Simon Warleigh and Isabelle Kelsey are two people with reason to be distrustful and resist love. Dragonís Dower is the tale of their journey to discover they can love and trust, and it is one to savor.
This story is full of common plotlines: intrigue in King Johnís court, forced marriage, a power-hungry father and vows of revenge. Catherine Archerís dialogue, character development and the use of switching from one person to another as the narrator sets this book apart by helping the reader understand the motivation behind every action.
Simon is out to avenge the death of his mentor, known as the Dragon. He wants to bring Lord Kelsey to justice. Kelsey betrayed the Dragon and was the cause of his death many years before. Kelsey initially gains the upper hand when he reports a plot against King John led by Simon. Although untrue, Simon has no way to prove his innocence and is forced to agree to a marriage of convenience to Kelseyís daughter. King John thinks to solve two problems by doing thisÖkeeping a loyal followerís eye on Simon and by threatening Simonís lands, ensuring his cooperation.
Isabelle Kelsey is not your typical medieval daughter. She is well-read, quick-witted and a master at hiding her true feelings. Kelsey has raised her to be meek and obedient, and Isabelle has learned that she must feign these traits in order to protect herself and all she loves from his harm. Kelsey taught her this lesson in many ways, an example being killing a dog she loved when she was a child, just to show her what her disobedience might bring.
Isabelle meets Simon and is drawn to him, but her innate distrust of people is difficult to break through. Simon sees Isabelle as a paradox, one he grows to want and love, yet whom he vows to hold apart. Simon thinks if he does not consummate the marriage, then he can break away from Kelsey by getting an annulment when he regains his land. Isabelle just wants a child from Simon, so that she can run away to a maiden aunt and pour all of her pent-up love onto the child. Lord Kelsey wants Isabelle to get with child so he has claim to the Warleigh lands, thereby freeing him to instigate an ďaccidentĒ resulting in Simonís death.
Simon often thinks Isabelle is a cold woman with no cares but to obey her father. When he catches glimpses of a different woman, he is lured towards her warmth and the promise of love. Isabelle sees Simon as both a warrior and a gentle man, yet she has learned her lessons of mistrust well. This creates a lot of scenes where the two come together and then force themselves to part in anger or lies. It is only Archerís handling of the narration that keeps this from becoming tiresome.
The romance progresses slowly and yet in a way that makes sense. When Simon and Isabelle do get together, the scenes are both sexy and romantic, giving enough detail to make the images leap from the pages while not being indecent.
One small element that disturbs me is the lack of the realities of the time period. When Simon decides to share Isabelleís bedroom to keep up appearances, he sleeps on the floor with no real acknowledgement that this is a cold stone floor. When they journey to London, there is no sense of the dangers or inconveniences of the times. In many ways, this story could be set in a variety of settings and would not distract from the main storyline.
Archer is apparently using this book to launch a trilogy about Simon and his two friends, all of whom were young squires of the Dragon. If Dragonís Dower is indicative of the series, I look forward to the release of the next two books.