Frenchwoman Celeste de Montcalm is the youngest of five daughters. When she was only ten, her father betrothed her to the son of an English lord, and now that she's grown, she's been sent to fulfill the marriage contract. Celeste is a romantic dreamer who loves the stories of knights and fair maidens, and hopes that her betrothed will be like one of the honorable knights in her stories. But long before she reaches his castle, she's beset by all manner of bad luck. On one such occasion, her wagon breaks down outside a monastery, and one of the young monks comes to her aid. The Brother, though reticent, is kind and gentle, and when the prior of the monastery sends him with her party as a guide for the remainder of her journey, she decides he's the perfect traveling companion. Soon Celeste finds the good Brother filling the role of the noble knight in her fantasies. Although he's a man of God, and she is the intended wife of another, it becomes increasingly difficult to get her head out of the clouds and face her harsh reality.
Six months earlier, Guy Cavendish was indeed a gallant knight, but he joined the monastery after becoming disillusioned by the excesses he found at court. He's a novice monk, who hasn't yet taken his final vows, and spending every day and night with Celeste is sorely testing his resolve. Always an admirer of the ladies, Guy finds Celeste far too beautiful for his peace of mind. Then when he discovers that the man to whom she's betrothed is an abuser of women riddled with the pox, it leaves Guy with a troubled mind. As an honorable man, he must deliver Celeste to her intended, but he can't bear the thought of the woman for whom he's come to care so much being destroyed like that. Even though he loves her, his honor also demands that he fulfill his vows to the church. Can Guy find the answers he needs from God and the courage to save his fair maiden before it's too late?
Until now, I hadn't read anything by Tori Phillips, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this book. Also Harlequin category romance have been hit and miss with me in the past. Some are really good, while others miss the mark. I'm very happy to report that Silent Knight ended up being one of the very good ones. It's a sweet romance about a former knight who is now a novice monk but who hasn't yet taken his final vows. He's tasked with leading a French lady, who's fallen on misfortune, and her bodyguards to the holding of her betrothed in Northern England. All the way there, he feels guilty about having to turn her over to her soon-to-be husband, because his father is liege lord to the betrothed and he knows how unsavory the man is. He also finds himself unexpectedly falling in love with her. But his honor places him in a battle with his own conscience over the right course of action to take when they arrive. The story has a fairy tale feel to it, as well as incorporating old-fashioned chivalric code, both of which I loved. It was also the first romance I've read that was set in the Tudor era of the Renaissance, which gave it a slightly different feel. There were still castles, knights and jousting, which could easily be mistaken for an earlier time period, but there are also signs that civilization is progressing beyond the Medieval. So this only increased my enjoyment of the story.
Celeste is the youngest of five daughters and the least valued by her father. She was predicted by a soothsayer to be a boy while still in the womb, so when a girl was born, her father was extremely disappointed. Then several years later, he finally got his coveted son, which only pushed Celeste further into the background. Her sisters all married well to Frenchmen, but her father betrothed her to the son of an English lord when she was only ten. Now eighteen, she's been sent to fulfill the marriage contract, but she's had nothing but misfortune on her journey so far. When her wagon breaks down and the aunt who is acting as her chaperon is injured near a monastery, the monks come to her aid. With her aunt unable to travel for several weeks, a kind monk is assigned the task of guiding her party north to her destination. Celeste is a bit of dreamer who loves the tales of knights and fair maidens that she reads in her beloved books. She tries to imagine her betrothed as just such a chivalrous knight, but nothing could be further from the truth. However, Brother Guy is such a man and she soon finds herself falling for him, even though she knows he belongs to God. At first Brother Guy seems grumpy and taciturn, and Celeste revels in teasing him, trying to get him to smile. In spite of her circumstances, she's a joyful, free-spirited young lady, who her guards love and soon, so does Guy.
Guy left the life of a knight and the sumptuousness of court life to enter a monastery. The only thing I thought that the author could have explained a little better was his reasons for doing this. Once or twice, she mentions him becoming disillusioned with the excesses he found at court and him becoming bored with the ease with which he could bed his females conquests. But I didn't feel like she brought out his backstory in stark enough relief for me to fully understand him making such a drastic life change as dedicating his life to the church. Otherwise, Guy is a wonderful hero. The main reason he's initially so grouchy is that Celeste tempts him beyond reason from the first time he lays eyes on her. He spends much of the trip trying to keep his lustful thoughts in check and then punishing himself with harsh penance every night. He soon recognizes that he's falling for the delightful lady, but he is a man of honor, who doesn't take vows lightly. Although he hasn't taken final vows to be a permanent part of the monk's order, he has taken vows that he knows he cannot break, which gives him a major crisis of conscience over whether he can in some way help Celeste get out of her betrothal and if so how? One of the vows Guy staunchly holds throughout the journey is a vow of silence to which he was sworn right before leaving the monastery. Not having the hero be able to speak for the majority of the book brought a whole new dimension to the story, and when he's finally able to talk, he used it to the very best effect. I love how he fulfills Celeste's ultimate romantic fantasy. When I realized what he was going to do for her, it made me all gooey inside.:-)
There are several memorable secondary characters in the story. Gaston, the head of Celeste's guards, is a brash, seasoned warrior, who seems to enjoy insulting his men, but he holds a special place in his heart for Celeste. He believes her father has treated her poorly and doesn't hesitate to make his opinion known. He also ends up being instrumental in helping Guy solve his dilemma. Once they reach Snape Castle, they are close enough to the Cavendish family seat that we get to meet his older brother, Brandon, who becomes the hero of Midsummer's Knight, the next book in the Cavendish Chronicles. We're also introduced to their parents, Thomas and Alicia, who seem to be a well-matched couple. Book #3, Three Dog Knight, goes back in time to tell their story. The villains of the story, Roger and Walter Ormond, are a father and son at odds with one another. The son, Walter, is Celeste's betrothed, and he's more than dastardly. He's downright disgusting. The father is less so, but he still has plenty of faults and is a blustery, not-very-nice person.
Overall, Silent Knight was a very enjoyable read. Other than wanting to know a little more about Guy's background, the only thing that made me drop off the half-star is that the road trip portion of the story was a little slow at times. It's sometimes a bit narrative heavy too, but I suppose that understandable, considering that Guy can't talk. There wouldn't be any other way to understand his thoughts otherwise. I also would have liked if there was a love scene at the end. It didn't have to be anything particularly descriptive, but after such a romantic story, a little something would have been nice. Not to mention, a fair bit was made of Celeste's aunt misinforming her about the wedding night, which made her a little fearful of it, so again, showing that she found pleasure in that would have been a plus. However, it wasn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me either, because I know from Guy's history with the ladies and his romanticism that he would be a tender and skillful lover. Other than these few minor things, Silent Knight was a lovely story that makes me eager to continue on with the series.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook