Title: Under the Approaching Dark
Author: Anna Belfrage
A tidbit about the author
As a child she wanted to be an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page, and of course, a writer, and she couldn’t imagine a 9 to 5 job. “I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room. Life happened…” —from Anna’s website
Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II has been forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over… —Amazon description
The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
King Edward III has tired of Scottish incursions and wants to teach the Scots a lesson. His advisors try to calm the impetuous, battle-naive youth in this scene:
“I dare say you’ll find the Scots are mostly like us, my lord,” Mortimer put in. “They eat, they shit, they swive, they fight and bleed, they die.”
“They are savages!”
“There are men of honour among them—their king for one, and Black Douglas is another true knight.” Mortimer pointed at one of the banners. “St George is a fine saint to follow into battle, but do not commit the mistake of underestimating your enemy—or denigrating him. And St George wasn’t English to begin with, was he?”
“As good as,” the king retorted. “England breeds the finest soldiers in the world.”
Thomas laughed. “Really, Ned, what nonsense is that? England is a land of sheep farmers and wool merchants.”
Lord Roger and the king looked equally displeased, making Adam bite back a smile.
The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Oh Kit, oh Kit… why in the world did you decide to meet Godfrey. Bad move, Kit. Stupid girl. (Sorry, can’t say more without spoilers!)
A memorable line (or two)
“I am but the puppet, am I not?”
–King Edward III to Adam de Guirande
“Men,” Kit muttered. “It’s only hair.”
Adam leaned towards her. “My wife, my hair. The matter is closed, Kit.”
–after Kit decides to follow the queen’s latest fashion, i.e., no veil, and her husband sends her back to get properly dressed!
My verdict – ****5 stars****
Ms. Belfrage has done it again. Under the Approaching Dark is book 3 in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, and it has passion, intrigue, and politics to keep the reader turning pages. If you aren’t familiar with England in the 1320s, never fear. Plunge into this book and you are introduced to the major players – the fictional Lady Kit and her husband Adam and the actual historical figures Edward II, Edward III, his mother Isabella, her lover Roger Mortimer, and others. We aren’t overburdened with backstory: it is woven in bits and pieces where needed. Ms. Belfrage draws us into the 14th century for a taste of life of the ordinary man, the minor baron and his wife, and of the royal family. It is easy to picture towns and manors, magnificent castles and minsters. And after visiting Lincoln last year, I was enchanted by Ms. Belfrage’s description of that medieval town, cathedral, and bishop’s palace. It took me back – it all feels authentic.
The novel brims with treachery, treason, and romance. Battle scenes, torture, and love scenes – some may be too graphic for the squeamish, but they are well written, full of emotion. There are great threats from rebellious barons. There is tedious everyday life and plenty of tension – between Adam and Kit, between Adam and the young king, and between Adam and his former lord, Mortimer. But I think what I most enjoyed about this novel is our window into the world of the young King Edward III. He becomes king when his father is deposed, and is a pawn of his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Edward is bright. He is politically astute (most of the time). He knows – and resents – the control his mother has as regent. But he is also a vulnerable. This reader is rooting for him and greatly anticipating Book 4 in the series to see Edward as king in his own right.
Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.