New author Malia Martin offers readers a unique romance set against the backdrop of the Norman invasion in Her Norman Conqueror. This is a rich story, and fans of medieval romance will be kept awake, reading.
Aleene, lady of Seabreeze Castle, is in a desperate hurry to marry. King Harold has decreed that she shall marry her loathsome stepbrother Aethregarde, son of the man who abused her for many years. In order to show the King that she is strong enough to hold the castle without Aethregarde, Aleene has determined to marry the first available man she finds.
What she has found is a filthy poacher, a simpleton with the manners of a savage. Aleene marries him anyway and names him Cynewulf. On their wedding night, Aleene's memories of her years of abuse return and she is unable to consummate their marriage, a necessity if she is become pregnant and render the marriage unassailable. Her shock the next morning at seeing the newly washed Cynewulf leads her to believe that marriage to a simpleton may not be such a bad thing. He is a physically beautiful man.
Cynewulf, of course, is no simpleton, but readers will have to wait until the second half of the book to find out who he is and why he is in England. Aleene will need to come to terms with his betrayal and "Cynewulf" will need to fight to regain the love of this woman. She is an unexpected diversion in an otherwise carefully-calculated maneuver, and once he finds her, he discovers that he cannot let her go.
It's difficult to say more without giving away too much of the plot. Let's just say that the characterizations are rich and the story kept me reading long into the night. The sexual tension between Cynewulf and Aleene is there from the start; he is also quick to realize that she has been badly hurt in the past. Cynewulf leads Aleene down a delicate path of healing, and does it with gentleness. His vulnerability as he struggles to let go of his long-held ambitions and his clumsiness as he gropes toward this new love are a perfect contrast.
There are just enough secondary characters in this book to fill it out without losing the focus. Aethregarde is suitable slimy; the King is wiser than we hope for, and the historical background is entertaining.
Ms. Martin tackles the subject of child sexual abuse honestly and with candid emotion. Aleene is damaged in spirit and psyche, and there is no instant reformation here. Her beliefs that she is dirty, unworthy, and unlovable are heartbreaking. Cynewulf's reassurances are equally touching.
There were a few clinkers, mainly in the use of some modern language. I highly doubt that people of Aleene's time worried about "self-esteem", for example. But overall, these people sounded authentic.
Her Norman Conqueror is fine fare for lovers of medieval romance. Malia Martin delivers a beautiful story; this is one that you'll remember.
Meet this author! Check out our New Faces interview with Malia Martin.