Lady of the Knight by Tori Phillips
(Harl. Historical #373, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29076-4
****
I have often wondered why the 16th century is so largely ignored by authors of historical romance. Here you have a society far removed from the mannered 18th century or Regency or the repressed Victorian years. This was a lusty era with larger than life events and personalities. It would seem a perfect setting for a romance. Tori Phillips clearly perceives the romantic possibilities of the Tudor era and in Lady of the Knight does a remarkably good job of bringing it to life.

The setting for this story is the storied “Field of the Cloth of Gold,” what Phillips describes -- accurately -- as “the party of the second millennium.” Here, in a valley in northern France, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France and their entire courts met for two weeks of jousting, drinking, partying, and debauchery, all in the cause of international peace.

Two entire cities of luxurious tents were set up, with canvass banqueting halls, cook tents, stables, and all the comforts of home. Of course, purveyors of all imaginable goods and services flocked to Val D’Or to supply the partygoers with everything they could possibly want.

As the renowned knight Sir Andrew Ford and his friends make their way through the crowd, they espy one of the “merchants” hard at work. The whoremaster Quince has a lovely morsel for sale. He is auctioning off the virginity of Rosie, a young English girl whom he purchased from her foster father for five shillings.

Sir Andrew makes a daring wager with his young friends. He insists that in ten days he can transform this dirty and unkempt creature into a lady who can pass the muster at Henry’s court. And so Sir Andrew “buys” Rosie’s virginity, greatly angering a competing bidder, the nasty Sir Gareth Hogsworthy.

Thus we have an interesting twist on the ever popular Pygmalion story.

Rosie cleans up remarkably well. Indeed, beneath all the grime is a lovely woman who certainly looks the part of a lady when properly gowned. She also proves to be astute and intelligent, although the task of improving her manners and her speech is somewhat daunting.

While Andrew has no intention of sleeping with his purchase, he is nonetheless increasingly drawn to his protégé whose lovely person, sharp wits and underlying innocence are very different from the court ladies who pursue the handsome knight. A 38-year-old widower, Andrew feels far too old for the 19-year-old woman whom he has taken under his wing. Yet Rosie has a wisdom beyond her years, and she forces Andrew to look at the world in new and different ways.

Phillips has a real feel for early 16th century society. Her portrayal of the characters’ behavior may seem over-the-top, but in fact she has caught the flavor of an era when a pleasure-seeking monarch with lusty appetites set the tone for court life and when excess in all things ruled.

I gather that Lady for a Knight is part of a series. I must admit that I had a slight sense of being out of the loop in the case of some of the minor characters, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. Indeed, so much of the book deals with the relationship between the hero and the heroine and both characters are so well drawn and so unusual that they overshadow almost everything else.

There may be readers who will balk at Phillips’ use of archaic language or who may find the characters and their behavior and dress (a scarlet codpiece with little gold bells?) too outlandish. But I found that Phillips’ undoubtedly extensive knowledge about the times added to my enjoyment of the story. I felt for a few hours as if I too were a spectator at the second millennium’s greatest party while at the same time watching a charming romance unwind before me. Can’t ask for much else.

--Jean Mason


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