For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance...but will it be enough? A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.
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The slow unrolling of this love story was perfect for the coming together of two very different individuals. While I am a lifelong history buff, I have never paid much attention to the period of the British Civil Wars. They make an exciting backdrop and add depth to the tale of the obstacles encountered by Abigail and Justin on their path toward HEA. I was completely engaged by A Splendid Defiance. Stella Riley's intelligent and perceptive book was interpreted perfectly by the brilliant narrator, Alex Wyndham.
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!