Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Denee Cody -- The Court of Love

Rated: ♥ ♥ ♥   {3.00}
Action: ♠♠. / Emotion: ♣♣♣. / Romance: ♥♥. / Sensuous: ♦ / Suspense: ♠♠♠
Action: 2.5 / Emotion: 3.5 / Romance: 2.5 / Sensuous: 1 / Suspense: 3 // Medieval Flavor: 3 / Laughter: 2 / Tears: 4

After reading the back cover, decided that The Court of Love, the first book in The Mandeville Trilogy by Denée Cody, sounded like it would be an exciting, intriguing medieval romance (on a Medieval Romance reading binge).   Cody did an excellent job of grabbing and keeping interest as the story progressed, but this book lacked that magic that was looking for -- a book that would draw one deep into the story and inspire a deep emotional connection to the characters.

A truly gifted author is one who writes such an engrossing story that it so engages the emotions that it makes the reader feel like she is the heroine and that the hero is her knight in shining armor.   Will say that even though Cody failed to inspire this depth of connection, she did manage to bring moments of heartfelt tears and instances of laughter -- so the book was not a total wash.

There were several instances when frustration overrode interest while reading The Court of Love.   One particular frustration was tied to the way Cody spent an inordinate amount of time in the mind of the hero, Stephan de Mandeville, as he bemoaned the secret of his birth that kept him at arms length from the rest of the world.   Can understand that Cody was trying to build up the intrigue factor of the story and was leading up to some kind of emotional, life-altering moment of revelation, but it started getting old -- kept thinking, what can be that awful -- enough of this build-up -- tell us, alright already!

When the story started to drag, did something very abnormal -- went to Amazon to read a couple of reviews to see if should continue to read this book.   It happened!   Usually, do not want to take the risk that a reviewer would insert (hopefully, inadvertently) an enjoyment-ruining spoiler   (The very reason that reading reviews before reading the book is such a "no-no".)   Sure enough, one reviewer revealed Stephan's big secret.   Thankfully, this time, the spoiler did not ruin the book -- it helped rather than hindered the flow of the story.   In fact, it brought more enjoyment to the read because now understood where Cody was leading Stephan.   (Probably because was so frustrated by the amount of time Stephan spent fretting about his secret and why it made him unworthy.)

Cody started out the book with a bang.   She immediately took the reader back in time, by having the nineteen-year-old heroine, Julianna Devereux, Countess of Rosmar, tell the overweight, malodorous Bishop of London that "no" she would not allow herself to become betrothed to her eight-year-old cousin, Gilbert de Clare.   Before being banished to her small room, Julianna revealed to the reader the underlying theme that was emphasized throughout the rest of the story -- that a Englishwoman in 1189 had no say so over her life.
Julianna felt like chattel to be sold to the highest bidder, expected to dumbly accept her fate and not inconvenience those charged with making decisions for her.   For months no one listened to her.   Now they did.   (page 9)
One of things that really enjoyed about The Court of Love was the inclusion of Julianna's two best friends, Isabella de Clare, countess of Pembroke, and Elizabeth.   It was a method Cody utilized to show the readers how orphaned heiresses were bartered and how they may have dealt with having no control over their own lives.   As the three girls talked in Julianna's chamber, Cody also revealed that she had not researched the jargon of this era -- the dialogue that followed sounded too modernistic.   In fact, it was this touch of twentieth century-sounding discourse throughout the remainder of the book that lessened the enjoyment of the story.   When reading a medieval romance want it to "sound like" a medieval romance!   Look at the specific example of a blatant lingo blunder; namely, Stephan is trying to talk himself out of his lustful interest in Julianna:
"He chided himself for a fool.   A whore would take care of his itch."   (page 75)
The lack of emotional depth to the story flowed over into the lack of romantic zing that passed between Stephan and Julianna.   Stephan and Julianna spent copious amounts of time thinking about and desiring the other after they took one look and felt that facet of heretofore unimaginable magic -- "Love At First Sight."   Naturally, Stephan and Julianna spent quite a few pages rhapsodizing about how unlikely and hopeless was their possibility of marriage -- he was an illegitimate knight with a "big secret" and she was a noble heiress.   Was disappointed because just did not "feel the love" whenever Stephan and Julianna were together.   Cody spent more time regaling readers with the political climate by having Stephan and Julianna engage in disagreements that revealed how different each of them perceived the ways of world.

The biggest reason for finishing the book was to find out how an inconsequential knight such as Stephan could outwit and outmaneuver the man he violently abhorred -- the black-hearted, spoiled, evil Prince John Plantagenet.   Cody went to great lengths to weave actual historical events and characters into the story.   She introduced Stephan, his father, William de Mandeville, Lord Essex, and his brother Alexander "Alex" de Mandeville sitting on their warhorses outside Chinon Castle in France where their liege lord, King Henry II lay dying.   It was here that Stephan's hatred towards John was revealed.   John was responsible for the death of his beloved sister, Maud, at the impressionable age of fourteen.   (Even though Cody never told the entire story of what happened between John and Maud -- it was obvious what happened years ago between a licentious royal and an innocent maiden.)

Cody also used this introductory scene to present another topic that she richly-developed during the telling of Stephan and Julianna's story -- that some men were inherently honorable and loyal (like the Mandeville men) and that they had to answer to men like Richard the Lion Heart, duke of Normandy, who could be most affable, yet brutal and arbitrary.   Not only did the Mandeville men have to answer to Richard and John, but also to their mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Cody used her vivid imagination to develop Queen Eleanor as a point of view character.   Julianna, Isabella, and Elizabeth had been sent to stay with Eleanor at Winchester.   Upon King Henry's death, the new king, Richard, sent Stephan (newly appointed as the head of Queen Eleanor's mesnie), Alexander and the man who lead King Henry's mesnie for the past 20 years, William Marshal, to free Eleanor and name her Regent until he could return to England.   (Definition of mesnie.)

The interesting thing about Queen Eleanor (as portrayed by Cody) was that she considered herself much like her deceitful, manipulative son, John, and yet she favored Richard.   Queen Eleanor is revealed to have a maternal side in spite of her high royal opinion of herself.   (Cody included a very cute, personality-revealing scene between Thomas de Vere, a seven-year-old page and Eleanor.   (page 165))   Eleanor expects everyone to be as dishonest as herself and does not seem to know how to deal with such openly honest people as Julianna and the Mandeville brothers.

Another thing that may have made the book feel more modern than medieval was the way Cody gave the characters multi-faceted personalities and painted a picture of what their everyday lives may have been like -- and that they acted just like people of today.   Rather than show Stephan only as a fierce warrior, performing great deeds on the battlefield who won his lady fair -- he was also a son, a brother, a friend, a leader of men who experienced frustrations with each of these roles.

Alexander was likewise developed.   Although wish to know so much more about him (and can do so in his book, Queen of the May), Alexander was a typical younger brother who: {1} looked up to his older brother; {2} was frustrated because his father and Stephan always left him out of their secret whisperings; and {3} was full of mischief and charm that led him into trouble.   Really liked the very masculine camaraderie-revealing scene that highlighted Alexander's personality when he met his boyhood friend, Robin "Rob" Arundel when the Arundel brothers arrived at Westminster Palace (page 182).

Several minor characters were introduced with such masculine, interesting personalities that wished they had their own novellas -- wanted to know more about them.   {1} Bernard Delacroix arrived at the palace with members of his large family to pledge his fealty to the new king.   Bernard understood Stephan's exasperation with Alexander, having six younger brothers of his own to corral.   Stephan experienced envy while watching the boisterousness and familiarity that existed between the Delacroix family.   {2} Having fostered together, Thomas Arundel was a close friend of Stephan's.   The prickly, solemn Thomas had the same difficulty trying to keep Rob out of trouble whenever he was around Alexander as Stephan.   Thomas was the Arundel brother who had to face the queen when Alexander and Rob decided to take matters into their own hands and help Stephan and Julianna in their floundering dreams of happily-ever-after.

William Marshal, Stephan's mentor and commander was a wonderful additional to the story.   Because of his years of faithful service to King Henry, William was given the hand (and lands and titles) of the heiress, Isabella.   There were several parallels that ran between William and Isabella's relationship and Stephan and Julianna's.   {1} William and Isabella fell in love at first sight.   {2} William went from a landless knight to a powerful, wealthy peer of the realm upon his marriage.   Although William did not spend a lot of time on the pages of the story, what time he did spend painted him as a wonderfully interesting, vivid, memorable figure.

Even though he stayed mostly in the background, Stephan's father, Lord Essex had such an aura of power and honor about him, that wished more details had been included about his life.   Lord Essex obviously loved his two illegitimate sons and trained them as befit the strictures of 12th-century England, but he was unable to make them his heirs.   The really big missing pieces of the puzzle, however, were: {1} how did Stephan's father meet his mother; {2} how long did they have together before Johanna's death; {3} who is Alexander's mother; {4} if William is so fecund, why doesn't he have any legitimate children?   (There is a mention of Stephan and Alexander's step-mother, Christian.)

Being a zealous romance book reader, was looking for the warm, fuzzy feelings that arise when reading romance books.   Wanted: {1} to "feel" the emotions and attraction between Stephan and Julianna; {2} to experience the sensual sizzle when Stephan and Julianna made love; {3} to experience excitement as Stephan and Julianna move from one moment of action and adventure to another; {4} to hold breath in anticipation of what is going to happen next.   And while, there was a modicum of each of these items, Cody failed to deliver the depth of these experiences that make for a truly great read.   Wished that The Court of Love was more romantic, not just a forum for Cody to espouse about {1} the lack of control heiresses had over their lives; {2} the difficulties knights faced when dealing with dishonorable royalty; and {3} the differences between the classes (how noblewoman were taught to not see commoners as people).
--Vonda M. Reid (Tuesday, April 3, 2012 : 8:06 p.m.)     [226]

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Books In the Series: The Mandeville Trilogy
# Date Title Hero Heroine
01.08-1996The Court of LoveStephan de Mandeville / knightJulianna Devereux, Countess of Rosmar
02.06-1997Queen of the MayAlexander de Mandeville / knightGiselle / healer to Robyn of Sherwood's band
03.06-1998The Golden RoseAndrew Mandeville / knightCatherine Avery Stanley, Lady of Rosmar

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The Court of Love Quotations:
104What was so compelling about the man that her thoughts centered back to him no matter what she tried to distract herself with?
106How could one know so quickly and so surely, without doubt?
110There is always risk if you have the courage to follow your heart.
354"There is but one God," Stephan said.   "It is we who tear Him apart and create walls against our fellows and nourish our contempt for one another."

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Characters Found In "The Court of Love"
Character / Location Description / Relationships
Stephan de Mandeville[Hero] one of King Henry's fiercest and most devoted knights (bc) honorable; loyal; responsible (29) bastard by birth (32) loner by necessity (40) tall; black hair; piercing gray eyes (61) handsome (63) would rather die than cheapen his honor; word is his oath; doesn't steal; is not cruel; quickly angry at injustice; killing is hard on him; something happened in Jerusalem that haunts him (93)
Julianna Devereux
Countess of Rosmar
[Heroine] (7) stubborn determination (8) 19-y-o; heiress to half the Devereux family wealthy; would bring Rosmar and other fiefs to marriage (9) see how the world should be and fight for what you find unfair and unreasonable (13) auburn hair; body that inspires men to act like beasts (15) stubborn (17) big green eyes; lush body (65) hair bright with red and gold; curious mix of shyness and maturity; full of curiosity and laughter (75) no good at deception (114)
. . .. . .
His Excellency
The Bishop of London
[One Appearance] priest presiding over ceremony of Julianna's betrothal to Gilbert // bloodshot eyes nearly hidden within folds of pale flesh; smell of old sweat; overpowering stink of his breath, potent with odors of garlic and rotting teeth (7)
AdarJulianna purchased; stallion of dusky gray; black mane and tail; magnificent; courageous; strong; noble (118) name means: "prince" or "fire" (119)
Alais[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] French king's sister; betrothed to Richard in infancy; Eleanor raised with her girls; lush; Henry's mistress (73)
duke of Brittany
[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] King Henry's nephew; 2-y-o (44)
Harry Arundel[Brief Appearances] arrived at Westminster // youngest brother; quiet (182)
Robin "Rob" Arundel[Brief Appearances] arrived at Westminster // middle brother; tall; strong; Alexander's friend (182) irrepressible (316)
Thomas Arundel[Brief Appearances] arrived at Westminster // eldest brother; tall strong; impatient (182) Stephan's friend; prickly; solemn (316)
queen of Castile[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] Eleanor's daughter (58)
countess of Champagne[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] Eleanor's daughter (58)
Christian[No Appearance] Lord Essex's wife; Stephan's step-mother (334)
Lady Amice de Clare[Secondary Character] Richard's wife (8) kindhearted; married as told; content with her life (12) thin hands (25)
Gilbert de Clare[Secondary Character] Julianna's cousin; bane of her existence (7) 8-y-o; awkward, difficult childhood; obsessed with dogs. horses and hawks; skinny brat (9)
Richard de Clare
Earl of Hertford and Clare
[Secondary Character] Julianna's uncle (8) took responsibilities toward his three charges seriously (14) kind; even-tempered (15) stubborn (17) obsessive at lineage (18)
Richard de Clare
earl of Pembroke
[No Appearance] [Hero of "The Conquered Heart"] known as Strongbow: won lands in Ireland; marriage to princess; Isabella's father (52)
Isabella de Clare
countess of Pembroke
[Secondary Character] (11) restless when confined (11) daughter of Irish princess and Norman warlord; orphaned early in life; Richard her cousin, nearest male kin (11) sensible; more clever in her defiance (11) see the world as it is, accept it, determined to make the most of what offered; confined to Tower 14 years (13) heiress to quarter of Ireland and earldom of Pembroke in Wales (14) 18-y-o (22) pale gold hair; eyes the blue of gentians; delicate pink and white skin; slim, graceful body; beautiful; generous nature (60) fair; dainty; smile full of mirth (65) determined pragmatism behind mask of disarming femininity (105)
Joan de Clare[Brief Appearance] Richard and Amice's youngest daughter (21)
Bernard Delacroix[Brief Appearances] arrived at Westminster Palace to pledge fealty to new King; he and brothers joined Stephan's guard // large man; covered with thick curly back hair everywhere but on his bald head (84) six younger brothers (86)
Jordan Devereux[No Appearance] Julianna's father (345)
Patrick Devereux
earl of Salisbury and Rosmar
[No Appearance] Julianna's grandfather; brother to William de Clare's mother (146)
Dizamare Julianna purchased; chestnut; desert blood (117) delicate head; not skitterish; no fear; graceful; fluid movement (118) "joy" (119)
Queen Eleanor[Actual Historical Character / Major Secondary Character] lived as king's prisoner (24) Richard devoted; John held enmity (53) elegant; charming; intelligent (56) 70-y-o (73) thrived on action; drawing vigor from danger and intrigue; enjoyed being in command, being heard, being obeyed; power was her wine (102)
Elizabeth [FitzWilliam][Secondary Character] Julianna's youngest aunt; sweet innocent; one year difference in ages (10) shy; unaffected goodness; natural and open (11) betrothed to king's youngest son, John (15) amazingly beautiful, original needlework (21) simplicity (110)
bastard chancellor of England
[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] King Henry's son (43)
Gertrude[One Appearance] William's Marshal's Goodrich servant; plump; rosy skin; clean; large hands made red with work (296)
late Earl of Gloucester[No Appearance] Earl's father a bastard to King Henry I; father to {1} Julianna's mother; {2} Amice; {3} Elizabeth (10)
Ranulf de Granville[Brief Appearance] Eleanor's scrupulous jailor (59)
Harald[One Appearance] squire guarding door to Richard's solar (20)
King Henry Plantagenet[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] temper capable of violent destruction (27) frugal; constant vigilance; true love of England (102)
David ben Isaac[Rare Appearances] moneylender (127) handsome man; middle years (128) honorable (131) same gray eyes as Judith (248) Stephan's cousin; wore a beard; shorter than Stephan; longer hair (250)
Judith ben Isaac[Rare Appearances] (83) little girl; flowing dark hair; gray eyes like Stephan's (245) David, Rachel's daughter (248) 10-y-o (256)
Rachel ben Isaac[Rare Appearances] David's wife; small women; dressed in dark silks (129) spoke in crisp, authoritative manner, no frivolity or coyness (130)
Johanna[No Appearance] Stephan's mother; joyful; smelled of new bread and summer; laughing whenever William was near (244) David's mother's sister (249)
Prince John[Actual Historical Character / Secondary Character] shared sire's temper capable of violent destruction; son of King Henry (27) barbed pride (32) spoiled, useless ingrate; black, selfish heart (36) cruel; dangerous (37) not a brave man; deals in treachery and stealth, woven together on loom of lies (46) notably handsome; dark hair; dark eyes (363)
William Marshal[Major Secondary Character] Stephan's mentor / married Isabella // Julianna's cousin through a Devereux connection; a crude knight; younger son of a minor baron; in 40s; well-liked by king; renowned for his courage; won great favor in tournaments; honorable, gallant man; head of king's mesnie for 20 years (22) large, calloused hands (45) sun-tanned skin; curly brown hair; brown eyes made him dark; gentle eyes in kind face; deep resonant voice full of warmth; valiant knight; renowned bravery (63) cannot read (107)
Alexander de Mandeville[Major Secondary Character] [Hero of Book 2] Stephan's younger brother (26) young; impressionable (37) blond hair (45) long, elegant gait (47) handsome (63)
Maud de Mandeville[No Appearance] Stephan's little sister; sweet; fourteen that summer; beautiful with promise; John responsible for Maud's death six years ago from tower at Walden (30) shared mother with Stephan (94) voice of an angel, always singing or humming (263) happy; innocent (264)
William de Mandeville
Lord Essex
[Secondary Character] (26) Stephan's father; scars of previous battles etched in his flesh (26) Lord Essex: formidable, despite his years; long year's as king's lieutenant in Normandy; man of careful mien and great dignity (27) taught sons well (29) once powerful body had grown heavier; a man to fear; more gray in hair than black (38) William the Wise (164)
Matilda[Brief Appearance] Charmant cook; square, stout woman; red of face; gray haired (180)
Earl of Oxford[No Appearance] Thomas de Vere's father (165)
Richard the Lion Heart
duke of Normandy:
[Actual Historical Character / Secondary Character] could be most affable, brutal and arbitrary (26) shared sire's temper capable of violent destruction; son of King Henry (27) drawn to men rather than women (47) rare and disquieting man, who by force of character drew others to himself (52) Henry's stubbornness; Eleanor's pride (73)
Rosamund[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] King Henry's mistress (73)
queen of Sicily[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] Eleanor's daughter (58)
Geoffrey [de Vere][No Appearance] Margaret's husband (157)
Margaret de Vere[One Appearance] attended Eleanor's day of "a court of love" (154) Stephan's stepmother's sister; talked incessantly (151) pretty; plump; glowing with health (155)
Thomas de Vere[One Appearance] queen's page (165) 7-y-o (167)
Earl of Salisbury
[Actual Historical Character / No Appearance] King Henry's bastard; not of age (44)
Guy of Worcester[One Appearance] William Marshal's knight (287)
Raymond de Wulf[One Appearance] attended Eleanor's day of "a court of love" (137) outlandish clothing (138)

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The Court of Love Reviews:
RatedPostedSiteNotes, Comments, Etc.
article09-1997All About RomanceThe Importance of Research by Denee Cody
3.00 average{3 reviews}Amazonas of: May 22, 2012
3.00 average{1 review}Barnes & Nobleas of: May 22, 2012 (mine)
----Fantastic FictionList of Books
----Fiction DBList of Books
4.00 average{2 reviews}Good Readsas of: May 22, 2012
3.13 average{6 ratings}Library Thingas of: May 22, 2012 (only mine)
3.50 average{11 ratings}Paperback Swapas of: May 22, 2012
3.50 average{2 reviews}Shelfarias of: May 22, 2012
3.0005-22-2012Wolf Bear Does Booksshorter post on Amazon, B&N, fdb, GR, LT, Shelfari

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♥  Disclaimer:   I Purchased This Book
♥  Very Subjective Rating
♥  Willing to share Cheat Sheet
    ♦  in whole or in part
    ♦  WordPerfect or PDF
♣  Will add your The Court of Love review link to table, just ask

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