The Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5310-X
After reading romance novels for years, I often notice that the plots of new releases are strikingly similar to books that I have read in the past. So, when I come across a new book with a truly original story line, I catch myself holding my breath-- hoping the writing will be equal to the creative thinking that developed the story.

Jo Beverley's new book, The Shattered Rose delivers the goods.

Galeran of Heywood, believed dead during the Crusades, returns to his land, his beloved wife, Jehanne, and the young son he has never seen. After years of childlessness, Galeran had traveled to the Holy Land to beg God for a child, and his son was born exactly nine months to the day he left. Although his prayers were answered, Galeran honored his vow to God and continued fighting for two years, until the Christian forces reached Jerusalem.

But Galeran's joyful return ends abruptly with the shocking scene that greets him. His son is dead, his wife, Jehanne, has recently delivered a bastard daughter, and his castle is controlled by his wife's lover, Raymond of Lowick.

Jehanne proudly refuses to ask forgiveness. Indeed, she offers Galeran no explanation for her actions. Galeran is devastated; he has traveled around the world and fought a war in an attempt to assure his wife's happiness. Her betrayal -- in striking contrast to the vow of celibacy he took during the two long years he was gone -- is humiliating.

Galeran receives all sorts of advice on what to do to his wife -- beat her, send her to a convent and replace her with a new wife, even kill her. Although enraged, Galeran cannot put aside the love he still holds for Jehanne and the memories of the woman he so admired.

Raymond of Lowick will not easily give up Jehanne, their daughter, and his possession of Galeran's castle. Galeran will have to decide if his wife is worth the fight.

In telling the story from Galeran's point of view, Jo Beverley effectively conveys the emotional struggles this honorable warrior experiences. The mystery of how this loving wife could so readily replace her missing husband kept me quickly turning the pages.

Beverley's 12th-century warrior is stern, but honorable. Even when he strikes his wife upon his return, he doesn't do so blindly; he strikes her in a misguided attempt to protect her.

The Shattered Rose could have been too dark for many tastes, but Beverly wisely added a charming, light-hearted, secondary romance between Jehanne's cousin, Aline, and Galeran's loyal friend, Raoul.

In writing historical romances, use of language and terminology from the period can enhance the description of the times and add to the credibility of the narrative. But if the terms or phrases are too obscure, the reader may be confused rather than enlightened. In The Shattered Rose, Ms. Beverley makes use of the kind of obscure words and phrases that have the potential to enhance -- or detract from -- the reading experience, e.g., suzerain (superior feudal lord), wearing bullion (lace braid or fringe of gold), ballista (ancient military engine in the form of a crossbow), a screed of description (informal piece of writing), broaching (not in my dictionary, used as a synonym for lovemaking).

Personally, I found them distracting. When I have to rush to the dictionary to look up words, it sometimes causes me to lose the thread of the story -- not to mention leaving me feeling like a moron. (My husband, the Phi Beta Kappa, didn't know what they meant, either!)

But this is a minor complaint. We're talking about maybe a half-dozen words in a book that is more than 400 pages. The bottom line: "The Shattered Rose" is an entertaining, original read.

--Dede Anderson

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