Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell

A Constant Heart

A Constant Heart
by Siri Mitchell

Trade Paperback: 381 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
Born with the face of an angel, Marget Barnardsen is blessed. Her father is a knight, and now she is to be married to the Earl of Lytham. Her destiny is guaranteed ... at least, it would seem so. But when her introduction to court goes awry and Queen Elizabeth despises her, Marget fears she's lost her husband forever. Desperate to win him back, she'll do whatever it takes to discover how she failed and capture again the love of a man bound to the queen.

[The above description didn't give me an accurate idea of what the book was about, so here's my description. Marget is married to the Earl and is then introduced to the Queen. The Queen is jealous of Marget's beauty and takes her displeasure out on Marget and, by extension, her husband. Marget has been raised believing her sole duties in life are to bear children and increase her husband's standing at court, so she feels a failure when she discovers she can do neither. The story is about what lengths Marget is willing to go to in order to gain back Queen Elizabeth's favor for her husband.]

I think this is supposed to be a Christian historical fiction with a strong romance theme, but what it really shines at is giving a comprehensive historical look at court life under Queen Elizabeth I.

The main characters occasionally make a vague reference to God, but that's about it. God certainly doesn't impact their lives at all.

As for the romance, the 'hero' is self-centered, childish, ambitious, cruel, emotionally abusive of his wife, and a few other unflattering things. I was rooting for him to die, not for him to win the heroine's heart. His wife, the heroine, does act consistent to her age and upbringing, but eventually her gullibility and willingness to destroy herself for her husband was too much for me to stay sympathetic to her.

Also, there wasn't much depth to their relationship. One moment, husband and wife were hating and/or fearing the other. In the next, they were madly "in love" (though the hero was mainly falling in lust with her in the "but I just can't resist her even though reason says I shouldn't" fashion). Despite being madly "in love," they'd have a simple misunderstanding and immediately be back to square one. They fluctuated back and forth like this for years without building any trust or belief in the other.

An additional problem was that both character viewpoints were written in first person. There was very little indication when the viewpoint had switched, so I was often confused by the switch.

The book gives an excellent look at what life was like at the time, but this focus on the historical detail slows the pace of the story. There were many scenes that seemed to have been put in solely to illustrate something the author learned about the time period. These scenes didn't move the story forward and could have been cut without harming our understanding of what was going on in the story.

If you'd like to see what life was like at the time without reading a textbook, this book is a very good way to do that. However, while the writing itself was fine, I felt the book's characters, pacing, and plot could have been much stronger.

There is no explicit sex, and I don't recall any cussing. Overall, this book was "clean reading."

Excerpt: Chapter One
"But how could he not like you?"

"He is an earl, Joan!"

"Ad you, Marget, are to be his countess."

The Midsummer Day sun was hot and absent any breeze. We were sitting on a log at the marsh's edge, our skirts drawn up to our knees, caps resting on the ground beside us. The marsh birds would warn us of any intruder, but there were unlikely to be any wanderers this festive day. We had slipped away from the city's merriment to ponder my rapidly approaching marriage.

In several short months I was to exchange my life as a knight's daughter for life as a countess. That thought still had the power to drain the blood from my face as if January's salt-laden winds were whipping in from the Wash, stealing my breath as they continued on their way.

"Think you. For how many years now have you trained for this?"

"Twelve." It had begun at the age of five. If I whispered the number it was only because, of a sudden, I did not wish for the training to end.

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