Renard, Lord of the Ravenstow estate and Crusader knight returns from Antioch, but he does not return alone. He brings with him a mistress, Olwen, a beautiful but untrustworthy dancing girl. Renard has returned home because of his father’s ill health and imminent death. Also there is tension locally caused by the dispute over the succession to England’s throne. He must also think about his arranged marriage to a nearby heiress. Though he is preoccupied with the political battles going on around him, Renard is pleasantly surprised by his new wife and soon becomes disenchanted with Olwen, his mistress. But her scheming poses danger not only to his marriage, but everything he owns.
From my bookgroup via my TBR pile. Number 3 in the “Wild Hunt” trilogy.
It’s 1139. Renard is in the middle east, on Crusade, in part to keep him out of the Civil War at home. Despite the heat and the fighting, he’s turning a little native – dressing like an Arab, enjoying the food, the nightlife and especially the women. He returns to Antioch and a local dancing woman comes to his attention. Part Arab, part welsh, Olwen is exotic, dangerous and manipulative. Renard is called back home to Wales as his father is dying. He is lead by a part of his anatomy that’s not his head and find himself bringing Olwen back to Wales as his mistress.
Once home, he realises his folly, especially when his mother makes it clear the situation is untenable. It helps, slightly, that his betrothed – Elene – has grown up since he’s been away and is very much a capable attractive women. Olwen soon gets sidelined to a house off the estate, where she finds her self bored, cold and resentful.
The next two years covers the marriage to Elene, skirmishes with the immediate neighbours (including Ranulf of Chester) and the Welsh across the border and the biggest threat: King Stephen and Empress Matilda are fighting it out for the throne of England, and it’s dangerous to be on the losing side. Unfortunately who is winning keeps changing….After a battle supporting the King, Renard is captured and imprisoned by Ranulf, and the race is on to rescue him before it’s too late.
Considering I have not read the previous 2 books in this series, this was an easy read. Chadwick manages not to fall into the trap of spending half the book explaining what happened in previous books and why certain people are reacting the way they are (the Hold The Dream series is a prime example of this bad habit). There is enough loose threads left at the end to continue the series, but as Chadwick says in the introduction:
“the vagaries of the publishing world and requirements of editors meant that The Leopard Unleashed became the final work in the series”
Renard is not a wholly mature or likeable character – he spends too much time being lead by his sexual needs and doesn’t treat Elene any different to Olwen, despite being married to the former (a political betrothal and certainly not a love match). It would have been good to have him at least recognise what good she is bringing to the family and the household. He certainly thinks in the beginning that he can have both a wife and a mistress and that both would tolerate the existence of the other.
The secondary characters were on the whole fairly rounded, though I suspect that much more development is in the previous books. You really only see Olwen in the first few chapters of the book, enough to get a glimpse of her character, and then she pops up at intermittent places during the story. Her reaction to being given the brush off by Renard is quickly dealt with – no vicious cat fights here, and her disillusionment with Wales is fast, as is her taking up with Ranulf (only to ditch him fast, as soon as she realises that there are other more powerful men around).
Elene has spent the time Renard has been away to learn all she can about managing an estate that she is destined to run. When Renard returns then, he expects the meek and mild little 14 year old he left behind, and is thrown by her being older, more confident and prepared to follow protocols even when he’s forgotten them.
So in summary: this is an easy read, that doesnt fall into some traps of being the third in a trilogy, has the potential for a fourth which I would be willing to read if it ever comes off, but I wouldnt necessarily run out to get the other two in the series.
About this Author
Author website: http://www.elizabethchadwick.com