by Mary Ann Bernal2 out of 5
Travel back in time to late Ninth Century Anglo-Saxon Britain where Alfred the Great rules with a benevolent hand while the Danish King rules peacefully within the boundaries of the Danelaw. Trade flourishes, and scholars from throughout the civilized world flock to Britannia’s shores to study at the King’s Court School at Winchester.
Enter Concordia, a beautiful noble woman whose family is favored by the king. Vain, willful, and admired, but ambitious and cunning, Concordia is not willing to accept her fate. She is betrothed to the valiant warrior, Brantson, but sees herself as far too young to lay in the bedchamber of an older suitor. She wants to see the wonders of the world, embracing everything in it; preferably, but dangerously, at the side of Thayer, the exotic Saracen who charms King Alfred’s court and ignites her yearning passions.
Concordia manipulates her besotted husband into taking her to Rome, but her ship is captured by bloodthirsty pirates, and the seafarers protecting her are ruthlessly slain to a man. As she awaits her fate in the Moorish captain’s bed, by sheer chance, she discovers that salvation is at hand in the gilded court of a Saracen nobleman.
While awaiting rescue, Concordia finds herself at the center of intrigue, plots, blackmail, betrayal and the vain desires of two egotistical brothers, each willing to die for her favor. Using only feminine cunning, Concordia must defend her honor while plotting her escape as she awaits deliverance, somewhere inside steamy, unconquered Muslim Hispania.
Concordia is a dazzling star of King Alfred's court. She has the benefit of education, and the links of high-standing family in this Saxon land. She is passionate and headstrong and willing to travel to the ends of the Earth for love.
I was excited to win a copy of this in the Advent competition at Echo Fox's blog; I love historical stories, political intrigue, and romances (yes, I do like reading romances, just not the fluffy ones).
This is the 4th book in Bernal's Briton and the Dane series, of which I believe there's 5 books so far. I haven't read any of the others, and the good news is that Concordia's story can be read perfectly well as a stand-alone.
I liked the settings. The court of King Alfred; the sea voyage; the Saracen world that Concordia finds herself in. It was all beautifully written, if on the lighter side of details. But that's all personal preference - I would rather have something not wedged full of historical detail in favour for a smooth-running plot.
The cast of characters are colourful and have a well-rounded feel, which I suppose you can expect when an author has an established series, the characters are all familiar and work well together.
They all have their own hopes and ambitions.
... OK, I'm struggling a bit with this review as, unfortunately, I didn't like the story overall.
The reason for that can be summed up in one word: Concordia.
I really couldn't stand the main character. If she wasn't in it, the book would be lovely.
She is described in the synopsis as "beautiful" and "Vain, willful, and admired, but ambitious and cunning". I'd also like to add that she is shallow, ignorant, naive, self-centred and pig-headed.
It is all done to an extent where I wondered if Bernal had deliberately written such an unlikeable character - and if she did, I applaud the effort. Concordia stays true to her form the whole way through her adventure, never improving, never learning from her mistakes.
Concordia imagines herself in love with the charming Thayer, who represents a wider world and an exotic life that she could only dream of. Thayer hints at returning her affections before he leaves for Hispania.
Concordia obsesses so completely over this infatuation, she refuses to think clearly. And when her father comes to court to announce that she is to be engaged to Branston, a good man who has been her friend and admirer for years, Concordia panics that she may never get the chance to see if her love with Thayer was real.
(I loved Branston, he might have been besotted, but this older gentleman was patient, and very wise to what Concordia was planning. He got such a raw deal, I felt so sorry for him)
Concordia agrees to marry Branston (whom she does love like a brother; and is well-aware of his feelings for her) in exchange for a sea trip to Rome. It plays as the worst secret in the world, as everyone seems aware that she is trying to get to Thayer.
Anyway, when Concordia is separated from the rest of the crew and travellers, she finds herself in the company of Chad, who turns out to be Thayer's younger brother. Chad is quickly enamoured by Concordia, as he transports her to the Saracen court.
And... yeah, he forces himself on her, because he just couldn't help his feelings. After Concordia finishes crying, she decides that she quite likes it.
Seriously, if that wasn't bad enough, it's like both characters turned a blind eye to the lack of consent. Speaking later of his brother's misbehaviour, Chad declares that he would never force Concordia. Really?
And Concordia professes that what happened between her and Chad was her choice and she didn't fight him. ...?
After this consensual rape, I was amazed by how quickly Concordia seemed to forget all about Thayer. She had sold her husband's soul, crossed oceans and faced pirates because of the strength of her love. But a week in a hut with Chad and Concordia couldn't care less about Thayer.
She has this horrible single-minded determination, with little or no consideration of anyone else. Even though it is causing a lot of worry for everyone else, Concordia doesn't spare a thought to the fact that her staying with Thayer could cause war between their countries.
The character doesn't grow or improve as the story goes on. Her servant Yara, is like a sister to her; she is the only one that Concordia trusts, and it is a beautiful friendship that grows in the middle of the danger and politics at Thayer's court. They escape together. But in the very middle of their escape, a ghost from Concordia's past turns up. Concordia dumps Yara and never gives her a second thought as she sails away. I just... uh.
The ending was perfect. I'm not going to spoil anything, and my opinion of the ending has nothing to do with my opinion of Concordia. I thought Bernal wrote a very strong, and a very daring end.
So, in the end I would not make any effort to re-read Concordia's story. But I do like Bernal's writing and the world that she has created, and I would definitely be interested in reading the other books in the series.