Love At First Sight by Sandra Lee
(Bantam, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58008-6
Once in a while, a medieval comes along that is so refreshing in its premise, wit, and general charm that it's impossible not to fall under its spell. Love At First Sight was such a book, at least for me. And the fact that it's a debut book bodes well for historical romance lovers. Sandra Lee has the knack.

Golde is both a healer and general prophetess-of-all-work. Villagers come to her for help and to have their fortunes told, and the same women who mocked her as a child for her unusual appearance (one brown eye and one green eye) are now seeking her advice. Golde tells them what they need to know, but hides the greatest secret of all.

She's a complete fraud. Golde no more has mystical powers than she can fly.

Granddaughter of a woman who truly does have some powers, Golde has managed to make her way and help her granny Mimskin by putting on a good show for the "culls". Now Golde's biggest challenge shows up on her doorstep. It's an emissary from Gavarnie, Baron of Skyenvic, who has lost his sight following the murder of his wife. Golde will accompany the emissary to the baron's castle and heal him. No excuses accepted.

Unfortunately for Golde, Gavarnie has no idea she's been sent for. When "the old witch-woman" arrives, he's skeptical, to put it mildly, and their initial meetings are hilarious as Golde refuses to take his insults and returns them in kind. He does offer her a job looking after his three unruly children, convinced that a "hag" cannot return his sight. Gavarnie believes he murdered his faithless wife in a drunken rage, and he'll not love again. Golde's musical voice and sheer brazenness pique his interest, and he finds himself wanting to see again if only to see what she looks like.

Intrigue abounds at Skyenvic, and Golde is soon in the thick of it. It's obvious from the start that Gavarnie didn't murder his wife after all, but who did? And why? Whether Gavarnie's sight can be restored and their unwilling attraction brought to fruition is the heart of this story, though.

What sets this book apart from other medievals is its wit. Inventive curses aside, Golde manages to get through her difficult life by viewing each day with a wry cynicism that covers her own insecurities at being tall, plain, and odd-eyed. Her approach to life is to grab it by the ears and deal with it head-on, and this leads to much of the humor in the story. Her first encounter with Gavarnie's small sons (whom she nicknames "the brat" and "the bug") are typical. They set upon her and attempt to poke her with a wooden sword; she quickly bests them and then gives them some advice on how to handle an opponent. I liked this woman. She's a bit of a medieval wise-ass, and that was fine by me.

Gavarnie was equally well-crafted in his own way. His frustration at his loss of sight is palpable, and readers can feel how much he yearns to be whole again. He's not model-handsome, either; his face is scarred from smallpox, yet Golde finds him irresistible, as he does her. Nice twist.

The only slight irritant in this story is Gavarnie's quickness to assume that Golde is his enemy when circumstances indicate. That he struggles against his conscience and still assumes the worst, more than once, is a bit exasperating. I'd hoped for a bit better from him.

The richly detailed settings add life to the book. Sandra Lee is smart enough to know that it's the unpleasant details that make the story realistic, and smelly rooms and pig dung all have their place in creating a medieval world.

This is an excellent first effort, and I strongly recommend Love At First Sight for historical romance readers. Golde and Gavarnie will steal your hearts.

--Cathy Sova

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