After two disastrous arranged marriages that both ended with the deaths of her husbands, Lady Katherine Fitzhugh had hoped to remain single, or at the very least, be free to marry for love the next time around. But when a royal decree arrives that she will marry a man of the king's choosing, Katherine simply cannot follow through without knowing what manner of man she is to wed this time. So she concocts a scheme to trade places with her beloved cousin while determining whether she could possibly come to care for him. However, when her betrothed arrives at her estate, she quickly finds herself falling for his best friend instead, an unexpected turn of events that leaves her both saddened and guilt-ridden.
Sir Brandon Cavendish is a brave knight of the realm and a trusted friend of the king. Although, as the firstborn in his family, he knows he must eventually wed to carry on the line, he'd rather not. He much prefers brief affairs with the ladies at court, which have to date resulted in two illegitimate children for whom he's taken full responsibility. When the king demands that Brandon wed Katherine, tales he's heard of the lady make him wary of her, thinking she might have killed her husbands or that she could be a witch. So he decides to trade places with his best friend until he can decide for himself what manner of woman she is. Unfortunately he finds himself charmed by her strong-willed cousin instead.
Will Brandon and Katherine be able to forgive one another their deceptions when the truth comes out, and if so, will she be able to accept his children? And what of Katherine's greedy nephew who will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep these two apart so that he can have the estate and her fortune all for himself?
I read Silent Knight, the first book of the Cavendish Chronicles, about two years ago. I very much enjoyed it, but didn't get around to picking up the next book until now. I'm so glad I did, because I liked Midsummer's Knight even slightly better. It's an utterly charming story that I feel falls under the romantic comedy genre, because the author has taken the concept of midsummer madness and turned it into a delightful farce. Neither the hero nor the heroine are particularly pleased when King Henry VIII declares that they will be married. Of course, they can't go against their king, but neither do they want to marry someone they don't even know. So, in order to feel each other out and see just who they've been betrothed to, they both put on a charade of pretending to be someone they're not. At first, there's underlying concern on both their parts as they begin to fall in love, while thinking they're actually falling for the wrong person. Much hilarity ensues as each one begins to uncover the other's deception, but there's also a healthy dose of sweet romance to warm the heart. Add in the frantic search for a half-mad, jealous nephew who wants his aunt's castle and land all for himself and is willing to kill to get it, a couple of mischievous children, the king's retinue playing their own game of dress-up, and a very stinky moat, and you have the makings of a wonderful lighthearted story. Midsummer madness indeed!
Although his father has been pressuring him to settle down and give him an heir, Brandon has been happy playing the rogue until his father takes the issue up with the king. As a trusted knight in King Henry's court, the king views it as his duty to see Brandon settled with a wife, so he chooses the twice-married Lady Katherine Fitzhugh for him. Brandon has never met Katherine before and knows nothing of her, but he does know her nephew, Fenton, a bounder known for his trouble with creditors. Fenton has his own nefarious reasons for telling Brandon that his aunt is an old crone who's rumored to be a witch, and although Brandon doesn't entirely believe him, it does plant a seed of doubt in his mind. Enough so that he persuades his best friend, Jack, to temporarily trade identities with him until he can ascertain what manner of woman to whom he's betrothed. Once at her holding of Bodiam Castle, Brandon quickly begins to fall for the Lady Katherine's beautiful, intelligent cousin, while dreading the idea of marrying the lady herself. But he soon learns that the lady he's falling for is indeed his intended fiancée in disguise. I definitely fell for Brandon. He's an honorable and chivalrous knight, and while he may not be the silver-tongued devil with a talent for making ladies swoon like his friend Jack, he can certainly say some very sweet things and be seductive. He also has two impish illegitimate children, and I have to give him props for taking his responsibilities to them seriously and being a good father. He's also a consummate protector to Katherine and the rest of his family when he discovers that Fenton is up to no good.
Katherine was first married as a mere teenager to an elderly man who she ended up nursing until he died eighteen months later. Then her second husband was an abusive monster with a weakness for drinking, gambling, and women, so it was a relief to everyone when he finally died. Katherine had hoped to live out the rest of her life in solitude, or at the very least, not marry again unless it was for love. Then the order to marry Brandon Cavendish arrived from the king, dashing all her hopes. She also receives a letter from Fenton describing her betrothed as a gambler and womanizer. Fearing a repeat of her last marriage, Katherine wants to find out what kind of man Brandon really is, so she concocts a plan to switch identities with her beloved cousin, Miranda, in order to find out. Both men who show up at her door are pleasing to the eye, but she seems to be falling for the one she's not betrothed to, or so it appears until she discovers his true identity. Then she begins to hope again that she might get what she's looking for after all, until she learns just how badly Brandon's father wants an heir. She has always wanted children, too, but after two marriages produced none, she fears she may be barren. Katherine is a loving, caring, intelligent woman who always looks out for those for whom she's responsible. Even though they're basically sprung on her, she's very accepting of Brandon's illegitimate offspring and takes them under her wing as well. She was just an all-around wonderful heroine who was easy to relate to and who I very much liked.
There are a number of prominent supporting characters as well. The real Jack and Miranda are hilarious, because they're falling for one another every bit as much as the real Brandon and Katherine are, but they're miserable, thinking that they've fallen for someone they can't have. It's a great relief to them both when they finally learn the truth. Their pairing offered a second sweet romantic couple that I could root for. Brandon's brother, Guy, and his lady love, Celeste, (Silent Knight) arrive in time for the wedding along with their growing family, and the noble Guy helps ferret out Fenton. Brandon's parents, Thomas and Alicia visit as well. They become the hero and heroine of the third book of the series, Three Dog Knight, which goes back in time to tell their love story. They still seem to be a loving couple, but I did have to wonder what kind of hero Thomas will be since he nearly wrecked his son's happiness over the desire for an heir. He wasn't malicious, though, just single-minded, so hopefully he'll prove to be as good as both of his sons. Brandon's children, Francis and Belle, are wonderful. Belle is a mischievous, little imp, while Francis tries to act very grown up. These two become the heroine and hero of book #4, Halloween Knight, and book #5, One Knight in Venice, respectively. Katherine's nephew, Fenton, is a dastardly villain, while his manservant, Wormsley, is a somewhat pathetic though decent fellow at heart, who doesn't want to hurt anyone. And of course, there are a plethora of servants, squires, and men-at-arms, along with the king and his courtiers to round things out.
Overall, Midsummer's Knight was pure, unadulterated fun to read. It's slightly dramatic in places, while still remaining lighthearted most of the time. I'm not particularly well-versed on Shakespeare, but I have a feeling that the author's love of the Bard and her experiences with Shakespearean productions definitely played into this story. I'm usually very picky about romantic comedies, but this one really hit the spot. It was humorous while still being genuinely romantic. With two winners in a row, Tori Phillips has certainly won a place on my favorite authors list, and I very much look forward to continuing with the Cavendish Chronicles soon.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook