Ranulf Ombrier earned his lands with blood. He murdered his foster father and the king's rival as a teenager, earning himself the king's favor and the scorn and suspicion of all others. That his foster father was an abusive monster was well known but you simply didn't kill a man in his bed. Since then Ranulf has faithfully done Edward's bidding, but when Ruardean armed party stumbles upon him and nearly kills him, he is deep in Wales far from the court, ignoring the king's summons. Ranulf is a haunted man seeking peace and redemption but trapped by a reputation and legacy of dishonor and brutality.
Gwenllian of Ruardean is the chief of that armed party. She is the daughter of an absent mad Marcher Lord and an ambitious Welsh noblewoman who holds his lands in his place. She leads a mighty armed forced and has many reasons for wanting Ranulf Ombrier dead. But instead of letting him die, she nurses him back to health only to forcibly escort him back to Edward. Gwenllian is a consummate warrior but is just as trapped as Ranulf when they arrive at court. Her loyalties and ethics are deeply tested.
There are not a lot of medieval romances on the market anymore but even if there was a crowded field Elizabeth Kingston's The King's Man would rise to the top. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the industry legend, Nicholas Boulton. I was riveted and not just because Boulton is an excellent narrator. I was reduced to manufacturing errands so I could justify staying in my car a little longer to listen. In the end I ended up listening to the audiobook while my children were in the car with me because the build up to the final conflict and tension was so great I couldn't bear to stop and I didn't have a copy of the ebook to switch to.
The novel is rich in political and interpersonal conflict as these two protagonists are physically powerful people who have to learn to be vulnerable to each and put each other first defying everyone's expectations. I absolutely loved Gwenllian and Ranulf and the unlikely and hesitant bond they develop. Their relationship is at times awkward, frantic, rough and deeply passionate. Their commitment and loyalty despite their own fear and insecurity was remarkably compelling.
I would absolutely love to read a series related to King's Man. I would love to see more of Gwenllian and Ranulf and the many rich secondary characters Kingston created. I loved Gwenllian's Ruardean men, faithful, steadfast soldiers, loyal to her and wary of the future. Gwenllian's ambitious mother, with her machinations and political games, born to rule. All of them have feel like they have some much solidity and promise for more.
The King's Man was the January selection of "The Not-a-bookclub" twitter discussion group I participate in. We discussed it together last Sunday and I have embedded below the tweets from our discussion. It is extremely rare for all of us to love the same book but we did. The King's Man just pleased us all so much. Rich in historical detail, powerful story, and compelling characters.