Friday, 11 November 2011

Spoil of War: An Arthurian Saga by Phoenix Sullivan

Author: Phoenix Sullivan
Publisher: Dare to Dream Press
Date: March 29, 2011
Pages: 597 KB
Genre: Historical Romance/Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased for Kindle
Reviewed by: Lyuba

Sexual Content
Not as explicit as the blurb and many reviews made it out to be. More like a description of it happening, but nothing compared to typical romance books. 

3.5 out of 5 (or 7 out 10)

Description from Amazon
Elsbeth of Olmsbury desires nothing beyond helping her father run his dukedom - until the duke's forces are overwhelmed, his castle torched and Elsbeth seized for the invading king's personal spoil. Expecting the same abuse as the other surviving women of her house, Elsbeth instead finds the king, Leodegrance, treating her with a civility that belies his flagrant desire for her. A desire that will have her his consort in Cameliard once he can convince her rank and duty alone forced his hand against her father.

But Elsbeth is not so easily won. There is the matter of Leodegrance gifting his steward with an unwilling young handmaid from Elsbeth's household. Of his marriage of convenience to his Byzantine queen. And of his plans to subjugate more of Britain's citadels and unite the wild isle under Roman rule.

If Elsbeth can't find her tangled way to forgiveness with the king - or escape the dark designs and perverse desires of Uther Pendragon, enemy to them both - then a legend of Camelot may never be conceived, never be born, and never change history forever ...

Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

112,000 words; about 440 pages.


Phoenix Sullivan has 20+ years in the corporate world as a writer and editor. Reviewers have compared SPOIL OF WAR favorably to MISTS OF AVALON, authored by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A fun fact: Marion published several of Phoenix's short stories in anthologies sold worldwide and in the fantasy magazine she edited in the early 90s. She was Phoenix's first editor.

From the Author

SPOIL OF WAR is best described as women's historical fiction with romantic elements. It is a realistic look at what it was like to be chattel in a time of war and how precious love can be when hope is nearly lost.

If you prefer lighter historical fare with a more conventional romance, I urge you to browse the list of "Also Boughts" on this page instead. Otherwise, please read the sample to decide if the quality of the story and the writing meet your expectations, and if the heroine, Elsbeth, is someone you want to root for and would like to spend more time with.

This book came up on the free list on Amazon, and of course it caught my attention. Then I started reading the reviews, and they were so mixed that I really wanted to see for myself what's the fuss was about. See that Please Note that I highlighted? THAT really made me curious! So I braced myself for the child rape, and started reading. 

The thing is, I can't tell you how many times I was reading books and imagining what I would do if I was unwilling bride/slave girl/woman in the X century with no rights/sold to harem/etc... and my conclusions were that yes, I would fight back however I can, but I am a survivor, and eventually I would give in. I've realized that I would choose to live as a well fed slave, then starve as a free woman. Not very heroic right? Maybe not even "strong". But I always tried to put myself in the shoes of those women, who tried to make the best out out of their situations and this is the conclusion I came up with. Well, this is the conclusion that Elsbeth comes up with too. And that's why I LOVED this book! 

Elsbeth questions everything that Leo does, she doesn't forget that he killed her father and destroyed her home, that he took her prisoner and kept her as concubine, when his wife was in the same castle. She wants to get free and rid of him. She resists! She eventually gives in, and tries to make the best of the situation, and it's HER choice! She tries to make the best out of situation that she was thrown in, and I think she does pretty well for herself. Because in reality, what could anyone expect out of her? Die? Because that would be the only way out, and Elsbeth makes it pretty clear that she would like to live. I wasn't bothered by the fact that she fell in love with her captor either, because I tried to think in the terms of that time period. War was normal, slavery was normal, women were property. She got elevated pretty high in status, and Leo was in LOVE with her to the point of catering to almost every one of her whims. 

I tried not to think about the situation from the modern women's perspective, instead recalling the words of my favorite history professor at the university "The concept of gender equality did not exist at the time". Even so, Elsbeth was pretty "modern" if I try to relate her action and thinking to the modern world. Our world still struggles with rape, and women are treated as spoils of wars in the current warfare, so why would it have been different during the Dark Ages? Even the rape of an 11 year old girl didn't turn me off this book (and her age was speculation, later on it was said that she was 13). Yes, I was disturbed, until I remembered a romance novel I've read where a girl was sold to harem and she was 13. And no, I'm not condoning the rape, I just think that it was probably expected at that time period and during war. Women always suffer when war happens, and this book actually dared to show the terrible things that happen to them. 

I also think it to be ironic that author put that note in the description. Was she expecting all the criticism she got? Hmm..... interesting. And because of that, I can't say that those readers were not warned. 

Overall, I really liked the book and I thought it to be pretty realistic in terms of women experiences during that time. I don't know how historically accurate it was in other aspects, but at least from the women's perspective I think it did  a great job. Why did I give it only 3.5 stars if it was that great? Check out below. 

Why is the hair of the girl on the cover BROWN?! The books makes such a big deal out of the color of her hair, and in current day and age it is not that hard to change the color of hair. I bet even I could figure it out! 

SPOILER ALERT!! Highlight if you want to read. 
So up until this point (about 75% on Kindle) I was happily reading the book and loving it, and then the main characters do something that make me go WTF and wish the book was real, so I could throw it against the wall. Alas, all I have is my iPhone, and I'm not doing anything to harm 'my precious'. Anyways, Elsbeth is almost raped again, when Lynette walks in and saves her. But of course the knight that tries to rape her is a bastard, and he makes it seems like she came on to him "See! I even hit her trying to thwart HER advances! But I'm only a man" :( :( :( Lynette, because she is so freaking smitten with him, immediately believes him and basically ends the friendship with Elthbeth. Fast forward to when Leo comes home, and Elsbeth says NOTHING to him! For whatever reason, I think she was most afraid of hurting Lynette (who you know, totally doesn't deserve it at this point since she will take knight's word over Elsbeth). 

At this point, I literally went "REALLY?! She is all outspoken and not afraid to stand up to the king, but she is afraid to tell on that knight?!" (Oh, I wrote down what I thought). My desire to read the book just went down the drain. All the admiration and respect I had for Elsbeth went the same way. She is freaking loyal to Lynette for what?! Does she enjoy being raped? Before she wasn't afraid to speak the truth, even said so herself. But now all of a sudden she is afraid? She is an idiot, because not telling now OF COURSE will make it worse later (and it sure did). 

The king is a freaking idiot too! For all his love and care and obsession with making her happy, he sure believes the knight awfully fast when knight accuses her again. Where is his love and trust then? Apparently never was there, because he wouldn't so easily NOT believe her! Because you know, Elsbeth asking for like 100 times and going against his will to NOT leave her alone with that freaking knight just means nothing. She only was asking to stay away from him because in reality she wanted to be WITH him! And of course Leo didn't even listen to her to begin with, because she went with him to war as a camp follower TO GET AWAY FROM THE KNIGHT!! So what does he do? Present the knight as a 'present' for her when he first summons her to him. WTF LEO?! For someone who is smart, you're awfully stupid and dense. 

And Elsbeth! I get it, I've read about it. Many women do not yell or scream for help when they are getting raped, and they should. I'm not making light of it. But really?! She got raped twice in the book (more once she was captured and chained, but I'm talking about when she could have fought back), plus there was 1 other attempt, And all these times SHE BARELY FOUGHT BACK AND MADE ANY NOISE!!! There was one instance when I get why she kept quiet (just before she was chained), but all the others? Especially with the knight, who was distrusted to begin with! Even if she is considered an "enemy", wouldn't it been better to yell and scream and do something? And especially in the camp, when she already was "king's woman" and knew that her camp protector was nearby, why not scream? Or at least fight back? I might be too hard on her, but she showed herself as a pretty strong character and these actions, or lack of them, just surprised me. 

Then don't even get me started on Lynette. I had a feeling that she would die at the end, with her being all depressed and deeply romantic. I didn't expect her to turn into such an idiot when the knight was concerned. She literally was so in love that she believed every word he told her, even if they were not true. She, along with Leo, believed the KNIGHT'S word over Elsbeth! I was pretty disappointed at her for it, considering she was shown as pretty smart too. And she continues to believe until the very end. 

One final thing. Lynette could not conceive a child after 3 years of actively trying, and Leo only *supposedly* had 1 bastard. Elsbeth lives with him for over 6 month, where he comes to her bed pretty often. With him being THAT obsessed over a heir, he doesn't even ONCE thinks about the possibility of Elsbeth getting pregnant? Nor is she! And then she gets raped too, and doesn't even worry that she MIGHT get pregnant?! That seems so not believable for me. Of course, in the end she magically gets pregnant right away. I kinda want to know, who is the daddy? Considering she got raped repeatedly when she was in captivity....

Recommended For
Anyone who likes darker books, or who is interested in women's perspective and lives during the time of war. 

~ Lyuba

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