Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-24817-3
Historical Romance, 2015 (Reissue)
In the King’s Service was first published, by the same publisher, back in 2003. There is no indication that I can find as to whether this one has been revised in any way, though; maybe it’s just a straight-up reissue. Perhaps this being a reissue is not too surprising, as we hardly get any new medieval romance stories these days. While this one may be, literally, old school, the heroine can get a bit too precious, so chalk this one up as one of those alternate universe medieval romances where the heroine comes out of her mother’s womb a full-fledged “I WANNA DO BOY’S THINGS AND SHUT UP, DON’T DISRESPECT MY WOMYNHOOD, YOU DISGUSTING CIS MALES!” drama queen.
Rebecca Throckton is the heroine in question. Since a fall in her childhood left her with one leg shorter than the other, she is filed under the “Poor dear, she’ll never get a husband” discount rack by her father and her sister Laelia. Yes, one sister is called Becca, the other Laelia, kind of like a “one is not like the other” game. Laelia is, of course, beautiful, gorgeous, et cetera, while Becca is plain. Becca is, predictably, one of those “I wield swords, ride horses like the wind, and I WILL NEVER MARRY BECAUSE, LIKE, I WANT LOVE AND RESPECT, but SHUT UP, DON’T TELL ME YOU LOVE ME BECAUSE I KNOW I AM NEVER WOMAN ENOUGH FOR YOU. Although, I don’t want to be seen as a pampered soft woman anyway but still, I KNOW YOU WANT A PAMPERED SOFT WOMAN SO I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH. But hey, shag me anyway!” dingbats.
Meanwhile, Sir Blaidd Morgan is on an undercover assignment given by his liege Henry to come over to the castle and discover whether Becca’s father is plotting against the king. Everyone wants to marry Laelia, so he uses the excuse of wanting to court Laelia to gain entry into the castle. Alas, he is far more enchanted by the other sister, and he spends way too much time chasing after Becca when he should be trying to get useful information for his liege. Yes, he’s simply a dud when it comes to being an undercover agent. Whether or not Throckton is a traitor, the information has to be handed over to him in the end, because it’s not like his sniffing after Becca’s hindquarters is going to get him any useful information.
Here’s the thing, though: this story is very entertaining, probably too entertaining for something with such amount of silliness in the plot. A big reason for this is the very enjoyable romance.
Blaidd defines the concept of chivalry – he is sensitive, kind, gentlemanly without any alpha tendencies towards Becca, and he even disapproves of his squire visiting brothels because, to him, real gentlemen in positions of power shouldn’t take advantage of poor women who are forced to sell themselves. He even adores Becca for what she is. While other people may find her a shrewish tomboy, he sees in her instead a very capable manager-type person adored by the staff and tenants, and he also adores how spirited and feisty she can be. She likes horses and does many “unladylike” things? Well, he loves those things too – they have plenty in common then! This guy is a dream, as long as one doesn’t ask him to be an undercover agent.
Becca can be hilariously gullible and naïve, but here’s the thing – she is not stupid. When her back is against the corner, watch as she lies and comes up with plans to save herself with a competency that can be shocking considering the general intelligence levels of heroines in the genre. She is gullible and emotional, but at the same time she is perfectly capable of realizing when she is wrong; she strikes me as a sheltered lady who learns quickly enough not to be bitten twice, rather than brain damage in action. Her insistence that she is somehow not good enough for Blaidd can be annoying, but then again, she has enough positive traits to balance out the annoying ones in my opinion.
Both characters spar, argue, and go back and forth in a manner that I find most amusing, and I like how they seem to have mutual respect and fondness to make their romance believable. Interestingly enough, the author also gives Laelia a pretty decent treatment – that lady may seem like a typical foil to the heroine at first, but it is soon revealed that Laelia’s constant admonishment of Becca’s behavior comes from her sincere worry that Becca may never find a husband. Becca insists that she will be fine without a man, which is exactly the kind of attitude that makes Laelia seem more mature and more in-tune with the ways of their world compared to that dingbat. Laelia is a pretty pleasant surprise, although her happy ending seems to come out of nowhere.
In many ways, In the King’s Service is a pretty formulaic medieval romance, but the chemistry between the leads and the author’s tweaks to the formula make this one far more enjoyable than I expected at first. This one is quite the most pleasant kind of surprise!