The Knight’s Runaway Maiden by Nicole Locke
Severine is on the run with her two sons in France, 1297. A young woman, she is terrified of her husband catching up with her; Ian Warstone is from a notorious wealthy and powerful family. Both of his parents have schemed, terrorized and tortured their four sons, aiming to make them largely fearless and devoted to the cause of the family’s political and territorial advancement. Added to that is Ian’s own temperament, which at the time when Severine last saw him six years previously seemed to be getting dangerously unbalanced. Now Ian’s youngest brother, Balthus, has discovered where she is hiding with Clovis and Pepin, but he has a very different agenda from most of his family, and has been seeking the young woman for reasons of his own. As both Severine and Balthus battle their own demons and fears for the boys, can their difficult relationship ever reflect their true feelings, born in a silent glance so many years before?
This book appears in a series which concerns the Warstone family, of which I have read a previous story. I believe that this historical romance works as a standalone book, as the depth of the characters is so well developed and explained. This is a book which is powerful written with an eye to the lifestyle and setting of the time, but requiring little or no knowledge of political events or the general history of the time. This is a time of hand worked tapestries, swords and brute force, and healers such as Severine using natural remedies for even traumatic injuries. The previous loss of a hand means that Balthus is far more vulnerable than his physical appearance and lifelong training would suggest; the power to hurt and heal is equally divided between the two main characters. The boys are still young enough to be told that they must run, hide and be brave, regarding their lives as one of permanent hide and seek as they go from village to village. Severine worries that their natural curiosity is being overtaken by their Warstone blood, that the games they play are for adults with secret and brutal agendas. Balthus does not tell them that he is their uncle, and indeed keeps several secrets, partly to extend the time he can spend with the little family, especially the woman he has loved and finds increasingly attractive.
This is a novel that I enjoyed for its insights into difficult lives, as Severine faces the fear and despair over her husband that is sadly not confined to history. No one in this book is wholly good or bad, but the unseen Warstone parents do seem to exert a dominant hold over not only their own sons, but also potentially their grandsons if they are discovered. Each character as revealed in their thoughts and actions is nuanced, aware of the bigger picture as well as their own emotions. I also enjoyed the servants who appear on the edge of the two characters’ main drama, especially Henry, butcher and irrepressible companion who is largely unimpressed by Balthus’ status. The romance element is subtle, as both characters struggle to restrain their mutual attraction for their own reasons and assumptions. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and recommend it as a well written novel of romantic historical fiction.