I began this book with a great deal of pleasure, but major structural flaws caused the story to slow and lose energy along the way. By the time I reached the end, I felt like it had been a bit of an uphill climb.
Four and a half years ago, Elayna of Wulfere pledged herself to a young knight named Graeham of Penlogan and, even though she now believes him dead, no man has ever been able to make her forget him.
Her brother, Damon, head of the family since their parents’ death, has allowed her to remain single, but she believes he may feel compelled to accept her latest suitor. Ranulf, the man who was granted the title and lands that would have been Graeham’s, also saved Damon’s life.
Falsely accused of murder, Damon was imprisoned and tortured for a year until Ranulf produced a witness to say that the real murderer was Graeham’s father. Ranulf then traveled to Penlogan with a company of Damon’s men to escort Graeham to court where the king would decide if the murderer’s lands would be forfeit for his crime. Rather than comply, Graeham apparently drugged and murdered most of the party, then set fire to his home, impaled himself on his own sword and died in the blaze.
Naturally, this makes it difficult for Elayna to tell her brother that she would rather mourn his dead enemy than marry his influential friend, so she runs away with a minstrel troupe.
Unfortunately, when they find her hiding in their cart, they drop her at the side of the road and depart, fearing they’ll be accused of kidnapping her. Stumbling around in the woods, Elayna is gored by a boar and only saved from death when an arrow flies out of nowhere and kills the boar.
Anybody want to guess who shot the arrow? Everyone who guessed “Graeham” is correct. The rest of you need to read more romance.
Known simply as “Gray,” a reclusive herbalist, Graeham now lives quietly in the forest, knowing that, without proof of the treachery that was committed against his family, his life is forfeit if he’s found. He’s found peace and fulfillment, and does not appreciate Elayna dropping into his life and stirring up things he would rather forget.
Structured like a contemporary suspense novel, with periodic forays into the point of view of an unnamed villain, one of the difficulties is that readers will be quite sure they know the identity of the villain from very early in the book. It’s set up like a suspense story, but there’s no suspense. A last-ditch attempt by the author to liven the situation up is too little, too late.
We also learn pretty much all we’re going to about Elayna and Graeham fairly early on. I’m usually a fan of stories in which the hero and heroine find themselves alone together for a long period of time; it focuses the story firmly on the romance. Unfortunately, these two go around in circles, repeating information we already know.
Graeham has only two, albeit very nice, dimensions, and a situation in which he wants to return Elayna to her family and she refuses to go somehow gets translated into him holding her “captive.” Not only was this questionable logic, but it also prompted Elayna to make several silly attempts to “escape,” forcing Gray to repeatedly haul her back.
The conclusion is dragged down by the fact that both readers and characters already have most of the information. This makes the climax anticlimactic and forces the big surprise to be explained in a rush of narrative because the clock has run out.
Ms. McMinn is by no means the first romance writer to blurt out too much explanation in the beginning and forget to hold enough back to sustain the reader’s interest through the rest of the book. This story had definite potential, and trickling out the pertinent information in a more tantalizing fashion and developing a more rounded picture of her characters would have made an enormous difference to its readability.