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Book Review: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick

A beautifully-written book that grounds the reader in the lives of the past, To Defy a King is not mere historical fiction but a time machine.

From the Cover:  

The spirited daughter of England’s greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal, lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls out with the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered.

The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt’s planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected.

Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh’s strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple’s lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone. Caught between the family she was born in and the family she married into, Mahelt is uncertain if she—or her marriage—will survive.

What I Loved:  To Defy a King completely immerses the reader in the past and paints a vivid picture of what it would be like in the thirteenth century, particularly for a young woman whose life is defined by what the men around her want.  The main character, Mahelt, must contend with this on a daily basis.

I was a little hesitant to start this book because it’s the fifth in the series and I haven’t read any of the other ones.  Fortunately, it didn’t seem to matter.  Everything was wrapped up well enough in this volume that I didn’t feel I’d missed out on anything.

To Defy a King is a rather lengthy book, and the characters are given ample time to develop and show off their depth.  It seems there is nothing that happens without a purpose, so there’s never a dull moment.

This way I would describe the tone of this book is tense.  I felt my entire body going rigid as I read because of everything Mahelt had to go through (but I don’t want to give away any spoilers here).  I guess this could be either a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s definitely not a relaxing read!

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  The characters, especially at first, are a bit difficult to keep track of.  This is mostly in regard to the families of the two main protagonists.  There is a family tree in the front of the book, which helps, but I don’t like to flip back and forth.  Nor do I like to accidentally spoil something for myself and see when they die or get married before it happens in the story!

Rating and Recommendation:  If you love historical fiction with a heady mix of action, adventure, and romance, then To Defy a King is for you.  Four stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.


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