the review made me place the order there and then...a treasure in my mini-library!!!


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