Update to a YEAR OF THE CATEGORY Challenge – Review link and category.
Author: Blythe Gifford
Copyright: 2008 (Harlequin); 276 pgs.
Series: Harlequin Historical # 902 (Medieval)
Who: Katrine de Gravere and Renard
Where & When: Flanders,1337
Katrine de Gravere of Ghent is disparate for wool. With her father languishing in a English prison and an embargo on English wool, Katrine has little choice but to listen to the mysterious stranger’s offer if she wants to keep the business running. He’s no doubt a smuggler if he claims he can get good English wool during the embargo, but she doesn’t care, as long as she gets her wool. She is an unmarried woman, alone, allowed to run her father’s business because it was only supposed to be temporary while he was in London. And when her uncle refuses to help her, Katrine puts her trust in a total stranger.
Renard can get his hands on all the English wool Katrine could ever want because he is in the service of the king of England. His true mission is to find out which of the city’s leaders can be persuaded to support Edward’s claim on the French throne, defying their count and the French king. Since English wool is far superior to both French and Flemish, there are many who would rather side with Edward if it would mean continued access to the wool. Renard needs a safe haven in the city while he scopes out the likeliest candidates that also have the loyalty of the workers. Katrine’s all-but-empty shop is the perfect place.
Katrine has other problems besides no wool for her loom. Her uncle, the Baron de Gravere, is loyal to the count of Flanders, and he tries to force Katrine to leave Ghent with him and her aunt. Katrine is able to avoid making the trip and has temporary respite from him. The baron is a vile man who constantly tells Katrine that she is sinful, wanton, and no decent man would want to marry her (Katrine believes him and she is distressed by her growing attraction to Renard). When the baron returns to Ghent, he has Katrine attacked to prove his point that she isn’t safe in the city alone. And when he inadvertently learns that Katrine has been harboring a man — an English one, no less — he tries to bully her into betraying Renard.
For his part, Renard has done his best to avoid temptation. Born an unacknowledged royal bastard, he must rely on the king’s favor for any advancement and he has no desire to subject a child to the same fate. He has nothing — land, title, or riches — to offer to any gentlewoman, so marriage was never an option for him. Since Edward has promised him a bishopric if his campaign is successful, marriage is now entirely out of the question. Being a bishop means he will no longer be subjected to the king’s whims or rely on him for favors, and he will be answerable only to God and the pope. But Renard finds himself attracted to Katrine and it becomes a real test to his resolve to be around her. Katrine teaches him how to weave, and he is surprised by his feeling of accomplishment when he sees his handiwork. It’s tangible evidence of his efforts, something he doesn’t always have serving the king. And for the first time since Edward made the offer, Renard isn’t looking forward to being a bishop.
I really liked this story. It’s set in a time and place I rarely read about. I was really interested in the characters and what became of them. Both Katrine and Renard had to overcome their beliefs about desire. Katrine has always been told it was sinful, and Renard’s belief is shaped by the nature of his birth. It’s Katrine who has an epiphany first and realizes that desiring the man she fell in love with is a natural thing. It takes Renard a little longer to resolve his issues regarding his parentage and allow himself to love Katrine.
Readers more familiar with the history of the time need to be aware that the author took some liberties with history. She points out, in her afterword, what she changed.
Started: 2 January 2009
Finished: 6 January 2009