England 1650: In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.
Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.
Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?
(Excerpt context: Kate and Jonathan are discussing Kate’s husband, the parliamentarian, Richard Ashley)
Dear God, this bloody war, Jonathan thought.
‘And if it were not for the war, you would be living in wedded bliss in Barton Manor, surrounded by a brood of children,’ he said.
Kate looked away and he knew his observation had hit home. He reached for her hand and when she tried to pull away he tightened his grip, forcing her to look up at him.
‘I’m sorry, Kate, that was a thoughtless remark. I’m the last person who has any right to do that.’ He released her hand. ‘From what I knew of Richard, he did not have the heart of a soldier.’
He knew more about Richard Ashley than he was prepared to reveal. A scholar, not a soldier. Richard should be at home at Barton Manor with this woman and their children. Not dead in the ground at the age of twenty-two.
Kate looked up at him, her brow creased in puzzlement, and he cursed himself for revealing too much.
‘What could you possibly have known of him? The Thorntons have been estranged from the Ashleys for over thirty years.’ This time he bit his tongue and when he didn’t reply she continued. ‘To answer your question, Richard may not have gone willingly to the war but he fought bravely against the terrible odds in the North. He followed Sir Thomas Fairfax into hell during those early years.’
Jonathan nodded. ‘Fairfax’s men had it hard in those early years.’ He paused. ‘Was he with Fairfax that day at Marston Moor?’
‘Of course,’ Kate replied. ‘Were you there? Is it possible you faced Richard?’
Of course Jonathan had been there with Prince Rupert’s cavalry. It had been a bloodbath. Marston Moor had put in train a series of tragic events in his own life that had nothing to do with the battle.
He swallowed and gave a barely perceptible nod. ‘I was on the other flank with Rupert.’
‘What did it matter?’ A rare flash of anger rose in Kate. ‘You wouldn’t have known Richard if you had met on the battlefield.’
Yes I would, he thought.
‘That is the tragedy of a civil war, Kate.’
She didn’t seem to notice that he had used her given name. Her eyes blazed with anger and misery. ‘They brought him home to die. It was a horrible death.’ Her voice cracked.
She lowered her head and took several deep shuddering breaths that wracked her body.
Without thinking, Jonathan lifted his hand to her face, tilting her chin so she looked at him. Her eyes swam with unshed tears. Tears he had caused.
‘So many deaths. Too many, Kate. Believe me, it’s not always easy to be the survivor. I may not be dead but I have lost all that is important to me. It’s a hollow victory over death.’
So many deaths…Marston Moor and afterwards, Oxford. He had run at life, stumbled into the path of innocent people, and he had survived while they had died.
Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing, March 2015
Time and setting: 1650s England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Vikki
I have always been a fan of books based on the English Civil War and when I read the book description, I looked forward to reading By the Sword with a great deal of anticipation.
The book opens with a prologue set in Devon in 1646 that pulled me immediately, and then shifts to Yorkshire in February 1650. Kate Ashley is a young widow with a seven-year-old son. She has been invited to visit Seven Ways in Worcestershire, the ancestral home of her late husband’s mother, a family her husband had been estranged from since his parent chose to marry against her family’s wishes.
After discussion with her son, she agrees to the visit. When they arrive, Kate finds that she likes Sir Francis and Lady Eleanor Longley much more than she expected. Her son, Tom, enjoys meeting them as well, along with Nell’s young daughter, Ann. When Kate learns Sir Francis wants to make Tom his heir, she is troubled, yet does not want to stand in the way of this inheritance.
Kate meets Jonathan Thornton, a Royalist Colonel when he makes a brief visit to Seven Ways. The author is clearly setting up an “across divides” romance between the Cavalier and Parliamentarian Kate, but I felt very little chemistry between the pair at that first meeting. Much of this lack of attraction is due to circumstances in the beginning. Kate loved her late husband and has no plans to ever marry again and Jonathan is an outlaw due to his Royalist connections. This is not a match made in heaven to say the least, but when they meet again later in the book, their connection is stronger.
The story unfolds very slowly and it took me the greater part of the first half before I became really engaged. There is very little action and quite a bit of back-story that slows the pacing down and I came close to not finishing the book. In fact, had I not been reading for review, I probably would have set it aside. Part of the problem is that the hero and heroine are apart for so much of the story.
Fortunately, things improve dramatically in the second half of the story, and I am glad I did not give up on the book. Once the stage was set, this became an action-packed read. I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid description of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan’s escape from several close calls, and his ultimate capture.
The romance deepens and I finally realised why Jonathan and Kate were attracted to each other. They share several, emotionally-charged and tender moments. By the end of the story, I was fully vested in their love affair, although they are still separated for much of the story, and this, I suspect, is why I found it so difficult to connect with them.
There is no doubt Ms. Stuart loves this period of history, and I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details intermingled through the second part of this book. Due to the slow pacing of the first half of the book, I’m giving it a qualified recommendation. Once you move past that, you will find a fascinating tale of a love that can survive even when there are many obstacles in the way, and a story rich with details of this troubled time in English history.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Stuart fell in love with the English Civil War when her father read her The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier. She has been writing stories set in this period since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that the first edition of By The Sword was published. It went on to win the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. Alison has now published 6 full length novels and a collection of her short stories. When she is not writing she is travelling and has dragged her family around the sites of every major battle of the English Civil War.
Alison lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, with an obvious obsession for men in uniform, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.