Title: The Prize
Author: Julie Garwood
Review Number: 2
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Summary: Amazon.co.uk says In William the Conqueror’s London court, Saxon captive, Nicholaa, was forced to choose a husband from the assembled Norman nobles. She chose Royce and they soon reveled in their newfound love. However, this was soon to be disrupted by the call of blood, kin and country.
Why did I read the book: I read Saving Grace a couple of weeks ago and now I am working through her backlist.
It’s England and it’s 1066, which means that the Normans are coming, and the Saxons are doomed. Except if you happen to be our Heroine Nicholaa, a courageous, crafty, spontaneous young woman who is the Prize that the title refers to. She has become quite the legend at King William’s Court because thus far she managed to fight off 3 of the King’s warriors that were trying to get her to surrender her keep and her lands. Her parents are long dead, her younger brother is at his death bed in a nearby abbey, and her older brother is off fighting the Conqueror in the North so she has to use whatever methods are at her disposal to defend herself and her people (including her sling – she is a mighty shot and she never misses.)
The book opens with attempt number 4 by the Normans who are being led this time by one of the King’s Favorites, Royce. He is a warrior and he trains William’s men in the arts of war. He is also our Hero, which means that this time she will fail and her keep will finally fall into Norman hands. But not before outsmarting him one last time – he didn’t count with her faithful servants who help her to get away to the safety of the Abbey where her brother is – she dresses up as a nun and pretends to be her own twin. He soon finds out about the deceit and figures out a way of getting her out of the Abbey so he can take her to the Court, where the Lords will have a chance to fight for the Prize – whoever gets her gets not only gets one of the most beautiful women in England but also a wealthy one.
Over the time they spend together on the way to London, they come to appreciate each other: he finds himself admiring her struggles and failed attempts to escape and she appreciates his sense of honor and the fact that he never seems to loose his patience with her or with any of his subordinates. At this point, they are half way through falling in love with each other and it’s not a surprise when Nicholaa, after winning the Queen’s respect and given the chance to choose a husband, picks Royce. “Checkmate” she says, alluding to the game of wits they have been playing for the past weeks.
What happens next is the good old battle of the sexes where each has its own views on what their place in the world should be. Royce sees marriage as a map: ordained, organized, where everyone has a duty. His is to protect his wife, her family, his men. Hers is to give him peace by following his rules: to obey his orders without questioning, to not raise her voice, to not allow spontaneous actions to rule her decisions and to not weep – each and every single one she fails miserably to comply with which leads to funny and endearing moments of endless lectures by Royce while she daydreams about love and family traditions and how to make their marriage a happy one:
“It was all so simple. Royce was the first trainer of men. His duty had been determined years before when William recognised his talent. (…) Nicholaa decided not to interfere with her husband’s primary duties. She’d stay out of his way while he turned ordinary men into invincible warriors.
She had only just decided upon her duty, however. She wasn’t sure how to begin. Only one thing was certain: she and Royce were going to live together in peace and harmony even if it killed him. Yes, she thought to herself, Royce would train his men.
And she would train him.”
It was great fun to follow these two and see them slowly but surely fall in love with each other. But the love story was not the only amazing element in this book. The historical research was spot on: the conflicts between Norman and Saxon’s traditions, the insurgency growing in the North and even the description of King William’s relationship with his wife Matilda which seems to have been one of genuine respect and love. There were other subplots that also kept me entertained: the growing friendship between Royce and her younger brother Justin who was struggling to find his new place in the new order of things, her fear that at some point there would be a deadly clash between her older brother and her husband – what would her place be then? Is she a traitor of her people by accepting her fate so easily and falling in love with the enemy?
I loved The Prize and this is one of those books that I will be coming back to in a rainy afternoon when all you want to do is to get a cuppa and a blanket and sit down with a comfort read. And I am definitely going to carry on reading Julie Garwood’s historicals.
Notable quotes/parts: The Chess allusions. Both Royce and Nicholaa were excellent players (although I am not too certain that Saxons played the game at all – Normans did for sure). There are many many parts that are awworthy and heartwarming in the book but I think my favorite is the one when Royce surprises Nicholaa with the new Queen.
Additional Thoughts: The Norman conquest of England began one afternoon in October 1066 when the troops led by Duke William of Normandy decimated the English forces, led by the Saxon King, Harold, who fell to his death in that battleground. It was the Battle of Hastings and every year, in those very same grounds, there is a battle re-enactment: people dress up in period clothes and spend the whole weekend camping as if they were back in time. The event is open to the public and last year we drove to join the festivities. It was an awesome weekend. Nearby there are the ruins of an Abbey built by William as penitence for the lost lives and where there is a plaque that points where King Harold fell – I was very surprised to see flowers and messages to the king and took a picture of the most heartbreaking one:
Verdict: This one is definitely a keeper. A top shelf one.
Reading next: If his Kiss is Wicked by Jo Goodman