Lady Christiana is a 14th century aristocrat living in the King's household. When the King decides that she should marry David, a merchant, Christiana is not happy. Although she can't deny that there's something intriguing about David he is just a merchant and not of her class. And she's in love with another man. David is determined to marry Christiana but some things just don't add up and Christiana is sure that there's more to the match than meets the eye. What secrets does David hide? And how long can Christiana resist him for?
This is the first novel that I have read by Madeline Hunter. I read a short story of hers in a book called Tapestry over a year ago and really enjoyed it but for some reason (mostly the huge pile of books that I have to get through) I never got around to reading another of her books until now. After finishing this book in two days I was left feeling very satisfied and anxious to get hold of more Madeline Hunter novels. In short, I was very impressed.
One of the things that really impressed me was the historical accuracy. I'm certainly not an expert on history and the 14th century is not a period that I have studied in any detail at all but I do have a fairly good general historical knowledge and there were very few things that seemed to not fit in with the historical period. This may not seem worth noting but romance novels are so often historically inaccurate that it made a really nice change. I did look on her website after reading the book where I read that Madeline Hunter has a PhD in art history so I guess it should be expected that she would pay attention to historical details. She does also justify the parts that she made historically inaccurate. For example, she made Christiana older than would have been realistic for an innocent, young bride (she's about 18 in the novel) and I thought that her justification for this was fine, I wouldn't want to read a romance novel about a fourteen year old.
I felt that the way that Hunter wrote really brought the century and the place to life for me. I am very interested in the history of London and spent a lot of last year visiting historical places in London and learning about the history. Reading this book was amazing because I could really picture the way things would have been back then. I particularly like that she acknowledged that many of the places that we consider to be part of London now would not have been then. I guess these are quite trivial things but I find the history of London fascinating, particularly the way all of the different places have come together to make the city that we now know today and I liked reading a book that seemed to give a reasonably accurate portrayal of this area in the 14th Century.
The other great thing about the historical setting (and I promise that after this I'll shut up about history and move onto romance) is that it's so unique in this genre. Most historical romances that I have read are set in the 19th century. There are a few exceptions but these are exceptions. This book has opened my mind to the idea of romance novels set in other historical periods. It made a nice change.
The romance in this novel was wonderful. I loved David. He was so dominant and powerful, the classic romantic hero. Christiana fulfilled a lot of the classic heroine criteria too. She was very innocent, beautiful and naive and that often annoys me but in Christiana it didn't. I think part of the reason is that Hunter doesn't shy away from Christiana's flaws (or from Davids). She may be beautiful and virginal but she is far from perfect. The relationship between David and Christiana is very intense (in a good way) and the way Hunter writes you can actually feel the attraction between them. There were a couple of chapters where the romance didn't grip me as much as it did previously, they were still enjoyable chapters and I still wanted to keep reading but the pace felt a little bit slower the rest of the book. Fortunately it does pick up again later in the book.
There is a plot to this novel too, although it is of course secondary to the romance. I'm not going to say too much about it because I don't want to give anything away. There are a lot of surprises and twists in this novel, some I could see coming and others really took me by surprise. The romance on its own made me keep reading but had there been no romance in this book it still would have been a page turner. Even when I could guess what was going to happen I was still anxious to keep reading so that I could see if I was right. I think at times it was a little bit far fetched but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
I really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. It's one of the best historical romance novels that I've ever read and I will certainly be reading more Madeline Hunter books in the future.
Madeline Hunter has been at the top of the historical romance writing tree for about ten years now, moving from a series of early novels set within the medieval period to an equally successful series of Regency era novels.
By Arrangement was Madeline Hunter's first published novel and got her off to a cracking start on her writing career.
Summary: King Edward needs money and to gain some of the much needed gold offers his ward Lady Christiana Fitzwaryn's hand in marriage to David de Abyndon, a wealthy merchant. Christiana is furious not only that as an aristocratic lady she is being offered to a commoner but she has given her heart and her body to Stephen Percy, who belongs to the same social strata as herself. However, when Christiana visits David to try to break off the betrothal he is not quite what she expects. David is unmoved by Christiana's pleas or her threats and insists that the marriage goes ahead.
And so begins one of the best love stories I have ever read.
Considering this is a first novel, there is very little fault to be found with the writing either in terms of storytelling or indeed in Madeline Hunter's ability to create a sense of time and place. Many American writers simply don't seem to have enough knowledge of the English idiom to be able to write convincing dialogue without it being liberally interspersed with such anachronistic phrases such as "they had gotten", "in back of", or indeed referring to Autumn as Fall. Madeline Hunter avoids all these pitfalls and instead weaves a story of a love which grows from very difficult beginnings and develops into a romantic and un-put-downable story in which the characters live and breathe on every page.
Christiana is perhaps a little harder to like than David in the beginning. She is arrogant and very class-conscious but, I suspect, that that is very much in keeping with the times when the aristocracy controlled everything and everybody. As the story develops, it soon becomes apparent that she is not as knowledgeable as she would have people believe which is quite endearing. David, too, has his moments. He is often intractable but what begins as a purely physical attraction for his wife, develops throughout the book into something so much more.
In many ways, this could be regarded as a medieval Pride and Prejudice, although in this story both of the main characters are proud as well as prejudiced.
As with all romances, there is the inevitable happy ending, and I don't regard it as a spoiler to disclose this, as there are many twists and turns of the tale before our two unlikely lovers realise what they mean to each other.
This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys well-written, well researched romance. After doing so, I guarantee, you'll want to read more from this writer. It certainly deserves its place on my Keeper Shelf.