Lord of Temptation
by Paula Quinn
(Warner, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-44661595-1
Lord of Temptation offers very little to tempt. The plot, characters, setting, and accuracy come up short. Let me count the ways…

The hero, Norman lord Dante Risande, is friend to William the Conqueror and is the king’s emissary. He is on the hunt for a Saxon rebel who continues to defy the new king. Dante is one hunk of virile Norman, having spent the years since the conquest seducing every woman in sight. He is visiting the holding of Bryce Dermott, where he is captivated by the one woman who apparently able to ignore his irresistible appeal.

This servant girl, Gianelle, has no desire to remain where she is, and Dante catches her that night as she and her best friend rappel down the side of the castle in an attempted escape. He returns her to the castle, but the next morning Lord Bryce is found dead and Gianelle is accused by Bryce’s brother Edgar of murder. It is clear to Dante that Edgar has no interest in finding out who is really responsible, and that he intends to punish Gianelle and her friend Casey for the deed. Dante has his suspicions about her as well, but as the king’s emissary, he is able to forestall their punishment by buying the two of them and carrying them off to his own holding.

At his castle in Dover, Dante announces that Gianelle and Casey are neither servants nor concubines, and that they are free to “be whatever they want to be.” This gives Dante and Gianelle plenty of time to explore their mutual attraction before Edgar gets his act together to petition the king to return the two women to him. By the time he shows up to retrieve them, Dante is prepared to marry Gianelle to protect her from Edgar. She continues to fight her attraction to him because she doesn’t want to be just one in a string of women that he has discarded. What’s a poor girl to do?

Well, that would depend in part on her status, wouldn’t it? Gianelle’s unclear status is the one of many questionable historical items in the story. She is referred to as slave, serf and servant, as if those were interchangeable terms. This barely begins to scratch the surface of the book’s problems with matters historical – the language and attitudes of the characters, as well as the hard facts.

There is just so much in this story that strikes a false note, almost all of them as jarring as the use of the name “Casey” for a woman in 1071. There is Gianelle’s original plan to escape to Scotland where she and Casey will be free to tend sheep and bathe in clean lakes. What woman of her status would have any idea where Scotland was or how one might make a living there? And who, man or woman, would think that traipsing across England without an armed guard was a good idea? Man, that was one dangerous time! A time when folks weren’t all that keen on baths, in clean lakes or elsewhere. While a story written from the true perspective of women of this era would be full of drudgery, despair and limitations, there needs to be a nod to historical accuracy. If a woman is going to have such extraordinary ideas and behavior, it should at least be noted that these are significantly different from those of other women, and some explanation might be offered as to why she has them.

One wonders – why even bother to make this a medieval? Why not make it a contemporary with him an alpha male Navy SEAL and her a small town girl yearning for a different life? This would have been more in keeping with the character’s attitudes, and then the pesky historical details would not have been so difficult to get right. There was so much wrong and it was so distracting: undergarments torn aside, muslin skirts hiked up, a rogue called a “rake,” and strychnine used as poison.

The only reason this isn’t rated one heart is because it is actually not badly written – nouns and verbs generally agree, pronouns match their antecedents, and commas are not dusted across the page as though the author is being paid by the punctuation used. If it had just been more in keeping with the setting, it might have gone up another heart.

--Laura Scott

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