Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: The Last Arrow by Marsha Canham

Title: The Last Arrow
Series: Robin Hood Trilogy
Author: Marsha Canham
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: April 7, 1997
Publisher: Dell
ISBN: 0440222575
ISBN-13: 9780440222576

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS

She caught him trespassing on her family's lands, the sensuous and mysterious knight who had come to Normandy to challenge her brother, Robin, in the tournament at Chateau Gaillard. Brenna Wardieu's well-honed instincts warned her that Griffyn Renaud was no ordinary mercenary. When she discovered he was the invincible Prince of Darkness, undefeated champion in three lands, she feared he has been hired to do more than just defeat Robin in the lists.

THE FIRES OF PASSION

She was Lady Brenna Wardieu, daughter of the legendary Black Wolf, and from the moment Griffyn found himself at the mercy of the magnificent lady archer, he suspected he had met his match. And when she offered him her body in exchange for her brother's life, it proved to be the instrument of his own defeat, for the passion he discovered in her arms threatened to shatter not only the armor surrounding his heart, but the peace of two kingdoms.


My rating:

Lovely Lady Brenna Wardieu, daughter of the Black Wolf, isn’t exactly known for her ladylike behavior. She’s spent her childhood emulating her brothers and has become a master of the longbow, a worthy rival of the land’s best archers.

One day, she finally meets her match in Griffyn Renaud de Verdelay, a mysterious man she’s caught trespassing on her father’s lands. She immediately knows he cannot be trusted, despite his acquaintance with her brother, Robin. Her suspicions turn true when she learns Griffyn, a.k.a. Prince of Darkness, has been hired to challenge Robin in a tournament and dispose of him accordingly.

Griffyn is a man on a mission which doesn’t involve getting tangled up in a woman’s web. Yet, there is something about Brenna that draws him in and makes it harder and harder to go through with his plan on getting a rematch against Robin and ultimately killing him.

Neither can help the growing attraction between them and despite their differences and conflicting goals, they find themselves watching each other’s backs in battle after battle. Soon, it becomes clear their goal is the same and they end up working together to save her brother’s life, find a traitor in their midst, and save a few lives and maybe even the fate of kingdom in the process.


This was the final book in the Robin Hood Trilogy, that started with Through a Dark Mist and continued with In the Shadow of Midnight. And while both previous books were great on their own, I couldn’t help but think everything I’ve read so far, both individual stories intertwined with the main arc of the trilogy, has led to this one, the last book—The Last Arrow, which for me is the best in the trilogy. After all, it is the ‘grand finale’, where everything is nicely tied up, and the main arc sort of comes full circle.

This is the story of how four of the Wolf’s cubs (all three boys and the tomboyish girl that has always been the pupil of her father’s eye) travel from France to England to save the Lost Princess, retrieve a damsel, and help the outlaws in their noble cause against the tyranny of King John. While on their way to England they’ll stop on a tournament, make a few new acquaintances, save one of those acquaintances’ life, and enlist that same acquaintance’s help on their venture to their final destination.

Since this book was rife with sub-plots, historical details, and strong, realistic and believable characters, to me it was the most complex one in the trilogy. While so far we’ve only been served one main story and one to two side-stories per book, this one had two ‘main’ couples vying for attention, an old revenge sub-plot that was resolved somewhere in the middle, the lost princess subplot, a great villain and a rehashed one from the previous book, the ‘robinhoodesque’ conclusion etc.

Focusing on the ‘main’ main couple—Brenna and Gryffin (because let’s face it, the other couple, Robin and Marienne, truly had only one scene together), for me their romance was the most realistic of the entire trilogy. Realistic in the sense of their interactions, their personalities, and their inner ‘demons’. The fact she was a proficient archer in a time where women were considered more cattle than cattle, and he was a self-made tournament champion and even better at archery than her, was a bit fantastic, but it worked well with the story and their development, both individually and as a couple.
It was the aforementioned other things, the emotions they brought to the table, the inner turmoil, the reluctance to trust and yield, that made them so ‘real’ to me, because it could happen to anyone, even in this day and age. The emotional roller coaster the two were on works regarding of the historical setting. The attraction was obvious from the start, the ‘love’ started developing from the moment they were officially introduced, but there was so much baggage with both of them, the misgivings, the secrets, the mistrust, they were both weary of giving in, of taking that final leap of faith. One would think because this is a romance, there shouldn’t be so much reluctance, but the story wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t that reluctance present. Ms. Canham has written it in a way the reader (on the first read, that is) also isn’t quite sure whether Gryffin, despite being the hero, could indeed be trusted. So, if the reader cannot completely trust the hero (until the final few chapters where everything is explained, that is), how can the heroine?
And he, well, he held so much anger inside, so much darkness, the armor around his heart and emotions so thick that he couldn’t afford falling for her, yet couldn’t help himself. Like moth to a flame he was drawn to her, despite knowing better, despite all his efforts.
To me, Brenna and Gryffin were a perfect couple, fighting against everything they felt for each other, yet succumbing at the end. And the best part, he was the one who fell first and the hardest. Sure, he was an asshole, but he had his reasons. She was no angel, either, at least when it came to him. Yet, they fit. Perfectly. Both flawed, yet one loving the flaws of the other. I loved them both.

With such a ‘power-couple’ and such a strong love story, everything else could’ve easily rode shotgun or even taken the back seat, but it didn’t. It’s Ms. Canham’s forte to intertwine and combine multiple elements, characters and plot-lines where all of them shine through in the story without one of those ‘elements’ fading into the backdrop. Everything has its purpose, everything, every single aspect of the story works in driving the plot forward, and in a multiple-book story-lines, everything is nicely tied in a bow in the end, even elements that seemed redundant in previous books.
And that’s what I love about Ms. Canham’s writing and that’s what makes her one of my favorite authors. The ‘homogeneity’, the flawlessness of combining and mixing various elements to make a tight, well-paced and well-written plot and story.

The story of the Lost Princess of Brittany was nicely tied up, with an additional romantic aspect to it, despite of where she was and what she’s become, the Wolf’s heir kept his promise given eleven years ago (at the end of In the Shadow of Midnight) and retrieved his one and only love. show/hide spoiler
The fact he’s remained chaste for the duration of the ‘wait’ was both sweet and funny. The villains got their due, though I wanted to know what happened in Gryffin’s youth resulting in one of the villains only having nine fingers. The main villain of the entire trilogy, Prince/King John had mellowed (and met his maker as explained in the epilogue). And we finally got the retelling of the Robin Hood legend that’s I’ve been waiting for since book one. It was unique and engaging and made me want to demand more, especially what happened to Robin and Brenna’s brothers Richard and Dag, and whether Will has indeed married the younger Wolf’s cub, Rhiannon.

This was an engrossing read that will keep you guessing until the last page. There is action and adventure aplenty, a great villain, awesome secondary characters all woven into the 13th century tapestry of political intrigue, dark family secrets, revenge, murder, knightly battles, and a great romantic conflict and sensual tension between the two leads. All told with Ms. Canham's usual flair, elegance, and talent for delivering a strong combination of romance, action, adventure, and sensuality along with humor and great character development.



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