[Mild Spoilers; For mature audiences]
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of historical romance. I’ve always loved history–it was my favorite subject in school, with particular interest in British history. Obviously, my reading and movie/TV-watching habits, even in adulthood, reflect this predilection (The Tudors, The White Queen, The Other Boleyn Girl, etc.). So, when I found out that Lissa Bryan had a new HistRom novel out, I knew I’d love it. No one combines history, romance, and paranormal themes the way Lissa does; it’s brilliant, meticulous, and compelling. Under These Restless Skies embodies all of these attributes, while weaving fascinating and original characters within a backdrop of well-researched, historical events and figures. I give this MUSTREAD story 4.5 stars!
We begin with with WIll Sommers, who’s headed to Henry VIII’s Court to be the king’s fool. These are turbulent times in England: Henry is in the process of divorcing Katharine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, and he’s fighting the Roman Catholic Church to do so. You can imagine that Court is probably the worst place to be, but WIll has little choice. As he’s walking down the beach the day before his trip, Will comes across a woman who (after a pretty passionate first meeting) he soon surmises is a Selkie. According to lore, Selkies are fae-folk of the sea. They look like seals, but can remove their pelts and take on a human form:
“the women-folk are said to be gentle and kind, excellent wives and mothers…when their pelt is stolen from them, [Selkies] are bound to he who took it, trapped in their human form on the land.”
And as Will is heading into the potentially dangerous and lonely Court, he can’t deny himself the comfort and relief of having a Selkie-maiden with him. So he takes her pelt, binding Emma (a name Will gives her…Selkies don’t have name-words) to him for the foreseeable future. Will and Emma have an incredible journey ahead of them, as they try to stay in Henry and Anne’s good favor while negotiating the intrigues and perils of Court.
I think Will is such an excellent leading character! He’s not a man with great wealth or traditional good-looks, but he’s shrewd, perceptive, kind, and so generous–especially when it comes to Emma. Emma complements Will in the best way. She’s a compassionate spirit, showing gentleness to all, even animals and the poor. In the face of ugliness and wickedness, Emma’s innocence might fade, but her grace and empathy never do.
And Will and Emma’s love is so beautiful and ardent:
“She twined her arms around his neck and pulled his head down for a kiss…And when she enveloped him with her body, his head fell back against the rim of the tub from the almost indescribable ecstasy. She moved over him in a sinuous wave, and all Will could do was grip her hips and let the bliss take him…there were no words to express his feelings, no words for the emotion which swelled his heart to bursting, no words for a happiness he felt to the very depths of his soul.”
But at the same time, Will feels immense guilt for keeping Emma away from the sea and placing her among schemers and a king who–at a given whim–could have you deemed a traitor and executed!
Since Will and Emma–at least for a time–are Henry and Anne’s favorites, we get a front-row seat to some pretty significant events: Henry setting Katharine aside and parting from the Church to marry Anne, Elizabeth’s birth and Anne’s struggle with miscarriages, the ups and downs of England’s relationship with France and Spain, the souring of Henry and Anne’s marriage, and eventually Anne’s trial and beheading.
Lissa does an great job of merging historical facts with her own original interpretation and plot points. For example, Anne is consistently presented in such a way that you can’t help but feel sympathetic toward her. Lissa’s Anne isn’t the cold, calculating, deceptive vixen that many other adaptations convey, which I appreciate.
With that said, there are times where I think we get a little bogged down in the details of history at the cost of learning more about Will and Emma’s independent perspectives and experiences.
Though the story will seem familiar, you’ll feel like you’re uncovering these events for the first time. You’ll feel some suspense, even a little fear, but you’ll laugh and swoon and cheer for Will and Emma’s happiness. I really like this book and recommend it those who enjoy history, historical romance, and the supernatural. I can’t wait to see what Lissa gives us next!