I had intended to interview Kathleen Givens about this book, but fate interfered tragically with those plans. So here is my long-overdue review of Rivals for the Crown.
Some of us love historical ROMANCE. Others love HISTORICAL romance. And others just love history with a touch of romance.
Kathleen Givens' book Rivals for the Crown is the perfect read for those of us who find ourselves in the latter two categories, as well as anyone who appreciates beautiful writing and engaging storytelling.
The story opens in 1290, when the 7-year-old Queen of Scotland dies on her long journey to her coronation. The story that follows has elements that are familiar to anyone versed in the highlights Scottish history or who considers herself to be a Braveheart fan. Scottish nobles vie for the crown, while King Edward I of England has his own agenda. The story spans much of this period, including the rise of William Wallace.
Against this historical backdrop, we follow the stories of Rachel of Anjou, a young girl who, together with the rest of her family, is expelled from London by Kind Edward along with all other Jews. Wrenched from the embrace of her friend Isabel de Burke, she and her family take refuge in a Scottish border town. There, Rachel and her family try to start a new life in great hardship. Still subject to the anti-Semitism of their time, they face a threat of an entirely different kind when Kieran MacDonald, a hielan’ Scot both tall and dark, sets his gaze on Rachel.
Meanwhile, Isabel is appointed lady-in-waiting to Queen Eleanor and must thread her way through the perils of the English court, where showing mercy or friendship toward Jews is enough to get a person in serious trouble. Isabel's beauty and innocence attract the attention of several men, including Henry de Boyer, one of Edward’s nights, and Rory MacGannon, Kieran’s cousin and son of the hero and heroine of On a Highland Shore.
The two women are reunited but as the conflict between Scotland and England reaches a fevered pitch, each will struggle to find her place in the world.
I don’t want to post any spoilers so I’ll stop recounting the plot there.
I had saved this book on my TBR for months and months, planning to read it as soon as I finished writing Naked Edge. When I finally had time to sit down with the book, it was heaven. I got lost in the story, cheered for Isabel and Rachel and found it almost impossible to set the story aside.
The storytelling goes back and forth between the two friends, but also shares the two heroes’ points of view, too. In a way, it’s kind of like a double love story, and at 409 pages, there’s plenty of room to tell these interwoven tales.
For those who read On a Highland Shore, it’s bittersweet to check in with the hero and heroine of that story as their surviving children reach adulthood and head out into an unsettled world.
One thing I love about Kathleen’s writing is the sympathy with which she always endowed her characters. I came to admire and adore Rachel and Isabel and their respective men. I wanted so desperately for everything to work out for the four of them despite the obstacles of war, court treachery, and mindless bigotry.
But it’s the way Kathleen was able to weave real history seamlessly into her stories. There are plenty of romance readers who don’t care about history. I’m not one of those. History itself is what sparks my imagination when I write my books, so I appreciate the deft way Kathleen dealt with real people and real events in this story. It’s not a book to read if what matters to you is hot sex; love scenes do not dominate the story. But if you love a good historical story well told, you’ll enjoy this book as much as I did.
I don’t know if Kathleen had any other completed manuscripts before she died or whether we’ll be treated to her talent again. But if you haven’t read her stories, I recommend them highly.