Secret Vows

 
The Maiden Warrior by Mary Reed McCall
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81787-X
***
When fourteen-year-old Gwynne handfasts herself to Aidan de Brice, little do these young lovers know that a twelve-year separation is in store for them. For Gwynne is stolen away by Welsh bandits who believe she is their Dark Legend - a warrior meant to lead them to victory against the hated English. And Aidan is English.

Twelve years later, Aidan and a band of knights ride into battle against Welsh rebels, and Aidan is shocked to see Gwynne in the lead. He retreats and arranges a meeting with the Welsh band, where he discovers that Gwynne has no memory of him or their marriage. Aidan devises a plan. He claims Gwynne as his wife and tells her he needs her to come with him to get the marriage annulled so he can marry another. Aidan is convincing. With four of his men left behind as hostages, Gwynne and Aidan ride to Aidanís home, Craeloch Castle.

Aidan is determined to get Gwynne to remember their time together. His jealous sister, Diana, plots against this strange Welsh woman. Eventually, Gwynne will remember her past, but what will happen now that sheís the leader of a Welsh army and Aidan is her sworn enemy?

The Maiden Warrior is a likable book. Both Gwynne and Aidan are empathetic characters; confused and unsure, their re-kindled romance is sweet. Gwynne is a bit of a caricature, sort of a Xena-gone-Welsh, and the Dark Legend aspect was hard to swallow. Sheís tall and knows how to use a sword; therefore nobody has ever guessed sheís a woman?

Aidan really does have a fiancťe of sorts, which makes his dilemma even more palpable. Heís a decent man, wanting Gwynne all over again and wondering how in the heck heís going to pull this off without getting someone killed. And what about his loyalties to his English king? Heís supposed to be fighting the Welsh, not seducing their leader.

What bogs the book down is the middle section at Craeloch Castle. To be frank, not much happens. Aidan pursues Gwynne, who fights him off, but she canít resist his kisses, etc. There was nothing particularly memorable about it. And itís too bad, because the authorís writing is technically excellent. Thereís little in the way of purple prose, the story moves along briskly, but it moves briskly past the same scenery for far too long.

The romance between Gwynne and Aidan is quite alluring. Heís in love with her and knows it; sheís falling for him and canít seem to resist even though she knows itís all wrong. Thereís a nice amount of sexual tension here, enough to please those who like their romance with a little steam.

The Maiden Warrior doesnít cover much new ground, but itís a decent sophomore effort from a promising historical author. Take a chance - you may be delighted that you did.

--Cathy Sova


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