In a recent post, I mentioned a book I read that I love.
Ok, let's put it this way. I read a good deal. This book has made it to my all-time top ten.
Before I begin my book review, I should explain what I personally like and dislike in a book. It's kind of important, because although I truly, truly loved this book, I find many of the readers I know are looking for something different in a book, so what I like may not appeal to you and I don't want to mislead.
I don't enjoy graphic sex. Now, because the romance and erotica genre are so heavily entwined, it's hard to find a good romance without graphic sex. So I do read these books, but tend to skim if graphic sex comes up. I like the build-up, suspense, range of emotions, and emotional ties to sexual elements in novels. I do not like lengthy, frequent, detailed descriptions of every blessed thing they do behind closed doors. I'm kind of a “fade to gray” kind of girl. Everything else just makes me squirm. Interestingly, that's kind of how I feel about spanking (in real life and in fiction, ha! I think I enjoy the build-up more than the actual action).
So when I read, I'm looking for a good story. I don't like it to be all about sex and spanking. Books like that leave me feeling dissatisfied. I mean no disrespect to those who write and read the d/s genre (I write and read the genre myself!), but personally, I was much more drawn to spanking fiction when I didn't have much spanking in my personal life. Now that I do, I'm not as drawn to it, and went for several years intentionally avoiding books with any kind of spanking in it. Now I'm starting to explore the genre a bit more, though most of the fiction I read is not in the d/s sub-genre.
I like strong, relatable, well-rounded characters. When books are all about sex, or all about spanking, and there's no real relationship involved, I simply don't enjoy it. I'm in it for the entertainment factor. I want something I can relate to. And I appreciate well-written novels.
Defy Not the Heart, by Johanna Lindsay, fits the bill. It was a surprisingly excellent read. I don't recall ever reading medieval romance before, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The book has been around for a good long while, as have most of Johanna Linday's many novels, so I'm a bit behind the eight-ball here. But I fully intend on delving into her other fictional works. I read a review that said “I don't understand why she feels the need to have most of her heroines spanked,” and I thought, “well then, sign me up.”
There aren't many books that I find make me laugh out loud, pull my heartstrings, are hot but not graphic, and get a good spanking in. This book did all of the above.
The book takes place in the medieval time period. Reina's father has died, leaving her with a sketchy hint of a betrothal to protect her, yet she isn't actually betrothed to anyone. She's a glorious spit-fire. Strong-willed but not silly or foolish, in charge, but only because she has to be, passionate, witty, and I absolutely loved her. She has her entire kingdom to manage, yet given the legal ramifications, she must wed.
Our hero, Ranulf, is hired by a man posing as her betrothed. Ranulf has been hired to kidnap her and bring her to her supposed betrothed. But when Reina discovers this plot, she uses her wit and manages to convince Ranulf to marry her instead. And therein begins the adventure.
They don't exactly hate each other, but they certainly don't love each other. They're complete strangers, really. I love novels where I say to myself, “I can't possibly imagine these two falling in love” and yet they do. As the novel unfolds, and the two are thrust into a utilitarian union, both ignorant to all that marriage entails, a truly beautiful story is born. They learn who the other is. They learn to compromise. They find passion, and companionship. And yes...she ends up over his knee. Ahem.
When they make their marital contract, Reina makes Ranulf promise he will not beat her. Given the time frame, husbands were well within their rights to beat their wives if they saw fit. In fact, when the marital arrangements are proposed, the friar marrying them and the men witnessing the union, gasp in shock that she dare to be so bold as to insist Ranulf not beat her. He's fairly angry himself. This can be shocking to a modern reader, but it's the way things were in this time period. However, the first inkling that Ranulf is a spanker comes at the end, when they've forged their contract.
“We are agreed now and can finish this business, but do you understand one thing more, little general. You may have protected yourself from ever feeling my fist, but do you ever deserve it, your backside will become acquainted with the palm of my hand. You will not feel free to provoke me at your will.”
She isn't happy, but abides by this compromise, as she really has no choice. He expects her obedience, and she will give him that obedience, because she knows it's her duty as his wife. It's what's expected.
And I think that's perhaps what I really loved about this book. She didn't compromise on who she was. She was still strong-willed, but not foolish. She respected him as the rightful authority over her home, her lands, and herself. She deferred to him, but he assumed his position in authority with grace. He was a stern, uncompromising authority figure – she doesn't see him laugh or even smile for quite some time – but he takes his place of authority, because that's who he is. A protector. Fearless. He's a knight.
She doesn't constantly defy him. In fact, it's quite the opposite, and I enjoyed how she learns who he is, and how she will find her place with him. She learns to respect him, and he earns her respect. He learns she has needs of her own, and he meets those needs. Truly, it's a story of compromise and love, the foundation of any good marriage.
There isn't a lot of spanking, but there's a good deal of build-up to the one spanking, and the scene is incredibly well done. Of all the many, many spanking scenes I've come across, I have to say this is the best one I've ever read.
She's defied him. She didn't intend to initially, but then makes the decision, deciding it's in his best interest that she go against his wishes, and welcome his father into their home. Ranulf is infuriated at her outright disobedience, and finally tells her what she's in for.
“What I am is far beyond my quota of patience, lady,” he growled in reply, “You have just earned yourself a chastisement long overdue.” ….She expected to be dragged back to their chamber for her punishment this instant, or to be pulled across his lap right there on the stairs. She certainly could not blame him...
But they have company, and her punishment must wait. The build up is so well done. When they have a pause after breakfast, he takes her by the arm and brings her upstairs, and I did love this scene. He sits on the edge of the bed, and commands her to come and lie down and lift her skirts. She is embarrassed, and says,
“You mean to humiliate me as well?” He responds, “Humiliation is the foundation of this lesson. You will forget the discomfort right quickly, but the humiliation you will long remember.”
However, they are interrupted, and he promises her he's decided he will make her wait for her punishment until the evening. As the day progresses, she thinks he's forgotten. She thinks she's gotten away with it. But we find out later that is far from true.
When he finally brings her to the room at the end of the day, and he is preparing to punish her, she knows she has no real choice. She knows she's earned the punishment, as it's not permissable to be the lady of the castle wed to the lord, and defy him. She struggles, though, and this is why I love the scene. She does not want to be punished. She's embarrassed, and a bit afraid. He's strong, and much larger than she is, and she's never been punished like this before. But she knows resistance is futile. So she overcomes the quaking in her stomach and raw nerves, and makes herself submit. She stands in front of him.
“A wise decision,” he said as he sat down again and drew her onto his lap...That he was not being rough with her, or sharp in his tone, only seemed to make it worse. His voice was husky, his hands gentle as he turned her over so that she rested across his thighs. Reina dropped her head down to hide her face, and placed one hand against the bed, the other on his left knee. Did she feel the need to push herself out of this horrible position, she would have the leverage. Or so she thought. His left hand, coming to rest in the center of her back in a subtle pressure, seemed to say otherwise.
But then it's not just a thorough chastisement. He makes it into a very real, but very erotic experience.
Alarm bells of a different sort went off in her head when he began to raise her robe. He did it by setting his hand on the back of her calf and slowly gliding that hand up her leg, the robe perforce coming with it. 'Twas a caress, plain and simple, and gave her the strangest sensations. Her body no longer knew what to anticipate, pain or pleasure. Her mind was reeling with the same confusion. Was this a punishment?
But it is real, very real, and although he takes means to arouse her, when it comes down to it, he is thoroughly displeased with her behavior, and makes this very clear. He takes her by surprise, and although the spanking is short, it is effective, intended to be punitive.
“Reina was set on her feet, which were not at all steady. A glance at her husband showed how furious he had become, to which her bottom could well attest. His next words only confirmed it.
“Do not ever make me do that again, lady,” he growled low. She shook her head, but she was not sure whether she was saying she would or not. Not that it mattered to her then. Her backside was on fire, but it blazed not half as much as that other fire he had created. Without another thought, Reina crawled back onto his lap.
“I am duly chastised, my lord. Now finish what else you started.”
He did not have to be asked twice.
What a wonderfully written scene. It's climactic, in a sense, because he confirms his authority over her, and the love-making is also a turning point in their relationship. We find now it's not just about curiosity, or to fulfill base needs, but because they truly have fallen in love with one another, as she assumes her position as his strong counterpart and he assumes his as lord of the castle.
I loved everything about this book. The story, the intimacy, the way they fall in love. His authority, and how we see he has a tender side he is slow to reveal, but he's fiercely loyal and fearless. I love the knights, and castles, the dresses and language. There are parts I laughed out loud, especially when they finally declare their love for one another, screamed across the courtyard in the midst of an argument.
If you want a lengthy story, with real characters, a story you can sink your teeth into, with a bit of well-written otk, I'd urge you to pick up this book. I checked it out on the Overdrive app from my library, but loved it so much, I bought it, as this is one of the few I will read again and again.
You've also gotta love the original cover. Bestill my heart!