Saturday, August 2, 2014
'A Constant Heart' by Siri Mitchell
Marget Barnardsen has always been fortunate. She was born with the face of an angel. Her father is a knight, and a small fortune has been lavished upon her. And now she is to be married to an earl. Her security is fixed, her destiny guaranteed. At least, she hopes.
The Earl of Lytham has already been married once. But the beautiful woman only left him with a broken heart and the bitter taste of betrayal. Now, his only demand of Marget is that she help him win favor with the Queen.
But when Marget's introduction to court is met with the jealous queen's wrath, the young bride fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to honor him, she'll risk everything by doing whatever it takes to recapture the heart of a man bound to the Queen in a world where love is the only forbidden luxury.
This authentic story set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I shows up this era as one of the most undesirable times to be alive, not just for destitute peasants but for the gentry too. Marget, the daughter of a knight, finds herself in an arranged marriage with the Earl of Lytham. I found it heartbreaking to see her coerced into doing things as fashionable society dictated, to her detriment and harm. She was just a good-intentioned, kind-hearted girl compelled to ruin her spirits and health in the name of fashion, beauty and being accepted. The worst part was, it didn't take much reading between the lines to deduce that the lead based, pale face paint was responsible for the death of her three babies. I would have loved to have seen her carry a healthy one to full term at the end of the story, when they'd left the courtiers' lifestyle behind, but we're left to imagine that this might have been the case.
As for Lytham, I couldn't stand him for the first third of the book, but then he began to grow on me. I reminded myself that he was a product of his times. We can't judge people from past times with our 21st century mindsets. All that kowtowing to the queen was intended to keep him from being taken to the Tower, among other things. I did admire the way he knew that he finally had to turn his back on all that he'd been taught to hold important. And he must have been a hot guy, by Elizabethan standards, as it turned out three women were madly in love with him.
Queen Elizabeth was not portrayed in a very flattering light, but she still seemed like a reasonable person compared to Lady de Winter, who was a real piece of work. In fact, she'd have to be up there among the most evil literary villainesses for me. I did like Joan, and was glad Marget had her to lean on.
I had a few issues with the story. After the rocky start of their marriage, the main couple suddenly fell deeply in love without any apparent reason. Like other reviewers, I honestly couldn't see anything either of them had done to explain the sudden change. And also, the frequent first person point of view changes stopped the flow. It meant that we often had to read a few paragraphs to figure out whether we were in Marget's head or Lytham's.
But on the whole, if you're looking for a romance set in the times of Shakespeare, this may very well fit the bill.
A Constant Heart available from Amazon