Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0362-5
Historical Romance, 2009
Marc de Sens is a Breton knight who is on a pilgrimage to St Cuthbert, with his three orphaned nieces in tow. Why he is on a pilgrimage, well, since it’s part of the drama between him and the heroine, I’d let you discover that reason for yourself. He meets our heroine Sunniva of Wereford and is enchanted by her beauty, but it is only when he comes to rescue after one too many dramatic near-rape and abuse inflicted on her that the romance picks up. But Sunniva must be the grandmother of the ultimate Mary Balogh heroine, because there is no shortage of nonsense she will come up with to keep them apart for a little longer.
The conflict in this story is not easily summed up, because the plot is more like a series of dramatic events coming between Marc and Sunniva. Set in 1066, right in the midst of the clash between the Normans and the natives of that setting, the story is however rather slow in pace. For about the first half or so of the story, it is an All Men are Rapists melodrama – everyone wants to violate Sunniva, including her brothers who could either be her biological or half-siblings. The hero wants to violate the heroine too, but he’s more gentlemanly than most people. He only gets horny thoughts about her while rescuing her from his fellow lecherous men. The second half of the story sees Sunniva dramatically coming up with reason after reason to keep the conflicts coming.
Marc is an interesting hero because he is a reliable, capable, protective, and yet, gallant and tender knight. He’s nothing at all like the surly stubborn mules that tend to populate medieval romances. He can even sing and he falls for the heroine easily without fighting his emotions too much. His relationship with his nieces is also a nice one. The nieces remind me too much of Disney cartoon characters, but at the same time, it’s nice to see a hero who actually makes an effort to protect and comfort children.
However, Sunniva… I don’t even know where to start about her. When she is a doormat, beaten and molested by the men in her family, she dreams of escaping, but when she is free, she insists on not taking the opportunity to run away from her past. She insists that the hero is too good for her and tries several times to flee (even if she’s alone and she’ll be fleeing deeper into All Men Want To Rape Me territory), but thankfully the hero catches her before she pays for her stupidity. But when she has finally driven the hero off, she will whine and sob that the hero doesn’t want her. I don’t know what this stupid creature wants; I just want her with a sock balled up and stuffed down her throat.
She also believes the worst about the hero repeated and constantly, even if the source of information is her hated brother. She knows the hero has saved her repeatedly, but she can’t trust him, she just can’t. Not only that, Sunniva is the kind of heroine who tends to behave stupidly at the most inconvenient moments. For example, there is this moment where she, Marc, and the three little girls are hiding from fifteen men who are just riding past their hiding place… and then she takes offense at something the hero says and starts acting out while the enemies are still out there. There is another scene where she starts shooting arrows at the enemies – and doing a miserable job at it – until the hero grabs her out of trouble’s way, only to have her reward him with a screech about how she can really fight and he shouldn’t have tried to protect him.
Sunniva also can’t shut up. When they are surrounded by enemies and the hero tries to talk their way out, she will start screaming – yes, screaming – and botch things up. For a woman who is always being beaten and coming this close to being a multiple rape victim, she sure doesn’t know when to keep quiet and stay out of trouble. Even a character remarks to the hero at one point that Sunniva doesn’t know her place. And yet, Ms Townsend seems to want me to applaud the heroine’s foot-in-mouth disease because the character who pointed this out is a villain. Feisty heroine trying to rebel against convention is one thing, but Sunniva here just won’t shut up even if she is dragging everyone down with her, so no, there is nothing commendable about her antics.
Perhaps A Knight’s Captive could have been a good story if the heroine had been someone else, I don’t know. All I know is that by the last page of this book, I’m almost deliriously happy to see the last of Sunniva. Dear heavens, if I come across another heroine like her anytime soon, I’m going to have to give up on romance and go read something else, maybe furry smut, instead.