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Carried Away

Wonderful

 
Wild by Jill Barnett
(Pocket, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-00413-1
****
Sir Roger FitzAllen first appeared last year in Jill Barnett's popular Wonderful as a secondary character in search of his own story. Well, here it is. In her typically airy and entertaining style, Barnett drops the stubborn English warrior into unfamiliar territory that can best be described as somewhat enchanted.

As fans of Barnett will no doubt recall, in Wonderful Roger was captivated by an Arabian stallion and the mysterious beauty who somehow managed to elude his capture. In Wild, Roger once again meets up with both horse and rider, although not under the conditions he might have wished. Heading into the wild Welsh hills at the request of King Edward to scope out the site for new castle, Roger and his men catch a glimpse of Earl Merrick's missing stallion. Roger gives chase, but loses the trail when the woods give way to a maze of tangled thickets and briars.

The woman he chases is Teleri, a fey young lady raised in the "old ways" and at one with the spirits and animals who call the Brecon woods their home. Teleri lives buried safely within the protected depth of the forest, and that's the way she likes it. Too often brutalized by the ignorant and superstitious who stone her and call her a witch, Teleri lives quietly, if a bit lonely within the woods.

As fate would have it, Teleri is searching for her missing "magic" stones when she happens upon Roger, unconscious and lying at the foot of a tree with a rope around his neck. Clearly someone has tried to hang him and would have succeeded had the branch not snapped. Teleri attempts to take care of Roger as she would any of the wounded animals in her care. But when the delirious man's thrashing results in Tereri's first shiner, she has no choice but to tie him down. When the warrior awakens to find himself staked to the ground with a brutal sore throat, no voice, and a badly injured leg to boot…he just plain ain't happy. Openly suspicious of the woodland creature who saved his life, Roger is even more horrified by the prospect of what could have been. The attempted murder leaves more than just external scars. Roger is terrified by the realization that his life could very well have ended, and that emotion sickens him. He thinks himself a coward.

To Teleri Roger is anything but a coward. She's fascinated by the big redheaded soldier, and tries her best to give him the room he needs to heal…both inside and out. Before long the seclusion of the quiet woods combined with Teleri's affable nature begins to sooth Roger's troubled soul. For all that he feels he is hiding from reality, he also begins to appreciate Teleri's hidden world and is fascinated by her almost magical bond with animals. And although he professes to love another, he responds to Teleri as a woman – something Roger finds as perplexing as Teleri finds magical. When the inevitable happens and two disparate worlds collide, both the warrior and the fey child of the woods are forced to face their fears.

The legions of Miss Barnett's fans will be quite content to throw themselves into the gentle and persuasive warmth of another of her beguiling tales. In Teleri, Barnett has created a guileless, gentle soul unskilled in the ways of the world who speaks her mind without fear of societies' recriminations. Any man would find her hard to resist, let alone a heartsick warrior who, through her ministrations, comes to recognize the fact that his life has been nothing more than one aimless trek. Almost in spite of himself, Roger softens in the face of Teleri's open-hearted view of the world – a world that can still be full of mystery and beauty, despite the danger and sorrow it also brings. Teleri herself is confounded at times by the contrasts that are Roger.

"He stopped her fingers with his big hand and turned her palm to his mouth and kissed it. It was one of those tender things he did to her that never ceased to surprise her. And every time he did so, she lost a little more of her heart to this man."

Barnett's easy way with words give way to emotional passages that convey the inner conflicts affecting these two very different, but very proud characters. There is less light humor than can be found in previous Barnett efforts, but the tone is far from serious.

My only real complaint is the abruptness with which the hanging threads of the story are tied up in one big knot. It's as if, their idyll at an end, the characters are rushed through a series of obligatory scenes to set the stage for the happily ever after. The last few chapters of the book are crammed with so many scenes that I had the distinct feeling that a "cut, cut, cut" edict had come down from on high, forcing the author to roll 100 pages or so of story into one quarter of the space. The result is a somewhat less than satisfactory ending.

But that isn't enough to keep me from recommending the thoroughly entertaining and readable, Wild.

--Ann McGuire


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