Fair, Bright, and Terrible

book cover: Fair-skinned woman in medieval gown holding a dagger behind her back. Colors: burgundy and navy dress with gold trim, burnished gold dagger, antique gold lettering, dark gray background
Published January 2017
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Book Description

Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it. Certain there is no trace within her of the idealistic girl who loved Robert de Lascaux a lifetime ago, she agrees to marry him to advance the fortunes of her son, to avoid the nunnery, and most importantly - as an easy way to gain access to the man upon whom she will avenge Wales.

When Robert is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. But the lady who greets him at the altar has so little in common with the girl he adored that he begins to doubt that there is anything left of her bold and passionate younger self. Marriage to her might gain him the fortune and status his family has always wanted, but no wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has.

Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they share a future? The fascinating world of medieval Wales is continued in this riveting companion novel to The King's Man.

 
My Unofficial Summary of the Book

In addition to the real, full, professionalish book description (above), I traditionally provide a more casual description in the spirit of Real Talk, like how I pitch it to my friends:

 

Alternate Title: The Lovebirds (or, for readers of The King's Man, the alternate title is The Book You Never Wanted)

It's an honor and a privilege to add another profoundly badass female to the world of Romance.

 

First, a point of order: I wrote this as a stand-alone, so that you don't have to read anything before jumping into this, or anything after it. But yes, technically it is a follow-up to The King's Man. How important is it to read in order, you may wonder? It’s not. Honestly, if you read this one first, then you'll just extra-enjoy the other. That's why I tend to refer to them as "companion books" - they enhance each other, but don't totally rely on each other. If you’re a stickler for reading things in order even when the order isn’t terribly important, now you know. 

​As I mentioned, it features a badass female but she does not swing a sword or anything like that. It’s a whole different kind of badass – it’s more like psy ops, not infantry, if you get what I mean. (Note: I do not mean she’s a spy.) Other notable things about this book include:

  • Our couple is middle-aged, both around 40 years old. This can be hard to find in the Romance genre, is rather unusual in Historical Romance, and is downright rare (bordering on nonexistent) in Medieval Romance.

  • Note as well that they actually have some gray hair and wrinkles, and they have middle-age-type issues to deal with. Realism, gasp!

  • ​It’s a second-chance romance, as they say. Who doesn’t love one of those?

  • Now featuring more history! As in, lots of real historical figures and events. You can enjoy it even if you don’t care about that sort of thing, but if you're also in it for the history, then I got you covered.

  • As is the case with my other medieval, there are no Scots, a notable lack of thews and sinews, and the sexytime is neither excessively graphic nor taming-the-savage in tone. Basically, when you hear “medieval romance”, whatever stereotypical things come to mind are not likely to feature in this reading experience. Except castles. There are lots of castles.

 

This is yet another in my Not A Fluffy-Fun Romance body of work, so do pick it up only if you’re ready for some emotional intensity. Also, I am fairly certain this is one of those books that is either love it or hate it, and little in-between. So if nothing else, you should totally read it so you can tell other readers why they are SO WRONG (or alternatively, SO RIGHT) about it.

 

Okay, you are prepared to read it now. Go forth!

 
Writing Fair, Bright, and Terrible

Let me just first say that if upon hearing there was a "sequel" to The King's Man and that it stars Eluned as the heroine, your reaction was, "Wait, what? Did you say Eluned? That's the LAST character I want more of." - then please know my answer to that is: I know. I KNOW. Also if your reaction is more positive than that, then to you I also say: I know. I KNOW. Because basically I've had every possible reaction to the idea of this book, for months. I suspect there will be a part of me that always thinks "WTF?" about this book, as a concept.

So: I had no intention of ever writing this book. The very idea of turning Eluned into a Romance heroine was laughable at first, even though I knew her whole story. (I usually do know what happens with all my secondary characters in their past and future, btw, but that doesn't mean they deserve a book.) And hers was a pretty fascinating story - but I still wasn't interested in writing it. Then after so many readers of The King's Man described Eluned in less than flattering terms, I kept wanting to explain her to them so they understood her better, which kept me thinking about her. But I still didn't want to write her. More and more details about her story kept popping into my head until eventually I thought that okay maybe I would write her one day. But like AT LEAST ten years from now, I told myself - when I'd have more experience in both writing and in life, when I'd hopefully have the skill to tackle something so challenging. With that, I patted the idea on the head and told it I'd see it in another decade or so.

But it refused to go away - not for a decade, not for a year, not even for a freaking day. Every day my brain would insistently present me with entire chapter structures, specific phrases, whole paragraphs in perfect, sparkling clarity. I've never experienced anything like that before. (I mean, my writer-brain regularly gets transmissions, but they are hardly coming fast and furious and are generally more fuzzy around the edges. And they usually only show up when I welcome them to come on in, not when I'm shouting at them to get out.) Eluned's story drowned out everything else until finally I gave up and gave in. I distinctly recall having the thought, This has the potential be a total disaster. So... welp, I'll just try to make it the most beautiful disaster I can.

The trainwreck potential came from the long list of challenges inherent in telling the story: turning a much-hated antagonist into a sympathetic protagonist, condensing so much political and personal history into the first few chapters without being boring, an anti-heroine grandmother, a first chapter full of dead bodies, and so on. Early on I decided I was going to write it for me. Just me, no one else. If anyone else likes it, I decided (and still do decide, incidentally) that's just a bonus. The book was challenging - the most challenging thing I've written by far - and I loved writing it. Even when it was so hard it made my eyeballs bleed (metaphorically), I loved it. LOVED it.

And I love the final product, too. In everything I've written, I have had moments where something lays down on the page exactly as it lived in my mind. It's so satisfying and thrilling when that happens - I always think of it like sticking the landing, in gymnastics. In my other books I got maybe 4 or 5 of those moments, per book. In this one, I stuck the landing about 10 times per chapter. It was exhilarating. So what you're reading is pretty much exactly what I wanted to write, exactly how I wanted to write it, with no apologies and no dressing it up for company. I don't know that I'll ever have this experience again. In my heart of hearts, I don't believe I'm capable of writing better than this - and I'll be lucky if I can ever write as well as this again. In my own opinion, of course, you feel free to have a different one. 

Honestly, I could talk about the experience of writing this forever, so I'll wrap it up now. One other unique (for me) thing about it is that it came with a soundtrack. In my head, that is - and on my iPod. I won't share the playlist with you, but I will share the theme song for the book. Because "I see my life is brightest where you laughed and laid your head" is about the most perfect sentiment for this book - and for love in general - that I can imagine.

 
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