March 9, 2015
Ivanhoe chose the wrong woman.
When I decided to reread books that I gave high marks to, I didn't take into consideration
that they might have been part of a series. Surprise - surprise - in the case of The Templar's Seduction (2007), it turns out that it was a part of the Templar Knights series. The other two in this series are Beyond Temptation (2005) and Sinful Pleasures (2006). So, I thought - hey, I haven't read those two and because I loved The Templar's Seduction so much I bet I'll love the other two just as much. Sigh. Well, as it turns out I didn't love the other two as much.
I'll be honest, I've never been fond of Templar stories nor some of the romantic tales that have spread surrounding them. Somehow the nobility of the order portrayed in literature doesn't quite match history. If you put finance, nobles, warriors, tax exempt status, and vows of poverty all together there just has to have been some corrupt things going on. We are talking about a group of men who owned the entire island of Cyprus at one time for Pete's sake! And, unlike the noble warriors portrayed in Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade, they didn't live for thousands of years. From the fictional book Ivanhoe to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the Templars have been widely romanticized. And, while much of the history mentioned in these books about King Philip IV of France and his grudge against the Templars is true, when it comes to making someone into a hero we don't always make the right decision. For me, they were a group of soldiers/nobles who had the backing of the pope, and for a while they were the flavor of the month. And then they weren't. Hey, by the way Sir Walter Scott, Rebecca was the better choice for Ivanhoe.
Now on to Beyond Seduction, the first book in the series. The very first chapter in this story introduces us to the hero of the book and the heroes of the future books. There are four knights on the run from the French Inquisition: Sir Richard de Cantor, Sir John de Clifton, Sir Damien de Ashby and his wild brother Sir Alex de Ashby. Wait a minute, you say, there are four guys and only three stories - what the hey! Well, I'm not sure but poor ol' John seems to be around just to create problems for other people. As far as I know he never earned his own book. Anyway, it is decided in the beginning of the book that the four knights will split up and in so doing will have a better chance of escaping the inquisition guys. Beyond Seduction is the story of Sir Richard de Cantor and Lady Margaret. Sir Richard's problem that he's running from is his insane wife, Eleanor. You see, he fell in love with her and then after a while discovered that she was some kind of psychopath (along the lines of the wife in Jane Eyre.) Except in this book they don't lock her in the attic, although they do lock her up. There also seems to have been a child who died and Richard feels the guilty because of that. So, he feels guilty because of his child, and he doesn't seem to be very supportive of his maniac wife. He runs off to do penitence with the Templars. So, he's contrite, he's anguished, he's remorseful - he's sorry and he's headed back home to Eleanor.
Well, Eleanor's in a bad way. Not only is she still a tad berserk, she's also dying. But hark, her cousin Margaret, aka Meg, is there to take care of her. Meg also has made friends with all of the people in Richard's castle, even the birds. Also, she blames Richard for Eleanor's condition and honestly I sort of agreed with her on that score. But Meg is also guarding a dark secret - she isn't innocent, no sir. She once loved a man, Alexander, who left her broken hearted and went off to fight with the Templars and was killed. She had a child of that union, who also died.
There's plenty of angst all over the place - all that guilt, all that doom and gloom and just waiting for the wife to die so our hero and heroine can fall in love. The problem with this book was that even with all the miserable back stories going on I couldn't connect with any of the characters. They were all cardboard people just moving through the books narration. You would think with alllll of the torment coming off of the pages, there would also be some kind of emotion along with it, but there wasn't. In the end, I just couldn't care about anyone in this story.
Time/Place: 1307 England
Now, on to Sinful Pleasures. It is Damien de Ashby's time to be angst-filled. Damien is being tortured; however, if he agrees to a proxy marriage he can be released. Ok. Well, who is the wife? Lady Alissende de Montague. Here's the thing - it seems that at one time Damien and
Alissende were lovers...really hot lovers! But because Damien didn't have any land Alissende turned her back on him at a tournament and broke his heart, so like all men with broken hearts he joined the Templars. Now, in order to save his skin, he must marry the woman who spurned him all those years ago.
Well, of course Damien is holding a grudge against this woman. He's never ever going to touch her again and that lasts about one tenth of a second. His Mr. Toad is constantly on alert in this story. In fact, Mr. Toad was rather irritating. All I can say is that Alissende must have had some pretty strong mojo going because there were all kinds of lances, shafts and spears in this story and not just at the tournaments. By the way, I'm not a big fan of jousting, fencing and sword-fights in books - I fast forward through those parts in movies and that's visual, so you know I skip them in books. Anyway, Damien just cannot control his magic wand and you would think with all the years of celibacy he would have learned how to control it.
It doesn't take too long in this book for Damien to forgive Alissende and for them to take care of Damien's control problem. There is also the over the top scene in the King's court toward the end of the book. The resolution in this story was highly unlikely, and I found the treatment of KIng Edward II in both books interesting. In Beyond Temptation, Edward seems to have a gentle yet wise persona. In this one he is more of an egotistical dictator. I thought it would have been nice if the gentle persona had been carried over to this book. By the way there was a court appearance at the end of Beyond Temptation which was just as highly implausible as this one.
Sinful Pleasures was better than Beyond Temptation. The characters were not as wooden, but it was still just an ok read.
Time/Place: 1307s England
Then there was The Templar's Seduction, one I recall giving a really high mark to and one that now I opened with trepidation. Remember dead Alexander from Beyond Seduction, the one who seduced Meg, fathered a child and ran off to die with the Templars - well, guess
who isn't dead? Guess who is the hero of his own book? Yep, here he is Sir Alex de Ashby, brother to Damien and he is about to be hanged. But wait, some bad guys have stepped and noticed that he bears a striking resemblance to one Robert, the late Earl of Marsten, whose wife Beth is holding on to a castle that everyone in England wants. So, here's the plan: Alex is going to go to the castle and pretend to be Robert and if he doesn't the bad guys are going to murder Sir John de Clifton, who seems to be in the books to be held as ransom.
What we have is a Return of Martin Guerre/Sommersby tale, except it's not the shoes that aren't the same size in this book but Mr. Toad. Beth is suspicious almost immediately that this man isn't her husband, especially when she see how big he is. But then she shakes that off, thinking it's her faulty memory or something. However, she continues to have nagging thoughts all through the book. Regardless of those unrelenting voices in her head she falls hard for Alex/Robert. While I like Beth a lot, it is Alex/Robert who is the most fascinating character.
Alex/Robert continually struggles with himself throughout the book. He must save his friend by using Beth, but at the same time he is falling deeper and deeper in love with Beth. This is where honor walks into the book. In the previous books and in the beginning of this one, I was less than enthused about Alex's sense of honor. He's a user of women and he left one after seducing her to go off and fight. You would think that his deception in this book would make me dislike him even more. However, Ms. McCall allows him to at last have true honor by showing us how much his falsehoods are costing him. Alex was a very compelling character and Beth forgives him really really quickly.
There is also another court scene to pull all the impossible pieces together, only this one is in front of Robert the Bruce. As with the others, this scene was over the top dramatic and really not plausible at all. For me the author created too much of a problem for our couple and the resolution was highly unsatisfactory. However, having said that I will say that I still like this story, although I can't give it the high marks I did the last time I read it. Even with the dynamic hero, the quick acceptance of the heroine and the overwrought ending dampened my enthusiasm.
Time/Place: 1307s England/Scotland