An Earthly Knight: Interesting character study, flat romance

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Janet McNaughton An Earthly KnightAn Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton

I went through a phase a few years ago where I sought out every retelling of the Tam Lin story that I could get my hands on. So the title An Earthly Knight was instantly familiar to me, and I knew I needed to read this book. I was especially intrigued by the author’s choice to return the story to its original setting, medieval Scotland.

Unfortunately, the historical aspect falls a little flat. McNaughton has a tendency to get a bit infodump-y. I wasn’t familiar with the politics of that time and place, and so I appreciated being brought up to speed, but there has to have been a more deft way of doing it than having one character expounding history to another character who already knew that history.

I also wasn’t thrilled with the romance. Tam Lin was too Generically Nice, and his rival, Earl William, was too one-dimensionally nasty. If Tam Lin needed a foil, I’d have preferred either a bad man who was charming on the surface, or an honorable man that Jeanette simply had no feelings for.

As for the supernatural, it feels a little tacked on, and it might have worked better if it had been either emphasized more or omitted entirely. (Tam Lin without the supernatural — that could be intriguing. What if Jeanette had thought he was fae-touched, only to learn he was *just* the dispossessed heir to Carter Hall…) As it stands, that aspect comes almost out of nowhere and seems rushed.

What did work was the coming-of-age aspect of the tale. Jeanette begins as a free-spirited teenage girl, and as she is pushed into a social-climbing role, she allows herself to be swept up into snobbish and selfish attitudes for a time. I didn’t like her much during the middle of the book. After several events that make her question this new outlook on life, Jeanette begins to find her old self again, albeit a more mature version of that self. In the end, on some level, she’s not so much choosing between William and Tam Lin, but between the person she is when she’s with William and the person she is when she’s with Tam Lin. I did find that aspect interesting.

An Earthly Knight — (2004) Publisher: A cloud has descended over the household of Lady Jeanette Avenel. The year is 1162. Sixteen-year-old Jenny has always enjoyed her freedom as second daughter of a Norman nobleman in Teviotdale, Scotland. But when Jenny’s sister, Isabel, disgraces the family by running away with a dangerous suitor, Jenny is thrust reluctantly into the role of elder daughter. While Jenny worries about her sister’s future, her father’s attention turns keenly toward Jenny, and finding her a worthy suitor. When Jenny is chosen as a potential bride for William de Warenne, brother of the king of Scotland and heir to the crown, redemption of her family’s name seems within reach. Amid formal banquets and jousting tournaments, she struggles to impress the aloof Earl William. At the same time, however, she finds herself drawn to Tam Lin, a mysterious young man. Rumored to have been kidnapped by fairies, Tam harbors a dark secret from his past that threatens everyone close to him … including Jenny. Glimmering with exquisite detail, Janet McNaughton’s beautifully woven story transports readers to a magical medieval world where one young woman navigates the forceful tides of tradition and the ancient power of fairies to define her own destiny.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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