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I have loved this book for over thirty years and am over the moon it's now available in audio format. Alex Wyndham is one of the finest narrators around, and he does an absolutely superb job!
The story is set during the English Civil War, at Banbury Castle, a Royalist stronghold, and tells the story of the small garrison of men there who held out against a Parliamentary force of more than ten times their size. Many of the characters in this book actually existed; the author's knowledge of the history of the era is considerable, and her research impeccable. She expertly brings to life the day-to-day routine of the people living within the castle walls, and their awkward relationship with the town of Banbury which was staunchly pro-Parliament.
The real heart of the book is found in the slow-burn love story between a cynical Royalist captain and the sister of a Puritan shopkeeper; it's beautifully written and developed (there's no insta-lust here!) and the two central characters are fully-rounded and three dimensional. Justin Ambrose is ambitious and resents kicking his heels in Banbury when he wants to be out there doing something; Abigail Radford lives under the control of her puritanical brother and has little to look forward to other than a life of drudgery and duty. Their initial meetings are inauspicious and, for Justin, unmemorable, but from there springs an unlikely friendship that gradually turns in to more in a way that feels realistic and unhurried.
If you are a fan of historical romance that puts an emphasis on the "historical", then this is a book for you. If you’re also looking for a richly detailed story, a beautifully developed romance and a compelling, devastatingly attractive and unforgettable hero, it’s all here.
Add to all that the superb narration by Alex Wyndham, and you've got a real winner. Mr Wyndham never disappoints; he's a highly skilled performer and vocal actor who is able to make a listener forget they're listening to only one person. All the characters - and there are quite a few - are easy to distinguish from one another and he is able to perform the females convincingly and without resorting to falsetto. I can't praise him - or this audiobook - highly enough.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
It’s no secret that I have been a fan of Stella Riley’s work for many years and was delighted last year when she finally went into audio by having her Rockliffe series narrated by the amazingly talented Alex Wyndham. I was even more delighted when I discovered that one of her best novels, ‘A Splendid Defiance’, would also be transformed by Mr Wyndham.
I have said before that Stella Riley and Alex Wyndham are a true ‘tour de force’ and this book confirms my belief.
Ms Riley’s ability to write dialogue and to make her people live off the page is well known. Add this to narration by the brilliant Alex Wyndham whose characterisations are phenomenal and the result is an outstanding audio.
Mr Wyndham’s transitions are flawless. Whenever there are a number of people having a conversation, he changes seamlessly from one to another leaving the listener in no doubt as to who is speaking. His performance is the perfect partner to Ms Riley’s words.
The siege of Banbury Castle in the English Civil War is little known but what happened there was reflected elsewhere throughout the land during those unhappy times. Once again, Stella Riley handles the storyline adroitly, bringing a mix of real people into the picture along with her own creations.
I first read this book many years ago and return to it often because it is unique. Now it’s in audio, I will be able to submerge myself in a world where excellent writing comes together with superb narration. I can’t recommend this audio highly enough. It is absolutely ‘Splendid’.
Well done the Riley-Wyndham Team. I look forward to your next collaboration.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Stella Riley gave me a rare gift. She wholly enveloped me in the world she created, so much so I returned to my own with a jolt, finding it hard to believe Justin and Abigail were not real, and their comrades in the Banbury garrison my friends.
A Splendid Defiance offers so much. A realistic and expertly drawn setting based in a real place and time. Laughter, sorrow and exquisite joy. Most of all, a slow-building, believable romance that never felt contrived. It may have been the most touching romance I've ever read.
Like Justin, I wanted to put my arms around Abby to protect her from the familial bullies who made her life a living hell. I rejoiced to see her blossom under his friendship and caring. As for Justin, I wanted to shake him to make him realize what was happening right in front of him. But I could forgive his obstinacy, because I saw, like Abby, the honor and decency in him. I mourned for the security and warmth he lost in childhood, and cheered him as he learned to let down his guard and welcome love.
I am so glad to have experienced this story on audio. Alex Windham did what the best narrators do: Used a sympathetic understanding of the characters and text to bring them vividly alive.
Justin and Abigail will forever live in my heart, and I know I will return to this book time and time again. The chance to become lost in a fictional world is one of the most important reasons I read, but it is the rare author who can sweep me away so completely. Stella Riley is a writer to cherish.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
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.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful