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Her Secret Guardian
by Linda Needham
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-380-79634-1
****
I waffled a while about how to rate this book. Should I recommend it or is it simply an acceptable read? Well, my doubts came to an end as I read the gripping final chapters of this medieval romance. Her Secret Guardian left me completely satisfied.

Kailey (I hope and trust that Needham found this name on some medieval document somewhere and didn't just make it up) Hewett is an orphan of 20 in 12th century England. She has lived all her life with one guardian after another. All had taken good care of this propertyless young woman. Their concern seemed especially inexplicable since Kailey knew that her father had been executed for treason early in the reign of Henry II and her mother had died of grief shortly thereafter.

Despite the tragic fate of her parents, Kailey's upbringing has resulted in a happy, caring, lively, and lovely young woman. Now her most recent guardian, Sir Robert is dying. Kailey is called into his chamber and introduced to a stern faced man, Simon de Marchand, sheriff and king's justiciar. She is surprised to discover that Simon is Sir Robert's son and that her guardian wishes her to marry Simon before he dies. She is also shocked to discover that Simon seems to hate and despise her beloved Sir Robert.

Kailey and Simon are speedily wed and she is shocked to discover that her new husband will not even stay for his father's funeral. She agrees to depart speedily, but only if she can bring her "family" with her, a "family" that consists of an aging jester and a youthful squire. "Family" means a great deal to Kailey, but she wonders how she will create a family with this austere and forbidding man she has married.

Simon is a man who has devoted himself to the king's justice. He has studied both common and Roman law and is reputed to have one of the finest legal minds in England. He is also a man with secrets, secrets that relate to Kailey, secrets that might threaten the love that he feels for her and that she comes to feel for him.

In addition to the love story, Her Secret Guardian offers a mystery or two, as the logical Simon discovers that his wife's unorthodox ideas and behavior can contribute to his pursuit of just and fair judgments as well as help him uncover the perpetrators of a serious case of fraud.

As I examine my reaction to Her Secret Guardian, I wonder why I was waffling about the rating. For example, I felt that Needham did a fine job providing an accurate setting for her story. Her description of 12th century justice was very well done and her recreation of medieval life was on target. I think my initial problem was with Kailey. Her sanguine temperament seemed somehow overdone and there was that niggling feeling that she wasn't really a "medieval" person. But these problems disappeared in the concluding chapters when Kailey's feelings and behavior became wholly and completely medieval.

Simon was a more complex and immediately recognizable character, the tortured hero who has spent his whole life doing penance for a wrong he did in his youth. Needham lets the reader in on his secret early on, but this does not detract from the tension, as we share his fear of what will happen to his only chance for happiness should it be uncovered. And yet, does not honor and justice, and yes, unselfish love, require that all be revealed?

I do believe that those who like their medieval romances to have a ring of authenticity will enjoy Her Secret Guardian. Certainly, the love story is at the center of this novel and is well done. But I sort of wish that Needham could build on the secondary thread that has Simon and Kailey each seeking to solve a crime and ultimately cooperating to bring the villains to book. I can see them as the Nick and Nora Charles of medieval England.

--Jean Mason


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