Harlequin Historical, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-373-29558-6
Historical Romance, 2009
Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight is a pretty wordy and grandiose title for a lackluster story. While I am generally a fan of Deborah Simmons’s books, she has been off her game in her last few books. Her previous book, The Dark Viscount, had a very weak romance but the Gothic-style story was interesting enough to keep me reading. This one, unfortunately, is lacking in both the romance and story line departments.
Then again, I must confess that the author’s The de Burghs series is not my favorite works by her. I prefer her Regency-era historical romances because too many of the author’s medieval stories are of the wallpaper variety. You know, medieval romances where the characters seem anachronistically scientific rather than superstitious, where religion doesn’t seem to play a role in the lives of the people, and everyone seems able to read in a world where serfs and lords mingle and joke around like friends in a tavern.
This is a problem especially in Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight because, you see, the heroine Sabina Sexton and the few remaining people in Grim’s End believe that they are being terrorized by a dragon. Since this is the medieval era, that seems like a logical set of belief of the people in that era. Unfortunately, Reynold de Burgh, our hero, has to pooh-pooh their beliefs, calling them superstitions, and as a result, stands out like a sore thumb as a modern-day democratic Yankee pretending to be a medieval knight in England. Add in the other Medieval Café feel of the era and I never get this feeling that the characters are immersed in a halfway authentic setting.
And because the hero knows at once that dragons can’t exist – don’t ask me why, as there is nothing in this story to suggest that he knows more about “science” of that time than his peers – and the story proceeds to point out how right he is, the heroine comes off as pretty dense.
Oh yes, the story. I forgot about that, sorry. Okay, Reynold de Burgh is our hero, and he is one of the two remaining strapping lads not shackled in the series. He is lame, and because he had been spurned by women in the past, he has a big chip on his shoulder about how he will never marry because no woman will surely love him. While he doesn’t behave like an asshole, he will keep moping about this for a very long time. Because most of his brothers are happily married and he is so blue about being left out, he decides to leave home to wander around aimlessly. I’m not joking. Some old biddies supposedly with magic powers decide to tell him before he leaves that he will soon embark on a quest to slay a dragon for a damsel in distress. They even send a young lad to accompany him as his squire.
Much to Reynold’s surprise, his wandering soon leads him to Sabina. Sabina’s father died, supposedly due to a dragon attack, and many of the locals have fled after their houses were razed to the ground and their livestock was killed. Sabina, however, won’t leave because she will not leave her house. She will not! Asking for help once she’s tucked away in a safe area is naturally out of the question because she won’t be able to play the martyr that way. Once she realizes that there may be no dragon, she will quickly keep her doubts to herself and try to drive away the hero for his safety because, again, this is a nice way to play the martyr. She and her few loyal followers (whose safety apparently isn’t as important as the hero’s) will just stay there and become martyrs of Grim’s End.
Of course, there is no dragon and the story doesn’t even try to hide this. Nobody has seen the dragon, but Sabina and the other locals of Grim’s End believe in the dragon’s existence nonetheless. Normally, in a typical medieval era, such a belief may be normal, but because this story has a 21st century reenactment feel to the whole affair, Sabina and the other locals of Grim’s End come off like the bluntest tools in the shed belonging to the village idiot. To make things worse, I manage to correctly guess who the villain is the moment the person’s name comes up in the story based on my familiarity with tropes and clichés in the genre.
As for the romance, he’s a moping blue boy and she’s not exactly the sharpest person around. Both are pretty nice people under ordinary circumstances, but the story is already pretty dull as it is, and the characters’ blandness only makes things even more boring.
Reynold de Burgh: The Dark Knight is, at the end of the day, too easy to put down. Let’s hope the author rediscovers her muse and gets all fired up again in her next book.