This was a HABO that Laura asked about back last spring, and I ordered it back then and didn’t even open the package until this week.
(This semester is even crazier than last spring, I’m doing an internship that’s 15-20 hours a week, plus 4 other classes and it’s kind of insane.)
Okay. So. This is full of whatthefuckery. Really. With a side dish of anachronism stew. (I’m also writing this while watching the pilot of Ringer which involves a twin-switch scenario, and it’s actually pretty good. If you like film noir-y drama, give it a shot.)
So our story begins in Wales in 12-something or other, with Kiera, our heroine, out for a ride on daddy’s prize stallion (who, like all prize stallions, is a giant black horse). She’s disguised herself as a stableboy to avoid trouble, but naturally the black stallion is a lot of horse and dumps her, basically into the arms of a ruffian who makes like you expect ruffians to act when a woman who is disguised as a boy lands in his arms- not honorably. Kiera’s older sister Elyn happens to be out running around at the same time, and shoots the ruffian with an arrow or something, saving Kiera’s life and/or virtue. Kiera than declares that she owes Elyn a favor, whatever Elyn asks, it shall be hers. Elyn’s like “are you sure about that?” and Kiera’s like “YES OMG YES” (foreshadowing) and Elyn’s like “okay then.”
So we fast forward three years on the eve of Elyn’s wedding to Kelan of Penbrooke (neighboring baron). Elyn does not want to marry Kelan, but will grudgingly put up with it if and only if Kiera will stand in during the ceremony and the wedding night. BUT NOT LIKE THAT, oh no. The plan is to get him drunk and then drug him and then “sprinkle a vial of blood” on the sheets to make him think he deflowered his wife while leaving Kiera’s virtue intact and then Elyn would swap back in and be Kelan’s wife. Because of course Elyn is in love with the son of a neighboring baron and has already slept with him and can’t possibly pass herself off as a virgin.
(Why Kiera didn’t say “Elyn, why on earth can’t YOU drug him and then sprinkle the blood on the sheets and make this a less interesting book?” I don’t know. Well, I do, because then Elyn might have had to admit she was never coming back.)
Anyway, so Kiera tries to argue that this is a bad idea, and Elyn’s like “YOU PROMISED ME A FAVOR BITCH” and that’s pretty much that. The only people in the castle who know that Kiera is pretending to be Elyn is her nanny, Hildy and their little sister Penelope. Or Priscilla. Or something with a P. Anyway, you can already see how this is doomed to fail, since as the Klingons say, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. (Or was that the Narns? Certainly not the Centari. Or the Ferengi.)
So they do that, only of course Elyn is running off to Brock, her One True Love (as an aside, there was a kid I went to elementary school with who’s name was Brock, and I hated him. So I predisposed to hate Brock on sight), and the whole “drug him so he can’t get it up” plan fails because he’s got the liver of a, well, an alpha male Romance hero. NO DRUG SHALL GET BETWEEN THE HERO AND HIS NOOKIE. And so there is sex. Lots of sex.
Elyn never shows up in the morning, and Kiera goes out for a ride to look for her, and then, in desperation embarks on a campaign to keep Kelan in their chamber (guess how. G’wan. Guess.) so no one will see her and him and let the fact that she’s not Elyn slip in front of him while she tries to think of something better. Sort of lucky for her, he gets a message that his mother is dying, and he and Kiera and his people head back to Penbrooke post-haste. So she doesn’t have to keep it up for very long.
In the middle of all this acrobatic sex, Kelan does find the vials (she attempted to get rid of them, but failed, apparently) and wonders what the hell is going on and spends the rest of the book wondering and having sex.
At the same time, Elyn finds Brock and she’s all “Let us run away together like we planned!” and he’s kind of hesitant and then flat out tells her that he has to marry the woman HIS father picked for him, Wynnifrydd because Wynni is pregnant. Elyn freaks out (and rightfully so) and then falls off her horse into the river and drowns.
Once Kelan and Kiera get to his castle, his sister immedietly calls her out for not being Elyn. Kiera freaks, but then rallies and bluffs her way through, and it sort of works. Kelan’s mother tells Kiera to do whatever she needs to to make the marriage work- and then dies.
Hildy, the nanny back at Kiera’s father’s house, is of course freaking out because she has no idea where Elyn is, so she sends out Stableboy Joseph (who is in love with Elyn. And Kiera. Kind of both) to go find her. He heads out to Brock’s barony and overhears Brock tell Wynni that he can’t marry her because he realized she’s a bitch or something (it wasn’t clear) and Wynni goes off on the “the wedding is TOMORROW and you’re gonna LEAVE ME AT THE ALTER?” tear. Then she accuses him of leaving her for Elyn and he says that he can’t, Elyn is drowned.
She flounces off and Stableboy Joseph jumps Brock and trusses him up and drags him back home. He does later admit he has no real idea what he’ll do with Brock, but he has the opportunity to do something. But then Brock escapes and heads off to Penbrooke.
At which point Elyn wakes up. Because she’s not actually dead. Bet you didn’t see that twist coming. Also she’s had a miscarraige. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, either.
Kiera attempts to tell Kelan the truth, who thinks she’s playing some sort of kinky game (“Oh I see! You’re my wife’s sister and you’ll do anything I say? I love this game!”) and won’t listen to Kiera at all.
Elyn heads off to Penbrooke. And Wynnifryd heads off to Penbrooke to find Brock and drag him back to the altar. And Hildy and Penelope/Priscilla head off to Penbrooke because clearly that is the place where the plot is crashing together, and who would want to miss that?
Elyn finds Kiera and throws a complete nutty because Kiera…. Did exactly what Elyn told her too, and had sex with Elyn’s husband, and was basically living Elyn’s life…. Like Elyn wanted…. But HOW DARE SHE ENJOY IT. Also Kiera is pregnant because of course she is, and she’s in love with Kelan and feels horrible about it.
So Kiera and Elyn find Kelan and tell hm the truth, and then Wynnifryd bursts in like a crazy woman and throws her crazy all over the place and then they find out that Wynni wasn’t pregnant after all, she just told Brock that so he’d have to marry her. Then she freaks out and pulls out a knife to….kill Elyn? But then Kiera gets stabbed and collapses in Kelan’s arms while whispering, “I love you.”
And then we jump to some time later, where Kelan has gotten an annulment of the marriage, Elyn has been sent off to a convent, Kiera is being allowed to hang around Penbrooke until the baby is born and then will be sent away is disgrace but has to leave the kid there. Kelan’s brother decides enough is enough with this shit, loudly proposes to Kiera where he knows that Kelan will hear, and Kelan’s like “FUCK THAT IF ANY ONE IS MARRYING HER IT’S ME!” and that’s the happily ever after.
It is exactly as rushed as it sounds.
I feel like there’s a good story in here, but it’s tangled up in a bunch of half developed plot threads that go nowhere, and a crap ton of anachronisms and, I’m sad to say, sloppy writing.
The biggest problem is that there’s no real development of Keran. He shows up, he makes some references to a hellraising past, there’s an implication that he was the ruffian that attacked Kiera at the beginning of the story, and there’s no follow up. He likes sex and can hold his liquor. And he loves his mother. There’s not much else there.
What happens with Brock and Stableboy Thomas? Hildy? Little Sister P? NO IDEA. I know that there’s more books in the series, but these threads don’t seem like ones that should carry over. They just hang like those annoying threads that you have to snip on that summer skirt you just made out of a repurposed sari, and it’s super pretty and then the day after you finish it, the weather turns too cold to wear it and you have to put it aside until next summer.
My life, you guys. MY LIFE.
The blatant anachronisms bothered me a lot. I don’t expect an exhaustively researched book, and maybe I know a bit more about medieval stuff than others. I know in the comments of the HABO request that we talked about the names issue (Some Welsh, some “Welshish” and some modern Irish, I think?). It’s 12-something or other, I don’t think Kiera would be wearing lace. Or velvet (velvet wasn’t even invented until the middle of the 14th century). Silk in Wales, even for minor nobility? Seems to be a bit of a stretch.
I didn’t notice any potato rage-y food elements, however. So there’s that.
But the worst thing, the WORST was the anachronistic crap that came out of the character’s mouth. Elyn justifies her desire to not marry Kelan as her father arranged because she wants to “marry a man she loves” and that arranged marriages for political purposes are old fashioned.
It’s 12-whatever. NO THEY ARE NOT.
Most of the time, most characters speak in vaguely stilted, medieval-oid speech (“Aye” “Mayhap” etc). But then things like “It will never ever work!” and “you are out of your mind!” creep in and pulls you out.
“You know that Brock’s a scoundrel. You’ve said so yourself.”
“Mayhap, but the heart knows no reason.” Elyn stared into the storm as if she were searching for some kind of divine intervention, some kind of insight into her plight.”
“Oh stop it! I’ve heard you spout this romantic nonsense too often, and look where it’s gotten you.” Kiera felt a pang of something akin to pity. Her strong sister was such a fool when it came to love, but Elyn had always been a bit of a dreamer. “I know you don’t want to marry Penbrooke. Have you not said as much every day since Father announced the agreement? But what you’re suggesting is mad…absurd. It will never ever work.”
Or there’s the awkward sex scene where Brock and Wynni are arguing and he grabs her “tight ass” to initiate sex to make her shut up.
And then there’s the part where Jackson either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how inheritance law works (I mean, Welsh law might be different in this regard, but based on my understanding of English inheritance schemes, she is wrong). Kiera and Elyn don’t have any brothers, so the title and entail will go to Elyn. Except no. And when Brock marries Wynnifrydd, he will inherent Wynnifredd’s father’s title. Except no. In both cases (unless I am wrong), we’d have a Downton Abbey hunt down the surviving cousin situation, or the titles and entails would revert back to the Crown. Not to the girls.
Which brings me to the final thing I want to talk about. Of the three female characters that are sexually active, the only one who is presented as somewhat sane is Kiera. Elyn is flighty and a manipulative bitch and believes everything Brock tells her. Wynnifrydd is legit crazy, and kind of a slut and greedy and manipulative and basically a mean girl. It’s a little insulting.
I will say that I liked how Jackson presented Kiera’s growing anxiety when Elyn doesn’t come back and what is she going to do, and how on earth did it get this far- that was well done. I really wanted to know how this was going to be resolved, and I wanted to know how Kelan was going to take the news (I admit, the “oh, so you’re my sister-in-law” kinky-times was not what I was expecting him to do). Which is why I found the ending to be so disappointing. It just ends with a magical wedding, woohoo, no harm no foul.
I feel like there was a potential for a good story here- but the dangling half-plot-threads and awkward dialogue, missing characterization (seriously, why do we give a shit about him?), and abrupt “oh hello there, deadline!” ending just smothered it.