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The King’s Courtesan by Judith James

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Kings Courtesan
Rakes and Rogues of the Restoration #2

Judith James
Historical Romance
Published in 2011

H/h - Captain Robert Nichols/Hope Matthews
Setting: London/Nottinghamshire, in the era of Charles II, 1662.

Read in April, 2012.
My rating:

                                                    [spoiler alert]

Well, I was disappointed with many things in The King’s Courtesan, which is a follow-up of Libertine’s Kiss. The biggest trouble for me was, I couldn’t get over the fact that Hope was Charles’s mistress once and she had this starry-eyed infatuation for a fickle womanizer like him. She being a courtesan for such long years, it was so unbelievable (among other things) that I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. Then, she and Robert’s chemistry was lacking, their communication felt forced, when not distant. It was sad because the book started with a beautiful scene and I was anticipating the moment when they get to relive it at some point of the story... *sigh*

Hope’s character was loosely based on Nell Gwyn, Charles II’s longtime mistress. Hope grew up in a brothel. Her mother was the owner of it. She never really knew love or affection. It was another thing, that Hope’s background wasn’t explored well. I mean, I was confused about her part as an orange girl or an actress in Covent Garden later. Or whatever she did in between the 2 men she’s been with before Charles. Was JJ expecting us to read Nell Gwyn’s background and link things because I know she used some of the real life dialogues between her and Charles in the story? Anyway, Hope was 14 when Cromwell’s army came marching in from a war which they won. People were gathering on the street to have a look. Hope had a dream of a savior, a knight in shining armor who would rescue her from this place she’s been living since her birth. When Hope went out to have a look too, she notices this young soldier on a horse and instantly infatuated by him. I know it sounds unbelievable but I wasn’t bothered by it. I liked this. As she was too close to the procession, she almost had an accident but someone saves her from the horse’s hooves. When she takes a look, she sees it’s the same soldier. She loved his smile and knew from whatever she could see behind his hat that he’s a handsome man. Hope really wanted to see his eyes but she was too mesmerized by him and his kind words. The soldier compliments her beauty, rides her into safely, making her feel like a princess, safe in his arms. When he rides away, Hope is wistful, thinking she must’ve met her knight after all.

Ah, but fate won’t let it happen. That day, she learns that her virginity has been auctioned off. Her mother, the cold b*tch, expects her to resign to her fate. A young girl without any help or rescue, Hope does just that, weathering all the humiliation of bartering away like cattle. After that, Hope stayed with the man who bought her virginity for a long time, till he married. But that man helped her acquire some knowledge and deportation of a courtly lady should have. According to Hope, she’s a good mimic and so, when she was out of that arrangement, she found her way into Covent Garden. She met people there as an orange girl and as a part time actress. There she had another short affair with an actor. After that, one day, she met Charles. If you read NG’s life from the link above, most of it is taken from there. I had already had a look before reading this book so I could recognize the similarities. As I’ve already mentioned, these aren’t explored well enough but mostly from Hope recounting them to Robert later on. When the story starts, Hope has been with Charles for about a year and has gained his favor. I was disturbed by her possessive attitude where Charles was concerned. I mean I understand she couldn’t deny the lure of becoming the King’s mistress but she KNEW what kind of a man Charles really was. It felt funny, really, her trust and faith in a fickle man like him. Also, her being faithful to him? Positively asinine IMO! And he pays Hope back, tenfold, by marrying her off without her knowledge. I thought it served her right, though the catch she was married to, aka Robert, was really yum!

Robert has a demon plaguing him since his teenage years. It is of revenge, and it haunts him, day and night. He saw his younger sister Caroline being murdered in front of her eyes by some of Charles’s I’s men. He tried saving her, killing one of the 5 men but in the end, it was all in vain. Robert blames himself for this. And he’s been after revenge all these years. He’s been a good soldier, who believed in Cromwell’s cause, as a part of his vendetta against the Stuarts; something totally understandable. His parents passed away soon after, together, leaving him all alone. Robert had nothing to look back to and so, he made it his personal quest to search and kill the rest of the men and letting them know that it’s for Caroline before he makes the final thrust of his blade. So far, he’s caught all of them, except one. This one is proving to be slippery and getting out of his hand. After Robert came home from war after a long time, he was determined to find this man out. He met Elizabeth or Lizzy again and wanted to marry her (story in Libertine’s Kiss). He had genuine affection for her but it didn’t work out that way. After Lizzy married her poet husband, as Charles II got back his throne, Robert retired to his country estate as a lowly baron. But his ultimate goal is one, to find Harris and kill him. Among all these, he gets this missive from the King that his estate has been forfeited by the monarchy. He can take things of sentimental value and so on. It was tough of Robert because Cressly was a place where Caroline was happily alive. But he had no other options open. Robert writes to Lizzy about the latest development as a reply to one of her letters. Lizzy has become a good friend of Charles through her husband, William’s association. It was great revisiting these two I so loved from Libertine’s Kiss. Lizzy also holds Robert in deep affection and so, she’s furious at Charles. When Charles summons them to the court for his upcoming marriage, Lizzy asks William to help her fight for Robert’s lands. Needless to say, Robert knew nothing of this.

Now, Charles has a plan. He can’t let Hope stay at the court as an unmarried mistress while he awaits his bride but he doesn’t want to part with her either, despite Hope’s ardent wish that he let her go. Keeping someone from a low background and unmarried would offend his new queen. Umm, I have no idea how cheating with married mistresses doesn’t offend but that’s the case. Charles plans to marry Hope off to someone; this ‘someone’ turns out to be Robert. As Lizzy and William arrive and Lizzy states her case, Charles knew that the Captain has his hands tied. He worked for Cromwell, so he can’t say ‘no’ if he has to survive. And his lands are important to him. So he’d marry Hope off to Robert, giving them new titles and letting Robert keep his lands. After a respectable time, he’d call Hope back to court and continue from where he left off. Hope, of course, has no idea about Charles’s Machiavellian plans. It was painfully odd to see her building castles out in the wind, with Charles as her lover and husband (?). Yes she did that. She lived in the house where Charles set her up and thought herself as the mistress of the house and possibly Charles’s life. It was just too silly for words and bugged me even when she was with Robert. Anyway, Charles calls Robert to the court to discuss his terms with him.

Robert, after hearing it, was stunned for a while. He has to marry the King’s whore in order to keep his lands?! It made him feel really inept and small. Afterwards, Charles takes him in a May Day party thrown by Hope. Poor Hope, she was all festive, trying to impress Charles with all sorts of things. She was happy to make him happy!! *eye roll here, loads of it* As they arrive, both Robert and Hope take notice of each-other, though she throws herself at Charles’s arms. Robert is totally smitten with her over the ceremony and Charles keeps manipulating him by pointing out how pretty she is and so on. When the ceremony was coming to an end, Hope was chosen as the May Queen by Charles, who then brought a priest and ‘married’ her to her consort, Robert, also chosen by Charles. So, yes, Hope was manipulated thus to marry Robert without even knowing it. What followed afterwards left a bitter taste in my mouth. As Hope realized Charles’s treachery, she is dumbfounded. Charles humiliates her further by bringing in his older, most notorious mistress (with the French title from Libertine’s Kiss, the b*tch I barfed on so eagerly!) and flaunting her in front of Hope. The b*tch doesn’t pass the opportunity to demean her. Hope is hurt, angry and totally in shock. I could feel her hurt but couldn’t help rolling my eyes too... Why are you so shocked Hope? You should’ve known better where Charles was concerned! Now, she’s mad at Robert too, thinking he also had a hand in it, not knowing Robert was also manipulated. She is very rude to him. Robert also doesn’t know that Hope was manipulated and so, he’s angry at her don’t-touch-me-you-lowlife attitude. You see the mess? And I couldn’t really get over this mess for the entire story.

That same day they journey to Nottinghamshire where Cressly Manor is situated. On their day, they were blowing all hot and cold. Robert used to be a soldier so he isn’t good with words and he made mess with them. Hope, she’s in denial at first, angry, then she was *learning to* accept it since she had no other option left. For better or worse, she’s now saddled with a husband and on the King’s machination no less! They would try to have civil conversation, once even having a nice outing before arriving to Cressly, where Robert takes her on a tour of Nottingham as Hope was fascinated with the story of Robin Hood. But soon thereafter, the matter of their marriage would come up and both would be rude to each-other. I didn’t like these ups and downs, their volatile relationship. TBH, it grew old after sometimes and I was bored. I already said Hope being Charles’s mistress was always on my mind (I do have trouble connecting with mistress/courtesan heroines), then their hot and cold relationship hindered any chemistry I might feel between them. The story itself felt dragging without much happening. Both of them were too stubborn about what they wanted. Hope wanted nothing to do with her husband, even though she was thoroughly attracted to him. She also thought Robert is disgusted by her station in life. His drinking, which was brought on by the nightmares, was another reason she kept her distance from him. Robert also wanted nothing to do with Hope, knowing she’ll only cuckold him soon. As long as he doesn’t consummate the marriage, he can at least have some control over this situation. She’d be a wife in name only.

The servants were very rude to Hope, knowing all about her from the gossips. She is quite famous (or infamous) in her role it seems. Robert doesn’t help her much on this situation since he wasn’t feeling very charitable towards her. I wanted to slap him here, because I knew him to be a nice guy. Hope tries her best to stand her ground however she could, with only one maid who accepted her as she was. I liked that Hope didn’t care what the longtime housekeeper thought about her and started exploring the house herself. She knew no help would be coming from Robert, who was busy with the arrangement of finding Harris as he already knew it was him who wanted Cressly from Charles. On her exploration, Hope finds some stuff like closed rooms and wings, some haunted stories about the house itself. She finds Robert’s parents’ portraits and also Caroline’s. She still didn’t know about the tragedy and how deep the scar runs within Robert. Without knowledge, Hope opened up some of the rooms which were obviously occupied by Caroline when she was alive or her favorite place; places Robert kept shut until now. Hope also finds this abandoned garden, and gardening being her favorite hobby, she decides to take care of this too.

Since both Robert and Hope were attracted to each-other, it doesn’t take long to consummate the marriage in a hasty lovemaking. It was basically Hope’s idea, she already made up her mind to put Charles behind and never picking up where she left off before marrying Robert. And she loves this place, hoping to make it a home, something she’d never known. Also, she knew her prickly husband can be really charming if he wills it and somehow, it made Hope want to get past his barrier to find out the real man within. I liked that Hope didn’t reply any of Charles’s personal missives but she knew when he summons her with a Royal one, she can’t ignore it. I would’ve liked their relationship to have some balance but Charles’s specter and the background of their marriage hindered any little development they might make over and over again. As I said before, while this time they were nice to each-other, talking and sharing, the next they're on a full-throttle argument. I found it immensely frustrating to say the least. But whenever they were trying to make some development, they find that they can’t help falling for one another a little bit. Robert and Hope both knew this is going to be serious trouble later but they can’t help it. In between we do get to see Robert’s softer side, like when Hope got herself into a little accident, how he takes care of her and so concerned and how he couldn’t help taking notice of Hope, no matter what. Even though, after the consummation they didn’t have sex for a while but as their intimacy grew, they were at it. Robert begins loosening up and speaks a little of his own background, the war but not much about Caroline. Ok, here it is, I know he was hurting and blamed himself for Caroline’s death but I thought the whole issue of her death dragged on for too long. I couldn’t help feeling this way and how all these issues kept them from being together.

Charles sends a messenger to check up on Hope and she does the right thing by telling the man that she’s happy here. Robert likes her stance, though he was skeptic about her intentions at first. When Robert makes it clear to the servant that they would have to show Hope the respect they deserve, the servants, who are very loyal to him, begin to soften towards her. It wasn’t really hard to love her because Hope wasn’t some uppity b*tch. It was apparent that she has wrought some very positive changes in Cressly and in Robert’s life after all these years. Robert was also making progress about the Harris case, taking William’s help. Now, there came a time when Hope and Robert totally understood that their lives are now shaped in a way that they can’t deny their feelings anymore. There was this nice scene where they talk about a lot of things, Hope’s past and all, Robert about his life as a soldier and more about Caroline. He finally confesses to Hope about his guilt, which she tries to soothe away with kisses and tears. It was a very emotional scene. I was finally hopeful about this relationship. Then came that scene I’ve been waiting for from the prologue, when they finally revisit their first meeting. Oh well, I knew it was Robert, kinda obvious but still, the recounting and then dawning understanding from both sides... it was purely magical! I.LOVED.IT!!! I couldn’t help grinning broadly when Hope was so stunned and then overjoyed and kissed Robert all over knowing she has actually married her knight! Robert was dumbstruck too and it was all very nice, they make crazy love and says ILU, I was very happy... until the next morning, when I went WTF??? Robert was still bent on perusing Harris alone to act on his revenge, something Hope was trying to thwart before this beautiful scene. She wanted him to let this revenge go; let Caroline find peace and in the process, let himself be in peace. I didn’t think her argument was illogical. Charles’s Royal missive came, incidentally, before and Hope was expecting Robert would accompany her as he’d promise, as her husband, to support her. Now that I think back, their argument over to wait to see Charles and Robert’s visiting Harris first never really resolved. But the next morning, wow, I was so sorely disappointed by the scene that followed. It was one of the lamest arguments I’ve ever read, where all I heard was ‘me, me, me, me, me’... Both were still stubborn to have their own way. I actually supported Hope here. I was sooo frustrated with this scene, can’t even explain. It was just that bad!! I couldn’t believe JJ just ruined that beautiful scene for me by this!!!!!

Robert did confront Harris at last, who was a disgusting man. Hope left alone to meet Charles since she can’t leave the King to wait on her but she returned, being scared of Robert’s life. It doesn’t go very well and the blood-lust in Robert’s eyes scares Hope away. Not something I expected from her, at all. Robert, belatedly, but finally realizes that life with Hope is what he wants and the cold bed he made with revenge won’t ever let him be happy. I did like the scene where William, who was a notorious rake before his Lizzy, helps out the poor, clueless Robert with ‘directions’ as to what to do with his woman. The ending was very nice and all that but I was still unhappy from the uneven read throughout the book. Also, I JUST DON’T CARE what Charles did to forget Hope. That part was wholly unnecessary and pissed me really! He was already an annoying distraction throughout the book. I wanted to rate this book at least a 4 star but sadly, I couldn’t. 3.5 stars.

FYI: The upcoming book by JJ is about the bastard son of Colonel Harris. He was a little boy in this book, had a small but prominent role in the final confrontation scene. We don’t even get to know his name, until I read the blurb of Hers at Midnight... Jack. Somehow I knew he’d get a chance tell his own story and I’m totally looking forward to that one!


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