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A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley

A Splendid Defiance

by Stella Riley

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Audiobook Review: A 100% Winner

I enjoyed learning about the opposing forces of the English Civil War. The story didn’t go heavily into historical events, but gave a flavor of the crucial differences between its players. The English Civil War, comprised of three wars, whose time spans between 1642 and 1651. Banbury is an interesting setting for the story. During the Civil War emotions ran high with polarizing views in this town used as an operational base by Oliver Cromwell.

The town’s majority of people are of Puritan persuasion. The Cavaliers hold the castle, with Justin Ambrose as captain. They are holding out against the Parliamentarians. The town is pro-parliamentarian, therefore do very little willingly for the Cavaliers.

The town’s people, however, are short of funds, people are not spending money, at least very little. Jonas Radford, a fabric shopkeeper, finally acquiesces to supply fabric to the Cavaliers. He is a man of little soft emotion, treating his family harshly and on occasion cruelly. He’s extreme in every respect. His mother is cowed, his young brother, Samuel, deals with him using belligerency to cope, his sister, Abigail, is treated like a servant by both Jonas and his new wife, Rachel. Rachel and Jonas are sharp-tongued producing a bitter environment.

The story becomes complex when Anne Rhodes joins the castle, needing protection as a widow of the war, and pursues Justin, a handsome and capable man. Justin is wary of her attention. He instinctively keeps his distance.

However, when Justin is terribly burnt in a fire battling the Parliamentarians, Anne says she’s a healer and offers her services. She does more harm than good.

Abigail has met the handsome captain. He provided protection from a situation which would have ended badly for her. She is thankful and wishes to repay her debt to him when she hears of his wounds. She goes to the castle with Samuel, basket of healing herbs in hand, provided by her mother.

Anne Rhodes befriends Samuel when he accompanies Abigail and to borrow books from Justin’s library. Samuel ends up being a go-between for Anne, who sends small packages from time to time to leaders of the Parliamentarian forces. He’s playing a dangerous game.

Abigail is riddled with problems. The war, her family’s rigid rules and unhappiness, and now her fear of a town’s smith. He’s paying too much attention to her. We find out he is unbalanced to say the least.

Narrator Alex Wyndham makes this entertaining and poignant story more remarkable with his voice characterization. The smith’s voice, with its timbre, almost menacing tone, and slow, plodding marked cadence of speech gave my mind’s eye fodder enough to produce a true oaf of a man. It is easy to understand why Abigail doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Wyndham’s drinking songs, actually sung, are a bonus in keeping with the spirit of the story.

Things look increasingly bad for Abigail when Jonas decides the smith is to be her husband. Desperation sets in. She is beyond panicky and seeks help from Justin Ambrose.

The narrator and author make a team which creates a superb, brilliant and pleasing production, no less marvelous this series than the Rockliffe series, produced by the same team. I would heartedly recommend the author’s stories with their conflicted characters and intrigue and encourage you to listen to the audio. ( )
  Eileen.Dandashi | Aug 19, 2017 |
5 "When Friendship/Love Sparks Amid Enemy War Lines" Stars for the Story and Narration!

What a fantastic listen! From the history, character development, and the eventual romance, to the spectacular narration, A Splendid Defiance is a must listen for historical romance enthusiasts!

What a treasure. Once I started this listen, I could not put down my headphones. I have loved each and every one of Ms. Riley's books that I have listened to (which includes all 3 books in the Rockcliffe Series). However, this book had a slightly different feel, as it had a greater focus on the history and political influences that impacted the story. As an American, I have to admit that I have never had the chance to study or read up on the English Civil War (circa the 1640s), so at first I was a little concerned that I might not understand the background. But Ms. Riley does such a stellar job of laying down the framework for this story, that not only was I not lost, but I actually feel like I learned a lot about the various political influences (including the Puritans, Parliamentarians, and Royalists) that led to the English Civil War.

For historical romance listeners who prefer the romance to the history, I will say to stick this one through. The first half of the book or so is mostly focused on the historical background and information regarding the background of the hero, heroine, and various secondary characters. However, don't despair, the romance will come. In fact, I felt that this intricate, highly developed background actually made the strength and genuineness of the connection that ultimately develops between the hero and heroine that much stronger and believable in the end.

The story takes place in the town of Branbury. During the English Civil War this town while inhabited by many people of Parliamentarian political inclinations, including some extreme religious fanatics (Puritans), had a castle that had been captured by the Royalists who supported King Charles I. For years during the English Civil War, the Royalist military men inhabiting the castle and the people of the town with pro-Parliamentarian political views had to find a way to co-exist. A factor, which as Ms. Riley points out in her story, sometimes included their reluctant engagement in trade and other matters even as they ultimately leered at one another and would have been happy to spy and cause havoc on the other sides' efforts in the war.

The heroine, Abigail (Abby) Radford is the daughter and sister of a Puritan merchant family. Her brother Jonas and his wife, Rachel, seem to despise Abby for her freewheeling ways (which has no basis in reality other than their own extremely conservative religious views). Fortunately for Abby she also has a brother, Samuel, who champions her cause whenever he is able to. Then there is Abby's mother who also lives with the family, but seems unable to reign in Justin's and Rachel's harsh treatment of Abby.

The hero, Justin Ambrose, is a captain in the Royalist army that is stationed in the castle in Branbury. He has his own share of family woes which are slowly revealed, but for the most part seems content in his role as a military officer. So much so, that he has resigned himself to making this a lifelong career--one which means that he will likely never marry. He is generally well liked and popular, including with the ladies, even if there is no special one that has caught his eye. This includes our heroine, who in true Puritan style, doesn't even prove memorable enough for Justin to remember following their first meeting.

However, eventually he comes to know Abby from his visits to the shop where her family sells cloth and other materials. At first, Justin's sole purpose in engaging Abby is to needle her brother Jonas-- who he greatly despises for his beliefs and general unlikeable manner. Justin hopes to instigate some strife in Jonas' home by teaching Abby some self-confidence through their clandestine meetings. However, as time passes and the war efforts escalate, their relationship evolves into a true friendship.

Can war enemies ever truly become friends? Moreover, even if they wish it, neither Abby's choices nor Justin's are strictly their own. In Abby's case, her life is determined by the conservative whims of her brother's and in Justin's by the needs of the military. Is any sort of future possible under the circumstances?

Alex Wyndham delivers a flawless narration as always. Mr. Wyndham is just such a pleasure to listen to. Not only does he have a captivating voice, but he also has great range in the characters he creates and enacts. You can feel the mood of the scene from his voice, and never have any trouble differentiating the speaker. Moreover, for a male narrator with such a deep baritone voice, he is remarkably gifted in his facility in creating believable female voices.

Additionally, as this is an ACX title, I think it is worth noting that the production quality of the audiobook is also top-notch and on par with productions by the big audiobook publishers.

All in all, I highly recommend A Splendid Defiance. Particularly if you enjoy learning history along with your HEA, then this story is sure to be fulfilling in every way!

Source: Review copy provided for review purposes. ( )
  B.J.O. | Feb 26, 2017 |
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