08 September 2011

Review: Spoil of War

OK. I realize I am REALLY behind in life, pretty much in general, but specifically with book reviews. I try to keep the blog balanced between writing-related stuff and reading-related stuff, but lately I've just not been feeling either of them, although I've read some fabulous books as of late. So, I'm going to try to play catch up a little bit here, starting with Phoenix Sullivan's Spoil of War.

And yes, this does tie into the interview from Tuesday. If you haven't read it, you should, ESPECIALLY if you're contemplating self-publishing. Phoenix has a lot of great insights into the process, marketing, etc. She's quite smart and a lot of fun to talk to.

Onward with the review!

I'll preface this by saying that I'm in love with all things Knights of the Round Table. I took a Middle Ages literature course, voluntarily, for Pete's sake. So when I found out Phoenix's book was a take on Arthurian legend, I was all over it. And thankfully, I was already informed of the culture because parts of this book tend to be brutal.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Elsbeth of Olmsbury desires nothing beyond helping her father run his dukedom - until the duke's forces are overwhelmed, his castle torched and Elsbeth seized for the invading king's personal spoil. Expecting the same abuse as the other surviving women of her house, Elsbeth instead finds the king, Leodegrance, treating her with a civility that belies his flagrant desire for her. A desire that will have her his consort in Cameliard once he can convince her rank and duty alone forced his hand against her father.

But Elsbeth is not so easily won. There is the matter of Leodegrance gifting his steward with an unwilling young handmaid from Elsbeth's household. Of his marriage of convenience to his Byzantine queen. And of his plans to subjugate more of Britain's citadels and unite the wild isle under Roman rule.

If Elsbeth can't find her tangled way to forgiveness with the king - or escape the dark designs and perverse desires of Uther Pendragon, enemy to them both - then a legend of Camelot may never be conceived, never be born, and never change history forever ...

Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

I'm trying not to make this review purely "I LOVED THIS BOOK" even though I did. I felt for Elsbeth, as she watches her entire life go up in flames. Her beauty proves to her downfall (which reminds me of Robin McKinley's Deerskin) when Leo chooses her to be his personal captive, if you know what I mean. Leo's treatment of Elsbeth begins as one would generally expect. She's property, pure and simple. It's the way of war, really, and even though Elsbeth had steeled herself for a day like this, she wasn't prepared for the total devastation surrounding her, and she basically goes numb, at least in my opinion. She spends a large part of the book this way as well, trying to rationalize the carnage and trying to keep hope alive that she may be to escape, or that Leo will just let her go.

As the book progresses, we start to see a change in Leo. Keep in mind, Leo is NOT--I repeat: NOT--a conventional romance hero. NOT. Nor is he meant to be. He is a king, Elsbeth is little better than cows at this point. However, Leo begins treating Elsbeth a little more humanely. She's already prized by Leo, thus earning her a place in the castle itself rather than the bailey where the rest of the captive women have been forced to live basically in squalor. And Elsbeth begins to feel the faintest hint of something like affection for her captor. He keeps her safe from his men, feeds her, ensures she's clothed. She doesn't have to worry so much, but she's become like a caged bird. She misses her freedom, and she has no qualms about letting Leo know exactly how badly she wants her freedom.

Elsbeth also develops a kinship with Leo's wife, who was barely more than spoil herself. She was given to Leo as part of an agreement with her father. Not uncommon, especially if you've seen Braveheart. So the ladies can sit and discuss the various ways their lives have changed since Leo entered their lives. Lynette is a true romantic at heart, a woman so in love with mythology that she hopes to someday find a love as strong as that in the stories she treasures. She hasn't found it with Leo, though. Leo isn't a monster, but he is a hard man, battle-hardened and full of the arrogance that comes with being a new ruler. His expectations of Lynette, most notably bearing him a son, turn her cold to him, but she feels some relief with Elsbeth's presence. Now Leo has someone else to cast his attentions on, and Lynette can be left alone.

And since everything seems to be hunky-dory, we have to throw in a wrench in the form of a hunky errant knight named Patrise, while Leo is away campaigning against the Pendragon (yes, THAT Pendragon). Oh Patrise. He's like Iago in a way. Sly, calculating, and bending people to his will. He tries to bed Elsbeth (against her will, poor thing), and when they get caught red-handed by the Queen, he tells Lynette that Elsbeth forced herself on him. Of course, a knight of such valor and blah blah blah that Lynette TOTALLY has a thing for would NEVER lie. So Lynette has no choice but to believe him over Elsbeth. Enraged? I was. Had it not been my computer at stake, I would have thrown the book. Not because this didn't feel natural but because sisterly kinship is almost always broken because of a man. But I also pitied Lynette because, as the reader, we KNOW she's going to get screwed over somehow. Patrise is just too slimy.

It doesn't take long for Patrise to ruin EVERYTHING.

Oh, readers, this is when it gets JUICY. I don't want to spoil *LOL* the rest of the book for you. Really, this is one you need to pick up for yourselves because it gets gloriously crazy toward the end.

However, I will address one of the issues I know is floating around the interwebs. As I was writing this I took a gander at Amazon to get the blurb and read a few of the reviews there. They seem to fall at either 4-5 stars or 1 star with NONE in between. This book has been described as "polarizing" and I guess it is. There are accounts of brutal rape. There is an 11-year-old who becomes the spoil of one of Leo's knights and closest friends, and she does get treated AS spoil. It's not easy. It's not easy for Elsbeth to bear, either. Regardless of the implications that rape is treated as "romance," it is not. There is nothing romantic about rape, and rape is not treated as a romantic device. This was the reality for captive women . Hell, where war's involved, it still IS the reality for captive women, and that's one of the things you as a reader need to be aware of when reading this novel. It's a historical fantasy with romantic elements, and it does give us a HEA, but it is NOT romance.

Spoil of War is more a story of survival and overcoming brutality. There is affection and what constituted love in the time period, but Elsbeth is adapting to her new life as best she can. And sometimes, that means making your bed with those you consider your enemies.

Overall, I give "Spoil" a five out of five. This book's just too damn good. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

If you're interested in purchasing the book (and you should be, darnit!), then click here!


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you!

I do look forward to reading more of your reviews in the near future (no pressure for producing or anything...).

lexcade said...

Haha! Well thank you, Miss Phoenix (...makes you sound like a pageant contestant...)! I'm going to take advantage of this whole scheduling posts thing. Seems to be the smart thing to do.