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A Dark Champion by Kinley MacGregor

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dark Champion
Brotherhood/MacAllisters #6 

Kinley MacGregor
Medieval Romance
Published in 2004

H/h - Stryder of Blackmoore/Lady Rowena de Vitry
Setting: England, in the time of King Henry II.

Read in May, 2011.
My rating:

                                                                   [spoiler alert]

This book has loads of information which is making me think KM should've build it's background from the earlier books. I'm having trouble keeping the facts straight. And there are just too many characters and incidents of Outremer I have to keep track of throughout the whole book, suffice to say, I don't think I can talk about it all in my review. Just impossible. So, I'll go straight to the main story between Stryder and Rowena and add a few facts on the way.

In "Midsummer's Knight" (in the anthology Where's My Hero) we got to know quite a lot about Stryder. He's a broody man, a first-class knight to king Henry II. He's rich, an earl and women can't seem to get enough of him. In his book, we see it all, specially where the women are concerned, I personally thought it was madness! Nevertheless quite funny and Stryder is very good looking (can anyone see tall, hard muscled, dark haired-blue eyed babe? I see Richard Armitage :p). But I digress! He has sworn, because of his tortured past and the Brotherhood, that he'd never marry. He's the undeclared leader of this Brotherhood, which was formed in Outremer, when Stryder and a few other men did whatever they could to escape the imprisonment and torture it brought. As I said, I won't be going to the history of the Brotherhood but relate a few facts when it's necessary. So, not only his past in Outremer but also the fact that his mother was an adulteress (I already knew his younger brother Christopher aka Kit was illegitimate but later, I learned he too is the same and from the same father!) and his father was a lovesick fool who was cuckolded all through his marriage and the combination that lead to a tragedy made Stryder quite determined not to fall in love and marry. Stryder hates music and poetry, because his mother loved them and of course, her lover was a nobleman minstrel and not a knight like his father. Right now, someone is trying to kill Stryder and we get to meet some of his comrades from Brotherhood- Christian, Nassir, Zenobia (she has 2nd sight, sees visions) and his knights Swan, Raven, Will and Val. There are also mentions of Phantom and Pagan. They are all loyal to him to a fault and are here to help.

Rowena is the daughter of a nobleman and an heiress. But, she doesn't care for any of these. She loves to sing and is a troubadour. She performs in king Henry's court and travels with groups of minstrels whenever she can. Rowena hates war and knights since her father was killed in war. Her parent's marriage was a hollow thing; no feelings between each-other, which also made her determined never to marry, unless she finds her true love. Her songs are such; they talk of love while demeaning the wars, knights and the misery they bring in the world. Needless to say, many hate her for this and termed her with various vulgar names. Rowena still doesn't care, as long as she can live her life in peace. But, now she can't. With intervention from the ever meddlesome king and his queen, Rowena has to marry to secure her lands. And, they've decided (Rowena has no idea about their plan) that it's Stryder they want as her husband. But, neither Stryder not Rowena is willing to marry. So, their surface plan is to let them be together as much as possible, with Rowena teaching Stryder to sing and play lute. They've given her a 'choice' which I'm still kinda confused about.

Rowena heard many things about Stryder, specially the way women moan and sigh when he walks by and attacks him ... ahem! I had fun reading those since Stryder is mostly immune and very irritated by all these pawing. Rowena's heard enough of those, moreover knows he's a knight. So, it's pretty obvious it'll never happen, she'll never care for a knight! And, Stryder, knowing Rowena's occupation and the stuff she sings about, is quite disgusted. But, once they meet, they're attracted to each-other like a fly to a flypaper! :p So, they keep on meeting and Rowena, knowing things and stuffs and his past, can't keep herself from falling for him. So is Stryder, she seems to be the balm to his wounds, she's so kind and generous. I have to mention I loved many of their dialogues and one scene, where Rowena goes to teach him playing lute in the morning and finds him asleep and naked .... oh boy, that man can tease. ;)

Then, there is this killer Aquarius. Then, two knights, both part of the Brotherhood, are murdered in their sleep. But, after a few so-called eye-witnesses and not so good evidence, Stryder is found guilty of the murders. Rowena just can't believe it. She just knows Stryder is innocent and knowing that he doesn't like to be in a room with walls [ref: his days of imprisonment in Outremer] is concerned for him. This is why Stryder always sleeps in a tent. Rowena feels for Stryder and requests the queen to give her some necessities to take care of Stryder. Though he didn't want her to see him like this, Stryder welcomes Rowena's comfort and later, makes love to her as she decides the way she feels for him, it's inevitable. Then the topic of marriage comes up again. Stryder tries to reason with her that this is for the best, he'll take care of her and her lands, give her freedom enough to pursue her dream of a music school. Then being honest, he says he'll try everything but he can't give her love. The statement is a definite blow to Rowena and she kinda refuses his proposal.

I'm liking this book and seriously interested in the mystery/action/suspense part but the relationship between Rowena and Stryder is not holding a lot of appeal for me yet. I don't know why. Maybe it feels a bit hurried up and not as magnetic as Sin-Callie or fun ride as Draven-Emily and Ewan-Nora. Still not sure if Aquarius is the murderer or it's a woman, as Rowena and Zenobia later decide.

Ooh boy, don't know where to start! It was a work to keep all the facts straight throughout the book. In the end, too many questions were left unanswered. Still, I'm gonna give it a 4 star just because I enjoyed it a lot.

Stryder was ordered to fight to prove his innocence and this time it's with another strong secondary character, one of his childhood friends-turned-enemy, a French prince Damien. Damien and Stryder shared a history together in Outremer, which led the man hate Stryder. But, whatever I read, it wasn't Stryder's fault. Anyway, Rowena and the others were very concerned since they knew Damien can match Stryder's prowess in battle and Stryder might not make it. That being said, Damien was an intriguing character. No one has seen his face, at least not after he returned from Outremer and many rumors to why is circulated amongst the people. Rowena goes to talk to Damien and though she couldn't deter him from the fight, Damien takes an interest in her.

Then in the fight, another quite shocking truth is revealed and it's about Kit. I couldn't believe that Kit, who's a minstrel and always bullied by the knights because they think he's a wussy, is Aquarius! Oh man! Then, there were so many things in his past no one knew about. Stryder didn't even met him when he was a kid or teenager. Again, Stryder didn't know the boy he mourned from the imprisonment of Outremer was actually Kit. Due to the betrayal from some of the men of Brotherhood (which includes two knights who were muderdered), when they escaped, they didn't know that Kit and the other boys, with some women were still stuck and suffered for another 5 yrs. It was sad, the whole history of what they were forced to do to survive made me sick. I felt so so sad. And then Kit's Saracen masters let him and a few others go with the words that they'll have to erase the names assigned to them. Otherwise, it's their death. Kit's time has already ran out and the only man left in his list is Stryder. Kit, after knowing that his brother is not at all what he thought, just couldn't bring himself kill him.

When in the battlefield, Damien tells Stryder of it, he couldn't believe it. Then of course, Kit tells him and the others how he and the others suffered and also the fact that, one of Rowena's ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth was another survivor from that imprisonment. I'm not sure how she got there, the history was a bit hazy but gruesome nonetheless. Elizabeth even had a boy in captivity but the captors kept him so that she does her duty. I was also made to believe that Kit and Elizabeth shared a history together as well... don't feel like taking about it though. In the process, the murders was also solved. Later, Elizabeth was found murdered, no one knows by whom but guessed probably by assassins sent by her master. This leaves Rowena disconsolate. After the murder, with some of his knights and Christian, Kit was send by Stryder to the Scot for his protection.

Stryder took it all onto himself, believing he could've saved his brother. His and Rowena's relationship was also growing in midst of all these. They were together and took solace from each other's company. Then comes the fact that many nobles, knowing Rowena's status, were vying for her hand and would fight for her in the jousting. Damien also lets Stryder know that he'll take part in that jousting for Rowena's hand. Stryder is, again, in a fix. He doesn't wanna fight Damien because of his guilt in thinking he'd also left Damien to suffer. But, when you read the facts, it's obvious that Damien and his arrogant arse were what put him in danger. He was also there for a while and most possibly, shared the same fate as Kit and Elizabeth.

There was this scene in Stryder's tent that was very beautiful, where he tries to copy a letter. Stryder is illiterate. And, when Rowena comes in and finds it out, she offers to write it for him. The words were simple yet beautiful, which let Rowena know about Stryder's feelings for her. Rowena asks him to fight for her in the jousting. I realized somewhere in the 2nd half, I started liking these two and their exchanges/meetings quite a lot.

Then, Elizabeth's 7 yr old boy is send home by the Saracens. The boy, Alexander, doesn't know his father. His Saracen nanny talks to Rowena and tells him Stryder is his father. Of course, Stryder later confirms that he's not but he takes the orphan in anyway. Alexander is very happy to have a home, Stryder and Rowena dote on him. When Stryder realizes the uncle Alexander talks so fondly about is indeed Damien, he goes to confront him and understands that he might actually be his father. But, the threats on his life made him give the boy to Stryder, whom everyone knows as his enemy.

The ending was sweet. There was a little misunderstanding between the Stryder and Rowena when the jousting was taking place. I loved reading Stryder the lovesick puppy and his knights teasing him for it. Then, in the singing contest, Stryder sings. It was funny yet very heartwarming. And, somehow Stryder understood, he can't possibly fight the battle for goodness all his life. He needs Rowena too much, as does she and now that he has a son, he needs to protect him too.

Now, I already said, many things were left unanswered. Who really is Damien? Is he really the Scorpion, the deadly assassin Stryder and the others talked about? Is he Alexander's father? Why did Nassir and Zenobia left as suddenly as they arrived, then again, who are they? Where is Pagan and Phantom? Who is the Scot? What's going to happen to Kit? To tell you the truth, I don't really feel like reading Kit's book, if it ever comes out. There's something too melancholy about his life. But, I will nevertheless. Now, what I really wanna read is Damien's book as well as Pagan's. I hope the next book give me some clues to some of these questions.

The Brotherhood of Swords:

The Wraith is Simon of Ravenswood, book "Midsummer's Knight" (novella) in Where's My Hero

The Widowmaker is Stryder of Blackmoor, book A Dark Champion

The Abbot is Christian of Acre, book Return of the Warrior

The Scot is ... ???

The Sorcerer/El Sahaar is ... Nassir, a Saracen man, no books yet.

Then there are two other additional men:

The Pagan is ... Not sure. So far I only know it is the Pagan I was so interested in Taming the Scotsman 

The Phantom is ... ???

Another character, an assassin:

The Scorpion is ... Damien St. Cyr???


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