The Knight & the Rose
The Maiden & the Unicorn

 
Moonlight and Shadow by Isolde Martyn
(Berkley, $14.00, PG) ISBN 0-425-18608-3
**
This, my first Isolde Martyn, was not a smooth reading experience. Moonlight and Shadow delivers on the history (in fact, it goes overboard) but the romance leaves a lot to be desired. In the end, the book was more tedious than anything else.

Heloise Ballaster is a maid of honor to the Duchess of Gloucester, and she lives in terror that her Second Sight and silver hair will brand her as a witch. When her cruel father summons her home, Heloise knows that trouble is waiting. Sheís right. Her father kidnaps Sir Miles Rushden, friend and adviser to the Duke of Buckingham, and forces them to marry - at knifepoint, no less. Miles, furious, escapes on their wedding night, vowing never to lay eyes on Heloise again. If Miles can get to the right people, perhaps the marriage can be annulled - a feat both of them would relish. Her enraged father promptly throws Heloise out of her home.

Heloise is approached by her old friend Margery, the Duke of Gloucesterís sister-in-law, who intimates that the king and Gloucester would be pleased to have her take up residence with her husband inside the walls of Buckinghamís estate. In other words, to be the kingís ears in case Buckingham decides to mount an insurrection. Heloise promptly heads for Buckinghamís Welsh estate. When she arrives, she is mistaken for Lady Haute, a governess who is enroute to Wales to supervise the dukeís spoiled little son. Heloise does nothing to correct their false assumption. Miles is not at the castle, so Heloise settles in and begins to bond with little Ned. Then Miles returns to find his ďbrideĒ now a member of the household. His plans to marry another are put on hold while he and Heloise try to figure out what to do with one another.

When the King of England dies, the houses of York and Lancaster will be thrown into turmoil again. The action shifts to London and a court full of political intrigue. By this time, Miles finds his resentment being replaced by curiosity and lust, and Heloise is already half in love with her husband.

Thatís a bare-bones outline of a complex plot - so complex, in fact, that the author opens the book with a full-page pedigree chart followed by a four-page index of the cast of characters. Fans of this particular period in Englandís history will undoubtedly love this book a lot more than I did. As it was, the need to keep flipping to the front pages just to keep the characters and storyline straight was more than distracting - it was frustrating and made me lose the continuity of the plot.

The romance wasnít riveting in any case. Heloise and Miles spend most of the book bickering and sniping at each other and bemoaning their fate. This medieval whinefest is occasionally interrupted by a spate of longing glances and lustful thoughts, then itís back to snapping at each other. Toward the end, they decide to stay married and from then on, itís a short step to love - too short. The characterizations simply didnít allow me to believe this - not for one moment.

Moonlight and Shadow is a difficult book to rate. Ms. Martyn obviously knows her history, and this is both her strength and her downfall. The setting isnít just wallpaper; the characters and events of the time are neatly inserted into the story and drive the plot forward. However, itís my guess that few readers will have the necessary background in history for this book to be a smooth read. At places the book simply bogs down, overloaded with historical detail.

Technically, the writing is excellent. The language of the period comes to life and the day-to-day events so well presented that you may well find yourself lost in medieval England, in more ways than one.

In the end, the romance isnít developed well and the history overwhelms the plot, precise history though it may be. For fourteen dollars, I want a book thatís a joyride, not a heavy slog. Unless you are a diehard history buff with a special appreciation for the War of the Roses, I simply canít recommend Moonlight and Shadow.

--Cathy Sova


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