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Summary

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance...but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

©2012 Stella Riley (P)2016 Stella Riley

Critic reviews

“A rich sweeping and instantly involving tale ... a rare pleasure to narrate.” - Alex Wyndham

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  • Caz
  • Frinton-on-Sea
  • 20-12-16

Wonderful story, wonderful narration!

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

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Absolutely Splendid

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

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    5 out of 5 stars

A Splendid Defiance

Superbly read. An extremely well researched and fascinating insight into a small part of the civil war interwoven with a beautiful love story.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful

Embodies emotional portraits of characters lives lived in the time that history books give facts about.. Alex Wyndham breaths life into their souls.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Genius!

I can honestly say that this book was among the best I have read. Superb. Third listen and it doesn't get boring. Alex as narrator is the very best.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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riveting

really enjoyable, couldn't stop listening, more of the same please, can't wait for the next Stella Riley!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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An engaging audio version of the text!

I loved this book so much I listened again. A good historical recollection of the times. I enjoyed finding out things related to the residents of Banbury all those years ago.

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  • Felicia J
  • 08-01-17

A rare reader's gift

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.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • BJ's Reviews
  • 26-02-17

5 Story/Narration Stars!

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

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  • Cate F.
  • 23-12-16

Brilliant narrator, Beautiful Story, Best of 2016

The slow unrolling of this love story was perfect for the coming together of two very different individuals. While I am a lifelong history buff, I have never paid much attention to the period of the British Civil Wars. They make an exciting backdrop and add depth to the tale of the obstacles encountered by Abigail and Justin on their path toward HEA. I was completely engaged by A Splendid Defiance. Stella Riley's intelligent and perceptive book was interpreted perfectly by the brilliant narrator, Alex Wyndham.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • sara
  • 20-04-17

:)

the narrarator was fantastic and did all the characters voices amazingly. the story was sweet and moving. would definitely recommend this book

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Elizabeth
  • 10-01-17

Beautiful love story

With the backdrop of history, well written. Stella Riley does a fine job of weaving enough history into a plausible story. The hero's scruples are admirable in the end if at first I wanted to throttle him for believing his attentions were harmless. I hope this is the start of another trilogy.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Lady Wesley
  • 26-04-17

Stella and Alex are a Stellar Combination

If you enjoy a good dose of history (here the English Civil War) with your heart-rending romance, then you can't do better than listening to Alex Wyndham's magnificent performance of this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Alma Valencia
  • 29-03-18

That Voice!

I would follow that sultry voice anywhere! The tones and inflections were amazing! Truly an enjoyable listen.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth B
  • 13-03-18

Stunning and captivating

I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is a fascinating account of two completely different characters from uniquely different backgrounds, yet both harsh and unyielding in their own way. Abigail is from the repressive and claustrophobic world of religious fanaticism that was coupled with a horror of non conformism and intolerance. Abigail and her sister in law Rachel demonstrate two responses to this system. Rachel is manipulative and hardenned, intolerant of her softer and gentler sister in law. Abigail struggles to maintain her individuality and softness, taunted by Rachel and beaten by her brother Jonas. Rachel and Jonas despise her uniqueness and try to beat her both emotionally and physically into conformism. Alice her mother is beaten down and timid. Samuel her younger brother is also on conformism but being a male less guarded but also a square peg in a round(head) hole. Jonas is a brute, encouraged by Rachel and the system. Their house is stifling and Abigail and Samuel both seek for escape. Enter Justin , a soldier in the Kings army, bitter from his own family's betrayal. He has been stripped of his inheritance by his half brother and the Roundheads and has become morose and moody. The army are in possession of the castle and they live there in another claustrophobic world and fighting, women and drinking. He has become hard. He and Abigail meet and somehow a friendship develops as both desperately need love and an outlet from their daily existance. Jonas and Justin despise each other from the first, even before Abigail and Samuel (who hero worships Justin and the army) become involved. The English civil war is the stage in which a private civil war plays out. I love the history and complexity of the characters. Alex Wyndham brings his wonderful narrative to this rich and largely horrifying world and once again delivers a stellar performance. It left me with a thirst to learn more of this periodl. A must read


1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • noagnes
  • 20-02-18

Tortured hero and oppressed heroine find love

Any additional comments?

After reading some of the author's Georgian romances, I continued with this book, set in the English Civil War era. The idea of political enemies being in love is compounded with the cultural/religious difference. The hero, Justin Ambrose, is a captain in the Royalist army holding Banbury Castle, a Cavalier with a cynical outlook on life, ready to flirt with any pretty woman but unwilling to acknowledge deeper emotions. The heroine Abigail Radford, a puritan shopkeeper's sister in the town, reared in an oppressively fanatical surrounding, where people judged even innocent entertainments and as sinful, disdaining merriment and singing even at Christmas. However, they are both open-minded enough to eventually recognize the other's true hidden qualities, and reasonable enough to see the mistakes of their own political side and bridge the gap of their different allegiance. In the end, they both overcome their past and form a strong relationship, although it seems doomed to tragedy until the last minute. I must say, there is a lot of suffering and trouble before the happiness. I very much enjoyed the complexity of both the hero's and the heroine's character. Justin had a lot of cynicism, a roughness, almost savage side, that wouldn't suit a hero in a more refined, peaceful era - but he was also kind, responsible to the point of torturing himself over the loss of his soldiers in action, and honorable to a rare degree. I don't think I often saw a romance hero so adamantly refusing to make love to his beloved when he thought it might harm her. And Abby was sweet, naive and kind, but she had a hidden strength and she defied both the puritanical conventions and his tyrannical brother when she felt in the right. She was also strong enough to call Justin out on his sometimes hurtful behavior. The sibling relationship of Abby and her younger brother Samuel was also enjoyable.
I enjoyed the historical aspects, the descriptions of sieges, raids, political conflicts, especially the characters of Prince Rupert and John Lilburn. I will definitely read other books of the author set in the same era.
I listened to the audiobook edition of this book, and the performance of Alex Wyndham was marvellous. The story came to life in his play of voices, the characters and the emotions illustrated wonderfully. A trull praiseworthy performance - but then, all the books I listened to in his narration were superb. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to any historical romance fans who don't turn away from more complex, emotionally intense and rich in adventure stories.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • BOOKTALK WITH EILEEN
  • 19-08-17

Remarkedly well performed~a story superbly written

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed learning about the opposing forces of the English Civil War.  The story didn’t go heavily into historical events, but gave a flavor of the crucial differences between its players.The English Civil War, comprised of three wars, whose time spans between 1642 and 1651.  Banbury is an interesting setting for the story.  During the Civil War emotions ran high with polarizing views in this town used as an operational base by Oliver Cromwell.The town’s majority of people are of Puritan persuasion. The Cavaliers hold the castle, with Justin Ambrose as captain. They are holding out against the Parliamentarians.  The town is pro-parliamentarian, therefore do very little willingly for the Cavaliers.The town’s people, however, are short of funds, people are not spending money, at least very little. Jonas Radford, a fabric shopkeeper, finally acquiesces to supply fabric to the Cavaliers. He is a man of little soft emotion, treating his family harshly and on occasion cruelly. He’s extreme in every respect. His mother is cowed, his young brother, Samuel, deals with him using belligerency to cope, his sister, Abigail, is treated like a servant by both Jonas and his new wife, Rachel. Rachel and Jonas are sharp-tongued producing a bitter environment.The story becomes complex when Anne Rhodes joins the castle, needing protection as a widow of the war, and pursues Justin, a handsome and capable man.  Justin is wary of her attention.  He instinctively keeps his distance.However, when Justin is terribly burnt in a fire battling the Parliamentarians, Anne says she’s a healer and offers her services. She does more harm than good.Abigail has met the handsome captain. He provided protection from a situation which would have ended badly for her.  She is thankful and wishes to repay her debt to him when she hears of his wounds. She goes to the castle with Samuel, basket of healing herbs in hand, provided by her mother.Anne Rhodes befriends Samuel when he accompanies Abigail and to borrow books from Justin’s library. Samuel ends up being a go-between for Anne, who sends small packages from time to time to leaders of the Parliamentarian forces. He’s playing a dangerous game.Abigail is riddled with problems.  The war, her family’s rigid rules and unhappiness, and now her fear of a town’s smith.  He’s paying too much attention to her.  We find out he is unbalanced to say the least.Narrator Alex Wyndham makes this entertaining and poignant story more remarkable with his voice characterization.  The smith’s voice, with its timbre, almost menacing tone, and slow, plodding marked cadence of speech gave my mind’s eye fodder enough to produce a true oaf of a man.  It is easy to understand why Abigail doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Wyndham’s drinking songs, actually sung, are a bonus in keeping with the spirit of the story.Things look increasingly bad for Abigail when Jonas decides the smith is to be her husband.  Desperation sets in.  She is beyond panicky and seeks help from Justin Ambrose.The narrator and author make a team which creates a superb, brilliant and pleasing production, no less marvelous this series than the Rockliffe series, produced by the same team.  I would heartedly recommend the author’s stories with their conflicted characters and intrigue and encourage you to listen to the audio.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful