Talking about the book: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

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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

The story
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.

Talking about the book: Days of Sun & Glory by Anna Belfrage

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Title: Days of Sun & Glory
Author:  Anna Belfrage

A tidbit about the author
Born in Sweden, raised in Peru & Colombia. Anna notes that where her classmates in Bogota “were constantly talking about the future (or football, at which I excelled) I was mostly dreaming about the past. I had no desire to become a business woman – I wanted to be a medieval knight.” Obviously, Anna cannot be a medieval knight, but man, oh man, can she write brilliantly about them!

The story
“…the king’s greatest traitor, Roger Mortimer, has managed to evade royal justice, the king and his beloved Despenser see dissidents and rebels everywhere – among Mortimer’s former men, but also in the queen, Isabella of France. Their suspicions are not unfounded. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans – whether he likes it or not. Yet again, Kit and Adam are forced to take part in a complicated game of intrigue and politics…”–from the author’s website

Days of Sun & Glory is Book II in Ms. Belfrage’s The King’s Greatest Enemy series and pulls us back into the life of Sir Adam and his wife Kit. Concerned that you haven’t read Book I? Don’t be. This book works fine as a stand-alone. And I say that as someone who is barely familiar with this particular time period.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer; the place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Usually these are two separate questions, but I have combined them here. I was torn between laughter and groans watching the jealous reactions of both Kit and Adam, the two main characters. In this sequel to In the Shadow of the Storm, they have been married more than two years and have been to hell and back for each other. Their devotion to and love for each other is so vivid and well drawn. The bits of jealousy had me getting impatient with them both after a while.

My cheers are too numerous to count, but I absolutely love Ms. Belfrage’s portrayal of young Prince Edward. In this particular scene he is standing up to his father as Edward II tries to throw Adam out:

“I cannot have a man suspected of traitorous activities in your household.” [Edward] gestured at the men-at-arms “Take de Guirande away.”
[snip]
“You’re shaming me,” Prince Edward said.
“Shaming you?” The king looked at Adam, then at his son.
“Sir Adam is my liegeman. He has pledged himself to me, and I, in return, have pledged to protect him – isn’t that what liege lords do?” The prince turned wide eyes on his father.

A memorable line (or two)

Kit on Hugh Despenser…

…Kit would gladly have nailed his intestines to a tree and have him walk around it until he’d disembowelled himself, she had to admit the man exuded  some sort of magnetic allure, his sharp features enhanced by the neatly trimmed beard that clung to his cheeks and chin, his eyes glittering under dark, straight brows.

Oh, Anna, you have such a way with words!

Kenilworth was like a dog with fleas, always  itching, always restless.

…the autumn wind painted roses on her cheeks.

My verdict – ****4.5 stars****
Book II of Ms. Belfrage’s series The King’s Greatest Enemy, is well researched with plenty of historical details that will transport the reader to the 14th century. Ms. Belfrage makes her characters come to life, and if you aren’t cringing with fear every time Hugh Despenser comes on scene, why not?! Evil radiates from that man.

This is a turbulent era in England’s history and even readers unfamiliar with this particular time period will be drawn into the fictional life of Kit and Adam de Guirande drawn against the reign of Edward II. Kit and Adam find their lives governed and their hands tied by the politics and intrigue surrounding them. Spies are everywhere. Kit serves Edward II’s queen, Isabella, who, untrusted and unloved, plots against her husband. Adam’s former allegiance to Edward’s enemy Roger Mortimer, now exiled in France, makes him a traitor in Edward’s eyes. Adam may have sworn his allegiance to Edward’s son, but Despenser and the king seek any excuse to throw him into the dungeon, or worse, execute him. I was genuinely frightened for both the fiery Kit and the loyal Adam, which shows how much I cared for them.

When they become embroiled in Mortimer’s plot to raise money and an army to fight Edward, the stakes become deadlier. Queen Isabella and Prince Edward are sent to France to negotiate a peace, and Adam and Kit with them. The tale becomes heart wrenching as their family is torn apart and the young prince becomes a pawn in his mother’s hands. Will Adam and Kit stand by the prince, the queen, and Mortimer? The story of King Edward II and his favorite, Hugh Despenser, is one that in and of itself sounds more fiction than fact. But it is true, an incredible twisted history that Ms. Belfrage breathes life into with the help of her fictional characters.

Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.