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Earlier this year I read By Arrangement, a historical romance novel by Madeline Hunter that I consider to be quite possibly the best historical romance novel I've ever read. Having had such a good experience with that book I just had to get my hands on more of Hunter's books. In particular I was interested in reading Morvan's book. Morvan is the brother of the heroine of By Arrangement and his story is told in The Protector. After having this book on my shelf for months because I was saving it as a reward for finishing the first year of my training I finally got to read it and can honestly say that it was almost as good as By Arrangement.
I generally don't include information about the author in my reviews but I think in this case it's really relevant. With a PhD in Art History Hunter really knows her stuff when it comes to history. Historical romance novels are not characterised by accurate historical information, you're more likely to find a heroine using modern American slang than language appropriate to her day and occasionally you'll find characters breaking laws that the author clearly didn't know had ever existed. Characters in historical romance novels will very often have surprisingly modern views with little awareness of the societal norms. This is not the case in Hunters books. If you read Hunter's website you can see how she combines an awareness of modern audiences with a good knowledge of the historical settings that she writes in. She is aware that sometimes she has to sacrifice historical accuracy in order to appeal to modern audiences, women today don't want to read a romance novel about a fourteen year old girl. Knowing that Hunter has a PhD in Art History makes me feel secure about the history contained in her books. I generally read romance novels with the assumption that the history in it will be inaccurate but with Hunter's novels I know that there will be a basis in fact, even if it is altered to fit modern audiences.
If you have no intention of reading this novel and no interest in romance novels at all I would recommend visiting Madeline Hunters website just to read her page on history, it makes for an interesting read.
The Protector takes place for the most part in Brittany in the 14th century. This is a time period that I have very limited knowledge of and before reading this book I knew nothing about this region. This book starts with some brief information about Brittany and particularly Brittany in the 14th century which I thought was very useful. I love learning about history and one of the things that I like about reading Hunter's books is that I know the historical information will be accurate. I thought that this introduction really helped to set the scene. It's not that the book needed it as such, you could have easily read and followed the story without knowing about the position that Brittany was in politically, it's a romance novel after all and not a text book, but I thought it was interesting and brief enough that those who don't care don't have to spend much time reading it.
Morvan Fitzwaryn is an English knight. Anna De Leon is a Breton Lady whose path to the convent was diverted by war and plague. Forced to adopt the behaviour of a man Anna will protect her people no matter the cost. When Morvan meets Anna he is determined that she will be his but if she is she will have to change her unwomanly ways and give up fighting. Anna enjoys the freedom that her male clothes and sword give her and is unwilling to give that up for anyone, even Morvan Fitwaryn.
One of the things that I adore about Madeline Hunter is that her books are so historically accurate but when this book opened with Morvan catching the plague I began to think that she had taken it too far. Yes, there was plague in Europe at this time, yes it would be unrealistic if the plague wasn't mentioned but this is a romance novel and I can think of few things less romantic than the plague. I just couldn't really enjoy the first couple of chapters of the book. Of course I knew that Morvan would survive, you can't kill the hero off in the first couple of chapters (actually you can't kill the hero off at all, a happily ever after is pretty much guaranteed in a romance novel) but I still couldn't enjoy it. Whenever there were moments between Anna (who is immune to the plague) and Morvan during the time when he had the plague I just couldn't enjoy it because all I kept thinking was ew he has the plague.
After the rocky start to the book things improved significantly and it's only the fact that I didn't enjoy the first couple of chapters of this book that has me rating this as four stars and not five. Unsurprisingly I enjoyed the historical facts that were thrown into this book and the depth that this gave the story. My knowledge of French history is very limited and I found it really interesting to learn about the civil war that was taking place during this period and Britanny's struggle for independence. The Protector features characters who were real historical figures which I think adds some nice realism to the book. Some of the characters are obviously real people, like the King, the French Prince and his supposedly mad mother Jeanne De Montfort but there were others that I had no idea were real people until I read Hunter's website after reading this book. One down side of this is that Hunter feeds my hunger for historical knowledge, after reading By Arrangement I went out and bought books on that time period that I've had no time to read and now I want to buy books on France during the same time period that no doubt I'll have no time to read either!
What really appealed to me about this book is the idea of warrior women. Jeanne De Montfort was the wife of Jean Comte De Montfort who had a claim on the ducal crown of Brittany. After his capture she led his army and was basically a warrior. Unfortunately she ended up being labelled as mad and imprisoned by the English King (this is actually featured in the book, a great example of how Hunter uses real historical events). All of this information is available on Madeline Hunter's website in much more detail. Anna, the heroine of this story, leads an army after her father and brother are killed. Being a feminist and a lover of romance novels I loved how this book combined a really strong woman who can lead an army and fight in a war with an interesting romantic plot.
Morvan being a 14th century man doesn't like the fact that the woman he loves is a warrior. In fact he's determined that she will give up her fighting ways and become a good wife who sews and organises the household. I have to admit that at times this made for uncomfortable reading. Being a modern woman I found it difficult to respect a man who was so determined to take away the things that the woman he loved enjoyed. He becomes over protective and while I could understand him not wanting her to fight I couldn't understand other things that he wanted her to stop doing. However, Anna really holds her own and is determined to fight back against this oppression. This made for interesting reading and I enjoyed seeing her give as good as she got.
I liked both main characters in this book and thought that there were also some really interesting secondary characters who I hope will feature in future books in this series. I found it really easy to empathise with Anna. Being an independent woman during that particular time period was not easy and there were points in the book where I felt really angry with her or really frustrated with her (that's not that she was the source of my anger and frustration but rather that I felt it as she felt it). Any woman who has ever been treated like she's inferior to a man simply for being female will be able to empathise with Anna in this book. Although I enjoyed the novel it did make me so happy that I was born in the last century and not during the period that this book is set. Morvan was a little bit frustrating at times and there were points when I really didn't like him (and I suspect that Anna didn't like him much at those times either) but I liked the way that Hunter didn't make him a modern man and that she shows that the way that you can love someone but they can still do things that annoy you or stifle your development while trying to protect you.
There is certainly a lot of chemistry between Anna and Morvan but I felt that their connection went much deeper than lust or physical attraction. The relationship is built up but not over a particularly long period. So much happens in the book that it feels like the time scale is a lot longer than it actually was and the romance never feels rushed. Hunter explores the complexities of relationships and doesn't shy away from the difficult side of being in a relationship with a dominant, over protective man. Like the setting I felt the relationship was realistic.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romance novels. After an initial off putting start to the book I got really into it and found it a pleasure to read. It was one of those books that you just don't want to put down. Easy to read but full of interesting historical facts I thought that this book struck a good balance between light easy reading and an accurate portrayal of life in Brittany in the 14th century.
This book is part of a series (or really it's two connected trilogies) but the chronological order and the order that these books were written in is different.
Taken from Madeline Hunter's website the order of publication is:
LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS
But the chronological order is:
LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS
I tend to like to read things in chronological order but started with By Arrangement and found that actually both books could easily be read as stand alone novels.