A Rose in Winter by Shana Abe
(Bantam, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-53-57787-5
*
Solange is the only surviving child of the Marquess of Ironstag. Damon, the orphaned son of the Marquess of Lockewood, is Ironstag's ward. Solange and Damon grow up together, and as they grow up, they fall in love. They hope to marry one another, but Ironstag has other plans. He can end a generations-long feud if he marries Solange to the Earl of Redmond.

Solange balks, but Ironstag persuades her by telling her he will cast Damon out, friendless and penniless, if she does not marry Redmond with every appearance of complaisance. On the other hand, if she goes along with the plan, Ironstag will do everything in his power to get Damon's lands back, even appealing to the king. Solange acquiesces.

A heartbroken Damon leaves Ironstag to make his fortune, while Solange leaves her home in the company of an evil man. Eight years later, fate will bring them back together,

Reading A Rose in Winter was an exercise in mingled irritation and boredom. Irritation, because of all the historical inaccuracies, geographical confusion and gaps in logic. Boredom because both the characters and the writing style were bland and failed to capture my attention.

Damon and Solange seem more like collections of characteristics than living, breathing people. We are told that he is interested in medicine and is a fearsome warrior; we are told she is weatherwise and that she has been feared much of her life for it. But we don't see what impact these characteristics have on the characters. Why does Damon want to heal? How does he reconcile his desire to heal with his killing skills? Why doesn't Solange fear being accused of witchcraft for her uncanny weather forecasting abilities? Does she even realize that, in asking people to treat her with inappropriate informality, she is putting herself beyond the social pale? I had no sense that either character had a coherent internal life.

In addition, there is little real conflict between the characters or within the characters once they come back together, lessening the tension to a considerable degree. I had no sense that there would be problems or difficulties once they are reunited. I was mildly curious to find out what the inevitable ending crisis would be, though I had a good suspicion.

Now to the inaccuracies. They begin immediately, with Solange wearing lace when lace wasn't invented until the 16th century. Then, she and Damon are the children of marquesses, at least 200 years before the title was created in England. Solange uses a glass mirror to examine her appearance, at a time when very wealthy people used polished silver. Men wear cotton garments before cotton comes to Europe. Solange hears the song of a cardinal, a member of the finch family native to North America. Damon, going to Solange in France, is aghast at having to cross "the ocean" because it will take "a month at least." The distance between Dover in England and Calais in France is 21 miles.

I'm not a history professor, just an interested layperson, so the knowledge I have that made these errors apparent is not particularly specialized. In fact, I was able to double-check everything listed above in an ordinary encyclopedia. One or two of these inaccuracies would not have been worth mentioning. But to find them every couple of pages or so made it impossible for me to suspend disbelief for more than a moment or two. And that is fatal.

The degree of history readers want in their historical romances varies. Some of us like full-blown court intrigues, with historical characters aiding or thwarting the hero and heroine. Others of us like just enough history to add a flavor of a distant time and place. But I would venture to guess that we all expect that the history, however much or little it appears in the story, will be researched and accurate. Unfortunately, A Rose in Winter fails completely to meet that expectation and sadly doesn't even offer a moving or particularly interesting romance in compensation.

--Katy Cooper


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