Reviewed by Jenn Leisey

In a time when honor and obedience are a woman’s biggest responsibilities, Mahelt Marshall is torn. How can she follow her husband and the Bigod family when her own brothers and father, the legendary William Marshall, are facing perils? Or swear allegiance to King John, whose paranoia-filled rule pounds away at England like a clenched fist? Can she find a way to keep her family safe, her marriage strong, and her fiery will intact under such oppression? Or will threats of tyranny and war provoke the King to take it all away from her . . . including her very life?

Spanning the years 1204-1218, To Defy a King tells the story of Mahelt, the eldest daughter of William Marshall. As the novel beings, Mahelt is betrothed to the Earl of Norfolk’s son, Hugh Bigod. The union would not be consummated until the spirited young Mahelt, or “Matty”, was fifteen – old enough to successfully bear children. However, when the relationship between Mahelt’s father and the King turns sour, the Marshall family leaves for their estate in Ireland. Mahelt is forced to marry a year earlier than planned, for her own safety.

As Hugh and Mahelt’s bond blossoms through the years, England’s situation with the King becomes turbulent. Demanding more and more family members be forced into service under his reign, King John ignites a fiery rebellion in Mahelt, much to the dismay of her father-in-law, whose word is final in the Bigod house. Eventually, not even the Bigod men can deny that something must be done about the King’s oppressive rule. But with a country divided into loyalists and traitors, no one’s livelihood – or life– is safe.

To Defy a King is an excellently crafted historical fiction of the early 13th century. The author’s attentiveness to the time period offers an animated and detailed depiction of clothes, food, dialect, and way of life, while elevating the larger themes of politics, family bonds, and relationships. The ebb and flow of plot will keep readers’ interests peaked to the very last page, making To Defy a King a must-have for both historical fans and fiction readers alike.

Rating: 4/5

Check out Elizabeth Chadwick’s guest post and read our review of For the King’s Favor

Since graduating from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Professional Writing, Jenn works as a freelance writer, poet, and blogger at south of sheridan. She resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, and loves baking, crafting, and anything that requires a hot glue gun.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.