Title: “By His Majesty’s Grace”
Author: Jennifer Blake
Genre(s): historical fiction, historical romance
Part of a Series: Yes
Why I read it: A Goodreads reading challenge
Summary: Lady Isabel Milton has spread the rumor of the Curse of the Three Graces to protect her and her sisters from a reality of their times: arranged marriages. It is said that anyone who tries to marry the three Milton sisters—AKA the Three Graces—against their wishes will meet with a dark fate. But the king himself, Henry VII, interferes and arranges a marriage between his friend Rand and Isabel. She is hesitant but Rand is excited to marry her. But problems arise before they can even consummate the engagement. Rand is accused of a crime and is brought before the king. Henry allows the two to marry and spend time together as husband and wife but when evidence piles up against Rand, Henry has no choice but to imprison him. Isabel faces a choice: let Rand go to his death and escape her unwanted marriage or acknowledge her growing feelings for Rand and prove his innocence.
Review: This one is a bit like “The Boleyn King”: the intrigue is better than the romance.
The main character, Isabel, is not very likeable at the beginning. She gets better once involved in the intrigue, thankfully, but mostly because the romance part is what makes her so unlikeable. When the reader first meets her, she is on her way to a marriage she doesn’t want. And why she doesn’t want to get married is never explained well. Ms. Blake uses several reasons: Isabel doesn’t want to end up in a loveless, abusive marriage like her mother, most girls her age marry men twice their age, girls younger than she already have children, and she wants freedom. The last one worked best with the storyline and should’ve been the only one.
And then things don’t get better for a long time. She resists her feelings for her husband for far too long, to the point of “Really? Just admit it.” But once she starts playing heroine and riding about the English countryside to solve the mystery, she gets more likeable.
Moving on to our hero, we have Rand. He’s definitely more likeable than his wife. Which doesn’t help make Isabel likeable at the beginning. Readers can’t understand why she is resisting Rand as he’s a nice guy. He is also a determined and honorable man, loyal to his king. Even when that king has him imprisoned. But he works to get his wife’s affection and fights off his half-brother, whose lands Henry granted Rand. My one complaint is that I feel he gives up a bit too easily later in the novel.
The romance is…tedious. Between Isabel’s resistance and Rand’s determination, it should be an interesting power play. But it doesn’t come across as that because Blake falls into a romance writer trap: mistaking sex for relationship building. Once the two are married, if they share a scene, they are likely having sex. And watching them spar verbally would’ve been more interesting and allowed for Isabel to become more likeable earlier. It also would’ve spared me passages about Isabel’s “softness.” Oh, euphemisms.
On the other hand, the intrigue is fast-paced and hits all the right beats, except with the red herring. He disappears for a good chunk of the story and is forgotten by the readers. But the reader does have three other perpetrators to choose from and Ms. Blake does leave one guessing to whodunnit until the reveal. And the reveal is a great action sequence, which are difficult to write.
Bottom line: If you can make it past the romance, the intrigue is very good.
Sex: Quite a bit.
Why do you think some people mistake “sex”for “relationship building”?