The Iron Rose

Midnight Honor

Pale Moon Rider

Swept Away

My Forever Love by Marsha Canham
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21128-6
Ciaran Tamberlane is a knight of legendary ability. A member of the Order of Knights Templar, he has pledged his life to retaking the Holy Land back from the Saracens. His fighting skills as a Crusader have brought him acclaim from many, including England’s King Richard. Tamberlane’s dedication to the cause, however, is wavering because of the unending butchery. When he sees a wounded woman fleeing with a child in her arms, he comes to her defense and turns against her attackers, fellow Christian knights.

Amaranth has taken shelter in a small village in the north of England. She has fled her brutal husband Odo de Langois the day after their wedding. Her husband’s brother tried to rape her but blamed her, and her husband believed him. Their wedding night was marked by savagery and assault rather than lovemaking. This is her second nightmarish marriage. Amaranth’s uncle had sold her to an old man who had mistreated her then after she was widowed sold her to Odo.

Odo is not going to allow her to escape him. He and his men destroy the village killing all the residents. Amaranth is severely wounded, shot through the shoulder by an arrow, and nearly killed. A hunting band led by Tamberlane comes too late to the defense of the village but in time to save Amaranth.

Tamberlane takes her back to his castle. Now called the Dragon Slayer, he is in possession of a castle in a remote area. Excommunicated and disgraced by his renunciation of his vows, Tamberlane is suffering the medieval version of post-traumatic stress disorder. He has terrible nightmares and only wishes to live quietly. He gives Amaranth into the care of Marak, an albino Venetian who’s skilled in healing. Thanks to the care she receives from Marak and Inaya, a Saracen woman, Amaranth survives.

But she is not safe yet. Odo and his soldiers are at the castle gate.

This is described as an historical romance, but that’s something of a misnomer. It’s historical, but the romance doesn’t kick in until very late in the story. It’s not difficult to believe these two wounded souls could find respite in each other’s arms, but the chain of circumstances is not very credible. With virtually no warning, they’re attracted to each other. Considering their individual backgrounds –Tamberlane is a virgin and Amaranth has known sex as only violence – things go unbelievably well from the get-go.

For the first part of the book, Amaranth seems to be more taken with Marak than with Tamberlane. The guy who owns the castle is usually going to be the one who gets the heroine, but Marak is generally more intriguing. How he enters Tamberlane’s life is never revealed unless he was a character in an earlier book. Tamberlane’s transition from disenchanted Crusader welcoming death to withdrawn castle holder is too abrupt. It appears likely that Inaya and her boy are the wounded woman and infant Tamberlane rescued in the Outremer, but where’d Marak come from?

There are some implausible twists in the plot. Marak’s scheme to hide Amaranth in plain view from Odo is to disguise her as a boy (yes, that ploy again) and put her to work at the cooking fire. This raises an immediate red flag. How come the women who are cooking don’t immediately yell, “Hey! Who’re you?” This is a small, isolated castle and village. The women would certainly be familiar with every person in the vicinity.

Moreover, how’d Tamberlane get the appellation Dragon Slayer? It sounds impressive, but the guy’s been keeping a low profile, living a quiet life. The castle has a lot of dragon decorations that must fit into the name, but there’s no explanation. Was this part of an earlier draft of the story that was edited out?

And speaking of editing: a slight irritant when reading this story is the frequent change-about in names. He’s Tamberlane then he’s Ciaran. She’s really Elizabeth but called Amaranth or is it Amie? More careful editing could have brought uniformity.

The plot begins with a lot of action – marauding fighting men, daring rescue, a beautiful damsel in distress. There’s an awkward switch more than midway through –Tamberlane’s attention gets diverted from rescuing fair damsel to saving his king, and Amaranth turns out to have unexpected connections. Because this all seems to come out of thin air, it comes across as jarring. Once again the suspicion arises that something was edited out for this final version.

The last-minute romance, the abrupt transitions, and jerky plotting make for a book that is no more than acceptable. Readers who enjoy medievals and want them to be historically accurate, however, will be interested in finding one where the heroine doesn’t eat potatoes!

--Lesley Dunlap

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