"I value you far too much to allow the woodlands to entrap you in their deadly embrace." - Lord Zanar offering a typically cryptic line to Polyxena.
The Crimson Amulet is the long awaited second book in the trilogy by Adriana Girolami. I was a huge fan of the original Revenge of the Knights Templar and its re-release as Mysterious Templar. Such a fan, in fact, that I approached this second story with some trepidation.. What if the book did not live up to my lofty expectations?
In addition, it is a well known saying to not judge a book by its cover. But when you know the author created the cover herself through her incredible artistry, perhaps it is not a surprise to learn this talent spills over into her writing.
The first book introduced us to the Duchess of Lorengard-Lorraine, a principality in 1400s Europe. The Lady Polyxena was never a wimpish waif, neither could she be termed as a kick-ass heroine of her time. She is ladylike, regal, but never standoffish. You feel like she is someone you could approach. Beneath this royal veneer and approachability is a character with a heart of steel and courage to match.
By the latter third of the first book, I was fully in support of Polyxena and she became the stand out character for me. Surprising, given my own love of medieval England and the Knights of the Round Table - I really thought I would root more for the male characters such as Arsenio and Duccio. Then of course there is the Duke of Nemours, Polyxena's father. All the men live by the strict code of the Knights Templar, so woe be tide anyone who would cross them and especially the Duchess. Such actions tend to be the perpetrator's last....
The writing in The Crimson Amulet is as fluid and poetic as its predecessor, but it is never flowery, fluffy language that makes you think 'get on with it, author!' - you can tell each word has been carefully thought over. That's why I resisted a strong temptation to rush through the book. It's too enjoyable to skim over it like that (unless you were going to go back and give this a second reading, which this book certainly deserves.)
When the mysterious (well, all men are who would visit your place of residence) Zanar is able to bypass the Duke's men and gain easy access to the palace, we know something is amiss. He is not a local, and so he carries a great question mark over him. Soon, his intentions become obvious, kidnapping Polyxena (she's supposed to go with him willingly, but his actions of threatening to kill the Duke force her hand) and riding off to some remote part of Europe on a goose chase to be linked up with the Duke - dead or alive.
Zanar may have used some magical property to overcome the guards, but charming Polyxena won't be so easy. She is loyal to her love (if you have not read book one I won't spoil that here) and for all Zanar's lordly behaviour, she finds him a rather repulsive man who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.
Will Polyxena escape the clutches of the evil Lord Zanar? Will she get back to the palace with her father? Will there even be a palace to go back to?
and....what is the Crimson Amulet of the title?
This story is just as multi-layered as its predecessor, with a gripping, riveting tale that makes you think you know where it is going, but you won't. The amulet itself is more than a MacGuffin. In fact, an author in command of their story and characters needs no such plot device to drive it.
Look out for real thrills with the characters Kusen, Salimah and especially, reluctant knight Berthold. But the real star is the plot. The characters just firm up the wonderful narrative.
The series hearkens back to the classics of yesteryear, but beats with a modern, pulsating heart. The passionate scenes are described in such a way that is never over the top, and should encourage as many male readers as female. This is not a woman's book, exclusively - it's a great yarn, epically told without an epic length (though at 300+ pages is satisfyingly long).
This is simply a must-read series. An overused term perhaps, but entirely appropriate here. There's even a bonus chapter of book three in this Kindle version, but I implore you to wait, and read the whole book in full. I know there is a trend for authors to release snippets of their books, free chapter previews and so on, but wait - and your patience will be rewarded.