Narrated by Lucy Rayner
I suppose I should have known what I was letting myself in for when I read the title and synopsis of Bold Angel:
“Saxon beauty Caryn of Ivesham longed to escape the chill gray cloisters of the convent to which she’d fled-but not in marriage to the towering, feared Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless.”
It goes on to tell how the “darkly handsome warlord’s blood coursed with desire for Caryn’s burnished crimson lips”… yeah, I should probably have moved on at that point, but I had decided I wanted to listen to Lucy Rayner, who has been listed as the narrator of several Julia Quinn romances being released in December (Splendid, Dancing at Midnight and Minx), in order to get an idea of her abilities and performance style.
The result is a mixed bag. It probably didn’t help that the story is unoriginal and the heroine made me want to wring her neck for pretty much the entire (seemingly interminable) fourteen hours and forty minutes of the audiobook. And I couldn’t help thinking that Ms. Rayner’s crystal-clear tones – while not unpleasant – are rather too bright for a romance. I kept expecting her to shout “jolly hockey sticks!” à la Joyce Grenfell whenever things got heated, difficult or angsty.
When we first meet our heroine, she and her older sister have been captured by a group of Norman knights. Her sister is raped, and the men are about to turn their attentions to Caryn when their lord, Raolfe de Gere, arrives in time to stop them. He rescues the sisters and delivers them to a local convent, where they remain for the next three years.
Caryn chafes under the strict routine of the convent and yearns for her freedom, even though her sister – who is mentally impaired due to a childhood accident – is happy and Caryn doesn’t think she could ever leave her. But the choice is taken away from her when men under the command of Stefan de Montreal storm the convent and help themselves to a half a dozen maidens – including Caryn – who they take to Braxton Keep where they are temporarily quartered. As the evil Stefan is about to have his way with Caryn, the lord of Braxton – Raolfe de Gere (Ral) – arrives and once again saves her from that terrible fate. The problem is that the only way he can do that is by proclaiming to everyone present that she is his betrothed. Caryn is horrified, wanting nothing whatsoever to do with the man she believes to have been one of those who raped her sister – but is convinced by Ral that it is either marriage to him or violation at the hands of de Montreal. This is probably the only time in the book that Caryn makes a sensible decision – she agrees to the marriage, but only on condition that she does not have to share Ral’s bed. In fact, she even asks him to continue to visit his mistress after they are married, alhough the few kisses they have shared have left her strangely warm and tingly. And confused.
This is 1072 when men were men and women were nothing; and Ral is a big, tough, manly man, so naturally, he avails himself of his wife’s permission to carry on shagging his bit on the side. While said bit on the side is your stereotypical spiteful beyotch, I couldn’t exactly blame Ral for continuing to sleep with her given his wife didn’t want him. Yet when I was treated to a sex scene between the pair (yeah, I could really have done without that – and there’s another one later on, too!) I found myself almost feeling sorry for the woman given how we’re told that all the while Ral is plundering her depths with his iron-hard manroot, he’s thinking about Caryn’s breasts and fantasising about her tight, wet ladyparts. Ugh.
Caryn eventually learns that Ral had nothing to do with her sister’s violation, decides that she fancies the pants off him and wants to get him into bed. After a bit of playing hard-to-get, Ral gives in (!) and bliss ensues. Until Ral starts to get ansty about the fact that he’s letting Caryn get too close or she has too much power over him… or something, so he decides to prove he is a big tough manly man – again – by shagging the bit on the side – again. I could sort of let the earlier strumpet rumpy-pumpy go, given that the marriage was in name only and there was no emotional connection between Ral and Caryn. But this time? Nope. And worse, we’re once again treated to Ral’s visualising Caryn instead of his mistress while doing the deed.
I was rolling my eyes so hard while listening to this it’s a wonder I can still see straight. In spite of his dumb manly insecurities, Ral is actually rather an attractive hero; a kind, patient (and by God did he need shedloads of patience!) and honourable man who, even when he makes the stupid mistake of having sex with another woman after he and Caryn have begun to share a bed – is solicitous of Caryn’s comfort and acts towards her like he’s a man very much in love –which he is. The problem is that I can’t work out why he would fall for Caryn, who is the worst kind of curl-tossing, foot-stamping, contrary heroine who defies her husband at every opportunity and even goes so far as to gainsay him in front of his men. She did nothing to earn my approbation or respect, and by the time it seems as though she’s finally started to grow up, it was too late, because I really couldn’t bring myself to give a flying… fig about her.
I recently reviewed a medieval romance in print format and said in my review that while I used to read a lot of medievals, I had not read many recently. Listening to Bold Angel reminded my why. It’s really difficult to write a medieval romance in which the hero and heroine fulfil the expectations of 21st century romance readers while also not behaving in a wildly anachronistic manner. This book, originally published in 1994, has the feel of a 70s or 80s bodice ripper.
There’s more I could say about the plot, but I think I’ve said enough to make it clear why I can’t recommend this audiobook. Sometimes a crappy storyline can be endured if you like listening to the narrator, but I can’t say I was particularly impressed by Lucy Rayner’s performance. I know that Shannon gave her narration in The Firebird an A and obviously we all have different tastes – but as I said at the beginning of this review, on the strength of her work here, I don’t think Ms. Rayner is particularly suited to narrating romance. She has a pleasing voice in the mezzo range, her pacing is fine and her diction is crystal clear, but sometimes her tone is overly harsh, and lacking in subtlety or expression. There were times I found myself wincing at obvious and painful overacting, usually when one of the female characters was being flirtatious or playful but ended up sounding like the worst kind of predatory vamp. Her male voices leave a lot to be desired, too. Ral is meant to be young, handsome and sexy, but instead he sounds puffed up, stuffy and portly. Stefan de Montreal, gets a suitably smarmy sounding nasal inflection, and Ms. Rayner makes use of a variety of regional accents with some success, although I did wonder why the Middle-Eastern healer, Hassan, sounded like an elderly English schoolmaster.
I will be giving one of those Julia Quinn audiobooks a try when they come out, in the hope that a better book might inspire a better performance from Ms. Rayner. But Bold Angel gets a big thumbs down in terms of both content and narration.
Book Content: D
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Combat, hunting - and at one point the hero puts the heroine over his knee and gives her arse a sound paddling!
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Bold Angel was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for a review.