The Saxon's Daughter

My Gallant Knight by Tara O'Dell
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6352-0
My Gallant Knight reads like a recipe on "How to Create a Clichéd Romance." "Pick Hero from Column A, mix in heroine from Column B, stir in a dash of Column C and PRESTO! Instant trite."

Normally, I don't mind the occasional cliché -- I sometimes find them comforting. But this book just overdoes things. True, the main plot device happens to break somewhat from the standard mold, but it wasn't enough to rescue My Gallant Knight.

Besides, this knight may be gallant, but quite frankly, he's also a bit of a wuss.

Nigh on three-quarters of this medieval features a hero doing everything he can to avoid having sex with the heroine. Yeah, he's doing it all for the right, honorable reasons, or so he thinks, but it gets flat out boring reading page after page of, "Oh Lord, wilst thou please keep me in control of my baser needs."

Here's the thing: pretty young Cicely has spent the last 10 years shut away in a convent after being deposited at the door by a well meaning father who sought to protect her. Unfortunately, Cicely is not cut out for convent life and vows one day to break free.

Enter Sir Simon de Cressy, a knight returning from the Crusades broken in health and spirit. Suffering from some mysterious, malaria-like fever, Simon is taken in by the nuns and nursed by Cicely, who, conveniently, has yet to take her final vows. Upon seeing the handsome knight, Cicely determines that he is a gift from God, come to rescue her from her cloistered prison. Simon spies Cicely through his delirium and (shocker) believes her to be an angel. When the fever subsides and Cicely approaches Simon with her plan of escape, the knight refuses. So Cicely the not-so-good not-so-nun slips him a Mickey, crawls into bed with him and tries (unsuccessfully) to deflower herself. Of course Simon wakes up thinking he has ruined the beauty. "Oh, heavy sigh! One more sin upon many."

The result, of course, is that Cicely gets her wish. Away the two sail on Simon's black charger. Cicely spends the next half of the book trying to jump Simon's beautiful bones.

Until the last 100 pages, that's about it. Cicely and Simon meet few people on their journey, and at one point I was shocked to learn that they had been traveling together for four months! In addition, the author has fashioned some oddly disjointed scenes involving characters who serve little or no purpose in the grand scheme of things. Particularly irksome is the author's handling of Bella, the waifish but manipulative teenage lady of a manor where Cicely and Simon seek shelter. O'Dell spends a great deal of time building a relationship between Cicely and Bella (and animosity between Bella and Simon) only to drop the entire storyline with nary another mention.

Even more jarring is the appearance of Simon's sworn enemy, a fellow crusader who the author never even alludes to until he makes his appearance. It’s no surprise when the villain turns out to be from central casting, or that he suddenly has designs on Cicely and her fortune.

My Gallant Knight isn't an entirely bad book. Somewhere underneath all the messy half-baked plots and characters is a sweetness that manages to keep the reader from becoming completely disinterested.

--Ann McGuire

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