Johanna Lindsey is without a doubt one of the Grande Dames of romantic fiction. I grew up reading her books and remember vividly the agonizing wait between each novel and the prayers of thanks I sent up whenever my patience was rewarded. However, Lindsey's latest release, Joining, is not the reward devoted fans deserve.
Eighteen-year-old Milisant Crispin is not your typical medieval lady. Not only does she not know anything about the "womanly arts," refuse to wear women's clothing and hunts, she is also outspoken, stubborn, independent and resents having been born a woman. She has also been betrothed since birth to Wulfric de Thorpe, the son of her father's dear friend, Guy. However, after a disastrous meeting when she was six and Wulfric thirteen which ended with both children limping away from the scene, both would be quite happy to avoid the marriage altogether, and thus is the Misunderstanding born.
Wulfric, to delay the dreaded joining, has kept busy fighting the battles of England's King John. His memory of their encounter remains fresh in his mind some 12 years later, and he has not been able to bring himself to marry a shrew who would make his life miserable. Despite his misgivings, under increasing pressure from his father who will not consider breaking the betrothal under any circumstances, Wulf goes to fetch Mili.
Needless to say, their second meeting confirms everything Wulf and Mili believe about the other and provides ongoing fuel for the continuation of the Misunderstanding throughout most of the novel. Added tension is created by several attempts to bump off Mili by de Thorpe's enemies who want to prevent the marriage from taking place.
Small mistakes aside, like the presence of sugar in medieval England, Lindsey has failed to bring anything new to her characters. Mili and Wulf are just variations on a theme that we all have seen too many times before. And ultimately, she gives us little reason to care if Wulf and Mili ever solve their differences.
Wulf is your atypical hero who seems ruled more by his lower extremity than his heart; the reader is never really given any reason to like or dislike him. Mili, on the other hand, was impossible for me to like or even empathize with. She was annoying in the extreme. I found her inability to compromise or consider the larger picture frustrating, and frankly would have cheered if Wulf had said, "Forget this, I'm going on a Crusade." The secondary characters fare no better and sadly, as I read the last page, my only thought was: "Thank goodness that's over."
Unfortunately, Lindsey seems to suffer from the same difficulties as many of the other women who made Romance what it is today - Catherine Coulter and Bertrice Small to name two. Loving them all, it has been quite painful to witness their failure to continue to grow as writers - to explore a different type of heroine or hero, expand their horizons or even keep up with current trends. Instead, they rely on the tried and true without seeming to realize that they do both themselves and their audience a disservice.
I cannot tell you not to buy Joining, but I will suggest you wait for the cheaper paperback edition and, even then, do not get your hopes up.