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There was a time when all romances followed the same formulaic pattern and with one or two rare exceptions all these romances took place on an earthly plane. When A Knight in Shining Armour was published back in 1990, it opened the floodgates to a host of copycat novels and the paranormal romance genre was well and truly born. Back then paranormal was almost exclusively restricted to time travel without a sexy vampire or werewolf in sight and this book was no exception, and though there have been other books written since which are equally as good and a few which are even better, this novel still remains the yardstick by which most time travel romances are gauged.
Dougless Montgomery is an American on holiday in England with her fiancé and his obnoxious child from a previous marriage. Following a major bust up, Dougless finds herself left alone in an English church without any money, no passport and full of despair she weeps on the tomb of one Sir Nicholas Stafford who died way back in 1564. Imagine Dougless's surprise when she finds Sir Nicholas standing before her demanding why she has summoned him. Of course, Dougless hasn't a clue how she's managed this and she and Nicholas set about finding a way to send him back. The pair embark on a journey which sees Nicholas taking in the delights of a modern world and Dougless in 16th century England not only trying to resolve a wrong which happened some 300 years before her own time but also avoid being accused of witchcraft.
Many years before I came across this book, I read a novel by Elswyth Thane called Tryst which was the story of a romance between an isolated young woman and a ghost. It was a wonderfully romantic story without being totally mushy and one which has remained with me. A Knight in Shining Armour is another such book and though the premise has been copied many times since, this story remains a firm favourite with romance readers.
I have to say the book doesn't begin well and in the first couple of chapters the reader is hard pressed to find anything admirable in Dougless. In fact, she's a bit of a doormat, content to allow her fiancé to belittle her sense of dress, her intelligence and anything else he can find to make her feel less than nothing. Eventually, and much to my relief, Dougless fights back but it results in her being left alone and, still in wimpy mode, she has a good old cry on a tombstone in the village church. The next thing she knows, there's a strangely dressed man saying "Well witch. You have conjured me. What do you ask of me?" As Dougless doesn't know quite how this has happened and has no idea how to return Nicholas to his own time, they set about investigating what happened to him, only to discover he was executed for a crime he swears he didn't commit.
The reaction of Nicholas to the luxuries of modern living are wonderful and his courtly and antiquated Elizabethan ways make an excellent contrast against the brashness of our own world. It's a great device for allowing the reader to view things we take for granted with fresh eyes. Nicholas loves ice cream and is very impressed by indoor plumbing, especially showers. This contrast is reversed later in the book when Dougless gets an opportunity to see 16th century England and though Jude Deveraux doesn't dwell too much on the history of that time, she embellishes the story with enough fact to give an excellent sense of time and place and she certainly highlights the differences between the two eras which would strike a modern woman. For instance, Dougless smells the village long before she sees it and, of course, in a time without plumbing and when people bathed infrequently, the place must have absolutely stunk to high heaven. There's also the matter of her being suspected of witchcraft, again something which was a fairly common occurrence back then.
Of the two main protagonists, Nicholas is the easiest to like. He's an alpha male but never so much so as to completely overshadow Dougless. Although he's something of a fish out of water, Nicholas accepts almost immediately what has happened to him and soon begins to adapt to late twentieth century living and he certainly embraces some of its inventions with open arms. Dougless, on the other hand, I'm afraid is less easy to like, not least because of her darn silly name. Throughout most of the book, she still manages to retain some of her doormat qualities which are more in keeping with someone from the 1950s rather than a modern woman living in the final decade of the twentieth century. It isn't really until she goes back to Tudor England that she discovers any real fighting spirit.
The plot for this book has enough twists and turns to incorporate a real mystery alongside the romance and one which is resolved in a logical and intelligent way. As for the romance, there again this book changed the perceived view of the genre with an ending which is very unlike the average romance, but you'll have to read the book yourself to find out what happens there.
The fact that this book is still in print and is regularly reprinted (the last edition coming out in 2003) is testament to its enduring popularity. There isn't much modern detail to make it seem too dated, even twenty years after it was written and, of course, Tudor England remains forever unchanged.
I would have to include this in any list of my favourite romance novels. It's a wonderfully romantic story and although the time travel elements aren't explained in any deeply scientific way, they're almost believable and that, coupled with the slightly different take on romance, too, makes this a very satisfying read and one that's definitely a cut above the rest and despite my very minor niggles, this is a 5 star read for me.
I've come across quite a few knights with slightly tarnished armour in my time and I'm still waiting for the one who manages to keep his armour polished up nice and shiny. In the meantime, Sir Nicholas Stafford will do very nicely thank you!
Used copies of this excellent book are available from 1p and there's even a Kindle version for £3.99
Note: My title is taken from a quote by an anonymous and disillusioned woman.. 'My knight in shining armour turned out to be some loser in aluminium foil'