Exile’s Return (Guardians of the Crown #3) by Alison Stuart

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England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return …

Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.

Agnes Fletcher’s lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn’t plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn’t plan on falling in love.

Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

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Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and Time: England 1659
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

In this, the final instalment of her Guardians of the Crown trilogy, Alison Stuart brings together the three guardians and their ladies. Jonathan and Kate from By the Sword, Kit and Thamsine from The King’s Man and now Daniel and Agnes. There is enough background information for all three books to be read as standalones, although I would recommend reading the series in order.

England is in turmoil following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. The exiled, future Charles II is marking time in France, poised to regain his crown. Daniel Lovell has returned after eight years; embittered and cynical, he is very different to the green and enthusiastic eighteen-year old boy who went off eagerly to war only to be captured, imprisoned, tortured and exiled. Daniel is summoned to Charles’ court in France to be entrusted with one last important mission. On his arrival in England, Daniel is instructed to seek out Agnes Fletcher and to make the meeting appear to be coincidental. She had been caring for her dead sister’s children following their father’s execution for treason, but as a result of his conviction his estates, possessions – and children – have been seized. Daniel arrives when Agnes is at her lowest ebb; one of her charges is now the young earl and therefore an important pawn in the nefarious machinations of his father’s first cousin – the Roundhead responsible for his cousin’s betrayal and conviction. The boy stands in the way of Colonel Tobias Ashby’s aspirations to the earldom. Agnes had been the Earl’s mistress as well as his sister-in-law, and now, as well as losing her lover in such distressing circumstances, she has also lost her two young charges whom she dearly loves.

A woman alone, grieving and without funds, Agnes is therefore susceptible to kindness, and Daniel finds it relatively easy to persuade her that he is her friend and to put his plan into action. As it transpires, Daniel’s mission and Agnes’ determination to find a way to rescue her young niece and nephew coincide. Daniel has been tasked with retrieving a large sum of money which it is believed was hidden by the dead earl, on his estate. This money will help the King in his bid to regain the crown and, having lived on the estate, Agnes is the only feasible link to finding it. Daniel also has another agenda, one that has driven him in his quest for survival and vengeance over his long years in exile. Before his capture, he saw his father killed, mercilessly, on his own doorstep – the murderer is the man both he and Agnes have cause to hate – Colonel Tobias Ashby.

The two set off on their journey and as they do the attraction between them begins to grow. Having read The King’s Man and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was eagerly awaiting this novel, but I admit to feeling a little disappointed. I absolutely loved Kit Lovell, the hero of that book, and Daniel’s older brother – he was a bit of a good boy turned bad – for honourable reasons – and then redeemed, and I adored his colourful, swaggering, womanising, larger-than-life character. The relationship between him and his lady, Thamsine, is magic and expertly drawn; Alison Stuart certainly created a memorable pair of characters in those two. A hard act to follow then, and maybe that’s why I felt that there was little spark between the slightly wooden character of Daniel and the wishy-washy Agnes. Daniel is quite an angry man; it’s true that he suffered, but so did many people during the long years of the war and his exile hadn’t been all bad. An injection of his charismatic brother’s get-up-and-go wouldn’t have gone amiss. The romance between Daniel and Agnes feels contrived and there is very little passion or sensuality in it. I’m not talking about bedroom action here, because I actually like it when it’s more of a suggestion, more about sensuality than actual sex. When the pair do eventually decide they are right for each other, I still didn’t feel it; in fact, even when Kit reappears he doesn’t jump off the page as he had done previously.

Exile’s Return is a nicely written novel that is rich in historical detail, and maybe if I hadn’t read The King’s Man first, I would have enjoyed it more. With it, the trilogy is nicely finished with all of the main characters coming together again and all loose ends being neatly tied off.

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