Author: Jill Barnett
Review number: 13
Genre: Romance / Medieval
Stand alone or series: This is a trilogy set in medieval times: Wonderful, Wild and Wicked. Each has a different knight as a protagonist – First is Merrick, then Roger, his friend at arms and third is Sir Tobin.
Summary: Amazon.com says Barnett claims she got the idea for her 13th-century romance, Wonderful, from a beer commercial, from which she learned that ale-making was one of the few occupations open to medieval women. Lady Clio is a headstrong, independent-minded young woman who would like nothing more than to rediscover the long-lost recipe for “heather ale,” which was created by the Picts. Although lovely, Clio has long given up on marriage because her betrothed abandoned her to a convent six years before. When Merrick de Beaucort suddenly arrives to claim his bride, he finds that wooing the beautiful Lady Clio is as difficult and arduous as any battle he has faced. Beneath Clio’s placid countenance and seemingly docile demeanor lies a lively and adventurous woman with a lot of ideas that Merrick must accept if he is ever to win her love.
Why did I read this book: I read Bewitching and Dreaming by the same author and I fell in love with her stories and the way she tells them. So, I wanted more! Yes, I am greedy.
I am in love with Jill Barnett’s books. I think she has the perfect balance between funny and gut-wrenching moments. Other romance writers get the balance right as well, perfect example being Julia Quinn. But Jill Barnett does it to such an extreme, it is unbelievable: when I say funny , I am not saying witty or light , I am talking about laugh-out-loud, almost- fell- off- my -chair funny. And when I say gut-wrenching I mean tears streaming down my face, let-me-hold-you-in-my-arms agony. Everything I could hope for in a romance novel and then some more.
Wonderful tells the tale of Lady Clio of Camrose, a young, spirited woman who since very early in life had these wonderful ideas that invariably got her into trouble. The latest one got her banished from the Queen’s court in only two days – after which her father managed to secure her future by getting her a betrothal offer from Merrick de Beaucourt a knight who was then fighting in the Holy Land. After 4 years, Merrick has not yet returned, her father falls sick and dies and she becomes the King’s ward. She is then sent to a convent where she waits for another 2 years.
Merrick is a man who has fought alongside the King and is given a title as the Earl of Glamorgan and the opportunity to marry Clio and her lands. He is tired of battles and is prepared to settle down with a quiet wife. Only problem is his new lands are on the border with Wales, a constant threat to the English and his betrothed is the complete opposite of quiet and meek. And she is not happy that she had to wait 6 long years for this man.
They can not marry straight away as he needs to fortify the castle’s defences and they take this time to get to know each other as they try to hold their grounds on what they believe to be each other’s duties. At first he has little time for her and she believes he only cares about wars. She carries on with her wonderful plans. Like the one to try and create the legendary Heather Ale, a special brew that is said to have strange powers and which recipe has been lost over time. And in her way of doing so, ends up concocting different versions of ale that make people sleep or giggle or make poetry. She also works out a way of getting back at Merrick for the years he has kept her waiting – every time he asks to see her, she leaves him waiting for two hours and in twenty years their score will be tied!
They go about their ways bickering and fighting but of course, this being a romance novel they find their way into each other’s hearts and never a wedding night was so sweet as this one, for this time it was the hero who cried at the sight of the woman he cherished.
There is also a cast of wonderfully drawn secondary characters who add to the story , from Roger FitzAlan, Merrick’s best friend and man at arms (the protagonist of the second book in the series) to Thud and Thwack, lady Clio’s companions- the explanation for their names is one of the most hilarious scenes in the book.
There are so many other funny little moments in the book but my favourites are how Clio always has new names for Merrick. If he is in one of his moods, he is the Earl of Grumps or the Earl of Grim; when all he can think of is to build the protective walls around the castle , he is the Earl of Warmonger but funniest of them all is when after a particularly hot sexual encounter, she starts to call him Earl of Lips.
But I also mentioned heart-wrenching moments and Jill Barnett do not shy away from them. These two live in dangerous times where the shadow of attacks are only a few kilometres away and natural diseases can bring death ever so swiftly. All ends well, of course, but we do share a tear or two before the Happily Ever After.
Notable parts/Quotes: Clio has always had a romantic view of war and battles and the place of Warriors in it all. But when she is attacked by a bunch of Welsh people in the borders and Merrick comes to her rescue, she finally sees what is like to be amongst death and destruction. This is a turning point for both of them, when she see who he is and when he realises how much he cares for her when faced with her nearly death:
“Strange how his armor could fend off arrows and slashes of swords. It could deflect the blow of a mace or the jab of a dagger. It has saved his life too many times to count. Yes, his armor has never ceased to protect him.
At that instant, a moment of time that was no more than a flicker in the face of Fate, he learned something that would change his whole life. No matter how thick the metal or how masterfully crafted, no matter how many men-at-arms he had or how many weapons he drew, nothing…..no nothing would ever protect him from this one small woman.”
Additional Thoughts: I love it when we have a glimpse into the author’s creative process. Jill Barnett got the idea for this book after seeing a beer commercial and in her historical notes she explains that the Heather Ale’s legend was indeed true and chronicled in the history of the British Isles. It seems that most medieval ale was brewed by women and it was a respectable way for a woman to support herself and be independent. Hooray for the medieval women who actually got around to do just this.
Verdict: Wonderful! This book seems to be out of print and I got a used copy from Amazon’s marketplace. It is easy enough and I promise you will not regret it. You could also take the opportunity to get another one of hers which is also out of print, Bewitching, one of the most adorable romances I read so far.
Reading next: One Night for Love by Mary Balogh