By Queen's Grace

By King's Decree

The Conqueror

Lord of the Manor

Knave of Hearts by Shari Anton
(Harl. Historical #547, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29147-7
Following By King's Decree and Lord of the Manor, Shari Anton's latest literary work tells us the story of the youngest Wilmont brother, Stephen. Having never read the predecessors to Knave of Hearts, I can safely say this book stands alone. And better yet, it's a medieval romance definitely worth reading.

Stephen of Wilmont and Marian de Lacy became lovers at the age of sixteen and carried on a brief affair. Stephen, unaware of the fact that he'd made Marian pregnant, sets off to find himself and explore the world after their time together comes to an end. Marian, meanwhile, leaves her father's home under his threat of banishment because she won't divulge the name of the noble that has impregnated her.

Six years and a lot of maturity later, Stephen meets Marian's cousin Carolyn and, not realizing them to be related, begins courting her because he believes the beautiful Carolyn will make him a sensible if not particularly endearing wife. When Stephen claps eyes on his first lover again, however, it isn't long before his thoughts begin straying toward and remaining on Marian.

At the same time, Marian begins to entertain doubts that she had made the correct decision six years ago by not telling Stephen about his twin daughters and giving him the opportunity to do the right thing by them. She wonders how long it will take before people begin to notice the resemblance between them and also wonders if she can bear to watch her own cousin marry the only man she has ever loved.

Anton does an excellent job of keeping the plot suspenseful even though the reader is fully aware of the fact that Stephen is the father of Marian's daughters from the beginning of the read. The suspense, among other aspects, comes from waiting for the news to be delivered to Stephen and witnessing how he will react to it. There are moments when you just itch for Marian to confess all and the author times the eventual confession perfectly.

Another plus for this book is the characters, both primary and secondary. The protagonists are a hero and heroine worth rooting for, both of them with their strengths and shortcomings, neither of them inclined toward fighting their feelings for the other one once they realize what those feelings are. The secondary characters are just as well-scripted and, indeed, a burgeoning romance between two of them provides for some intriguing moments.

While I suppose the initial premise of Knave of Hearts is a tad weak, as it's improbable at best and unthinkable at worst that a medieval well-born woman such as Marian would rather run off and care for her daughters alone than give her father the name he sought and let him demand a marriage from Stephen. Weak premise or not, I was too charmed by the story to care, and in the end the ability to capture the imagination of one's readers is always what counts the most.

--Tina Engler

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