by Kathleen Givens, historical (2008)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-0993-6
Rivals For The Crown is a very busy story to summarize, especially when I'm not too well-versed the history of 13th century Scotland and England. The title refers to the men fighting to rule Scotland after the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, sets off the events that will lead to the Wars of Scottish Independence. Contenders to the throne include the likes of William Wallace and John Comyn. Don't worry if you get lost like I did occasionally during the story. There is always Wikipedia, thank goodness.
The story revolves around a central ensemble cast during this tumultuous time. We have childhood friends Isabel de Burke and Rachel Anjou who were separated when King Edward I ordered all Jews to vamoose from London and Rachel's family had to leave as a result. Isabel will grow up to become a lady-in-waiting while Rachel is now helping her family run an inn in Scotland. Isabel will soon find herself trying to navigate the treacherous tides of political intrigue and lecherous males who just want to get at her precious virtue. Rachel's family, having changed their last name to Angenhoff, as you can probably imagine are seized by worry when they learn that King Edward I is called to settle the matter of succession in Scotland. He won't banish the Jews from Scotland, will he?
As for the boys, we have Kieran MacDonald, who meets Rachel while accompanying his cousin Rory MacMagnus. What is supposed to be a trip to inform an aunt of the Maid of Norway's death had turned into a run from the law when Rory made enemies out of an enemy clan. Eventually Rory will leave for England to lay low as the heat on him cools down, so to speak, and Rachel asks him to say hello to her old friend Isabel. This is how he meets and falls for Isabel de Burke.
The stars of this story are not these characters, which range from flat to truly annoying, but the actual players of history here. The events that will make history are far more interesting than the stories of the main characters, and I find myself wishing that those four brats will somehow vanish so that I get a full historical fiction without those brats annoying me.
The heroes are quite flat, which may be the result of the author ambitiously attempting to but not quite succeeding in juggling two romantic story lines in this story, while the heroines are annoying. Rory and Kieran are quite young by today's standards, but they behave like adults, which is to be expected given that people have to grow up quickly in those tumultuous times. However, Isabel and Rachel behave instead like whiny little girls who think they are Bella Swan's best friends forever or something.
Isabel is especially irritating as this shallow nitwit who unfortunately insists on thinking that she is so much better and smarter than everyone else around her. She behaves like a typical spoiled brat who keeps doing all the wrong things, she's annoying. Rachel isn't a spoiled brat, but she is so determined to play the miserable martyr that she ends up a complete wet blanket. She's annoying as well. Both women are quite useless in times of duress as they will be the first to become hysterical.
There are some technical "Eh?" moments as well in this story, especially early in the story when characters begin telling each other things that they all should already know, clearly for the reader's sake. Also, the author eventually glosses over the matters that became important plot points earlier in the story, such as the different religions of Kieran and Rachel. When it is convenient for her, the author isn't above giving her main characters modern day sensibilities of democracy and what not that feel really out of character for people in the 13th century.
Still, all this isn't that bad for the story, given that this story moves at a good pace when it needs to ramp up the drama a little. The author succeeds in making me get emotionally invested in seeing the outcome of the historical events taking place in this story. Unfortunately, the boring main characters just won't go away and let me enjoy the story in peace.
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